The Perseid meteor shower is expected to peak from the night of August 12 until the morning of August 13. At the time of this article's publication, that's just a few hours away. Below is a last minute cheat sheet for the event.
What is it?
It's a meteor shower that lights up the night skies. Each year, it occurs from mid July to late August. The intensity of it peaks in mid August. In 2011, the peak is the night of August 12.
However, due to the brilliance of the full moon in August 12, 2011, many of the meteors will not be visible. The rates of meteors, therefore, will probably be only 20 to 30 per hour at best.
It's called the Perseid meteor shower because the meteors appear to radiate from constellation Perseus.
Where to See it
The key is to get away from artificial light because light, whether it's from the moon or the city, will compete with the light from the meteors.
Therefore, it's generally a good idea to avoid urban areas. NASA also recommends the following: "put the horizon at the edge of your peripheral vision as you let the sky and stars fill your field of view."
NASA is providing a live feed of the Perseid meteor shower at this link, starting from 11 p.m. ET on August 12. The feed is from a camera mounted at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
The Science Stuff
The meteors come from the earth's orbit coinciding with a cloud of debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. The debris, consisting of ice and dust, burn up the earth's atmosphere and create the streaks of visible light.
Most of the debris the earth will encounter in 2011 are over 1,000 years old.