The Perseid meteor shower, an annual phenomenon that occurs when earth's orbit collides with some of the debris left by the passage of the Comet Swift-Tuttle, offers stargazers a reliably dazzling sight.
But these things only happen so often, so it's important to plan ahead. While the Perseoid meteor shower is expected to peak between midnight and dawn on Saturday, August 13, the luminescence of an anticipated full moon will likely decrease visibility.
That means Wednesday night might be the best time to view the shower, when it is nearing its peak of intensity but is not yet obscured by the moon. The wee hours before dawn are the best time, when the moon has set and the sun has not yet come up. It also helps to be standing or sitting in shadow while you watch, something that diminishes light interference.
The Perseids get their name because when they were first spotted they seemed to emanate from the Perseus constellation -- the scientific term for the place meteorites seem to emerge from is "radiant" -- but their radiant is now more like Cassiopeia.
The Swift-Tuttle comet originally passed through the inner solar system in 1862, and it derives its name from the men who discovered it, Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle. It most recently returned in 1992.