Perseid Meteor Shower: Watch up to 200 shooting stars per hour without a telescope

Starting tonight, the Perseid Meteor Shower will light up the sky giving stargazers the ability to view up to 200 shooting stars per hour without a telescope.

The meteor shower’s peak occurs during the overnight hours of tonight, August 11 and Friday, August 12 as the earth passes the tail left by the Swift-Tuttle Comet.

According to Ryan Hennessy, Astronomer for Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole, Perseid may be more brilliant than usual this year, possibly peaking at 200 meteors an hour.

The National Weather Service in Riverton says the best viewing will be across southwest and far west Wyoming, with more cloud cover over north and central Wyoming. They note cloud cover should decrease as the night wears on. For stargazers experiencing cloudy skies, a live broadcast of the Perseid meteor shower will be available via Ustream overnight on Aug. 11-12 and Aug. 12-13, beginning at 10 p.m. EDT.

"Meteors are bits of rock and metal from our Solar System that are falling to the Earth’s surface and burning up spectacularly as they plow into our atmosphere," he said. "This happens more or less randomly all the time. During a meteor shower, however, the Earth is running into the dusty trail of debris left by a passing comet long ago. The Perseids are the result of the trail left by the comet Swift-Tuttle, which last visited the inner solar system in 1992 and won’t return until 2126."

The best time for seeing the most shooting stars is after midnight on both nights.

"This year is predicted to be particularly good because the various trails left by the comet’s multiple passings have been pulled closer to Earth’s orbit by the action of Jupiter’s gravity. This may cause an 'outbust' of meteors in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday night and Friday morning when observers could see twice the usual number of shooting stars," Hennessy said.

"Meteors will be visible throughout the sky, but the shower appears to radiate from the constellation Perseus, which is what gives the shower it’s name and is the best place to look for meteors. As night falls, look to the northeast to find Perseus. Don’t discount the early evening either – when Perseus is low you may be lucky enough to catch an 'earthgrazer,' a low, horizontally-moving slow meteor that often creates a beautiful trail of ionized atmosphere behind it," Hennessy added.

Feature Photo: h/t Ryan Hennessy via NASA

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