Perseids meteor shower: all you need to know

a 19th century engraving of meteor showers

The Perseids 2010 meteor shower peaks in the darkest hours before dawn on Friday, Aug. 13. Wikimedia Commons illustration.

Get ready for a big meteor shower tonight. The Perseids 2010 is an annual event that builds to a crescendo in the wee hours of Friday, Aug. 13. The Perseids in 2010 will be better than average because there will be no moon in the sky during the peak of activity. From midnight to dawn, meteor watchers who venture out beyond city lights should be able to observe up to 75 meteors an hour coming out of the northeast sky. No telescope is required.

The Perseids 2010 meteor watch

The big meteor shower tonight known as the Perseids 2010 is the grand finale during a classic night of summer stargazing. NASA reports that the show begins at sundown when Venus, Saturn, Mars and the crescent Moon materialize above the western horizon clustered together in a “tight conjunction.” When the planets fall below the horizon about 10 p.m. the Perseids 2010 begin. From 10 p.m. until dawn, meteors appearing to emanate from the Perseus constellation will streak across the sky. As the Perseus constellation rises and the night deepens, meteor rates will increase. For sheer numbers, the best time to meteor watch is during the darkest hours before dawn on Friday morning, when at least one meteor a minute could be seen.

Meteor watching tips

To get the most enjoyment from the big meteor shower tonight, Alan Boyle at MSNBC offers some meteor watching tips. Get out of town away from city light pollution where the sky is wide open and dark. The higher the elevation, the better. Bring a blanket or a chaise lounge; lying on the hood of your car propped up against the windshield is also good. Dress warm. Bring some tunes. Give your eyes plenty of time to adjust and look straight up. The Perseids 2010 won’t get really good until after midnight. The peak usually comes just before morning twilight begins.

Meteor photography tips

The big meteor shower tonight is a great photo op. Pop Photo offers some helpful meteor photography tips. Long-exposures and wide-open apertures mean city lights will creep into the frame and overpower the image. Bring a cable release — keeping your finger off the shutter button will prevent blurred images. Put something in the foreground so you don’t end up with just a bunch of light streaks. Use a wide, fast lens and fiddle until you get the right ISO and exposure time. Then keep shooting.

Why Perseids 2010 will be better than average

The Perseids 2010 occur when the Earth passes through the dust cloud of the Swift-Tuttle comet. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the Swift-Tuttle comet swings around the sun once every 135 years, spewing dust and gas as it nears the sun and heats up. The comet’s last pass was in 1992. Each pass of the comet slowly thickens the dust stream it leaves behind. This year Earth will be passing through a denser patch of Swift-Tuttle’s dust stream than usual.

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