The Perseid meteor shower, which NASA says is the best of the year, peaks on Tuesday. Here's how to catch it in the night sky.

  • The Perseid meteor shower — which NASA says is the best of the year — happens each year in late summer.
  • The Perseids are known for epic "fireball" meteors and long, streaking tails.
  • Meteor activity should peak the night of August 11 into the morning of August 12.
  • To watch, find a spot away from city lights with a clear view of the sky.
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NASA calls the annual Perseids meteor shower the best of the year, owed to its many bright meteors that streak across the night sky in late summer. 

The shower reaches its peak the evening of Tuesday, August 11, during which time skywatchers can see dozens of meteors per hour as Earth plows through a cloud of cometary debris.

The cosmic light show begins shortly after twilight, the dim period following sunset. At first, expect to see long-tailed meteors lower in the sky. But more meteors will appear overhead as Earth turns and, with it, the origination point of the shower.

To watch the Perseids, find a spot with a clear view of the sky, like a grassy hill. The area should be as far away from any artificial lights as possible. 

Sit or lie down, and look up. No other effort is required; the show should come to you.

Where the Perseids come from

Every year, Earth's orbit collides with a lane of grit left by Comet Swift-Tuttle when it swings by the sun every 133 years. Bits of rocky debris ranging between the size of sand grains and peas slam into our atmosphere at 37 miles per second and burn up, leaving fiery streaks across the night sky.

The Perseids are known both for their epic "fireballs" — explosions of light and color that last longer than those from typical meteors — and for the long trails they leave behind.

Though the shower technically lasts over a month, from July 14 to August 24, it peaks this coming Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning as Earth reaches the most dense part of the debris cloud. The Perseids reach their zenith around 2:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday, August 12. 

The Perseids get their name from the constellation Perseus, which is where they appear to originate in the sky. That period of origination is called the radiant. 

Conditions aren't ideal in 2020, but they're better than last year

Under ideal conditions, Perseid viewers can see up to 100 meteors per hour, according to NASA— an amount that dwarfs the rate of other showers.

Unfortunately, this year's Perseid shower has some competition. The moon, which is in its last quarter phase, will rise shortly after midnight — just before the peak of the shower — and its natural brightness will reduce the number of visible meteors. How many meteors a person can see depends on a lot of variables, but NASA says just under 30 an hour is likely in 2020. If you're lucky, as many as 50 may shoot across the sky per hour, as EarthSky predicts for this year's event.

But those remaining meteors will still burn brightly, so they're still worth looking for. They should also be more visible than the peak of last year's shower, when a bright gibbous moon drowned out all but 10-15 meteors an hour. 

The shower will cool down after Wednesday morning, but meteors will be visible for several days afterwards. 

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