The 2012 Perseids peak is under way, and here are some viewing tips from NASA astronomer Bill Cooke.
According to Cooke, the Perseids should have become visible about 10 p.m. local time, with rates increasing till dawn. Observers with clear, dark skies can expect rates of one per minute or thereabouts. Standard meteor viewing applies. Lie on your back (blanket, sleeping bag, lawn chair) and look straight up. Don't use binoculars or telescopes — they have too small a field of view — and don't look toward the radiant in Perseus, as the meteors in the direction will have short trains and be less spectacular. Avoid looking at the waning crescent moon if possible.
Perseid rates can get as high as 100 per hour, with many fireballs visible in the night sky. A waning crescent moon will interfere slightly with this year's show, but according to skywatchers, viewing should definitely be worth a look.
Cooke and his team from the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center will answer your questions about the 2012 Perseid meteor shower via an "Up All Night" live chat. Click here to join the chat, then simply log in. Chat experts will be available to answer questions until 3 a.m.
Some advice from SPACE.com: If you don't see any meteors at first, be patient. This is a meteor shower, not a meteor storm. There will be a lot more meteors than you would see on a normal night, but they will still only come at random intervals, perhaps 20 or 30 in an hour.
When you do see a meteor, it will likely be very fast and at the edge of your field of vision. You may even doubt that what you saw was real. But, when you do see something, watch that area more closely, as two or three meteors often come in groups down the same track.
About the Perseids
The Perseids have been observed for at least 2,000 years and are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. Each year in August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet's debris. These bits of ice and dust — most over 1,000 years old —burn up in the Earth's atmosphere to create one of the best meteor showers of the year. The Perseids can be seen all over the sky, but the best viewing opportunities will be across the northern hemisphere. Those with sharp eyes will see that the meteors radiate from the direction of the constellation Perseus.
Check out 10 facts about Perseids from SPACE.com.