(Gillette, Wyo.) 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. Forecasters say this year there will be double the normal amount of meteors in the sky than normal, up to three meteors a minute under optimum viewing conditions.
According to Ryan Hennessy, an astronomer in Jackson Hole, there may be up to 200 meteors an hour visible.
"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 meteor shower’s peak occurs after midnight tonight, August 11th and Friday, August 12th. Meteors will be visible throughout the sky, but the shower appears to radiate from the constellation Perseus, which is what gives the shower its name and is the best place to look for meteors.
This year's super shower is due to Jupiter's enormous gravitational pull, bringing the debris field from the comet closer to Earth than usual. So every two decades or so, we end up running headlong in to a dense portion of the comet's trail, and this year it will be three intersecting trails, thanks to Jupiter. Most of the meteors you'll be able to see tonight date back to the year 1079, according to calculations from NASA.
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 trail of ionized atmosphere behind it.
All you need to see this spectacular show of nature is somewhere dark where you can see a large amount of the sky. Not a problem in most of Wyoming. You don't need any special equipment, unless a blanket or camp chair counts.
The National Weather Service 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 from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama on Aug. 11-12 and Aug. 12-13, beginning at 10 p.m. EDT.