The Perseid Meteor Shower delights North American sky-watchers every August, but the 2011 display will be harder than usual to watch.
The meteor shower, which occurs for most of the month but peaks around Aug. 13, will be obscured by the brightness of the moon, which will be full on the same night. The lunar light will wash-out all but the very brightest meteors.
But amateur astronomers in the know could see as many as 15 shooting stars an hour.
Instead of watching the show at night, the best time to look for meteors will be early in the morning, anytime between three and five a.m., depending on the city. The best days are before the full moon, particularly Aug. 9, 10 and 11, when the constellation Perseus is highest in the sky. This table, found on space.com, shows the best times to look at the shower from a number of American cities.
The shower gets its name from the constellation Perseus, itself named for a Greek hero. Perseus famously slayed the gorgon Medusa and went on a number of brave adventures. The meteors appear from the middle of this constellation when observed in the night sky. Perseus will be at its peak during these pre-dawn hours as well.
People around the world have been watching the Perseid shower for about 2,000 years. All of the meteors that tear across the sky are part of the tail of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which has been in orbit in our solar system for about 130 years.