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Meteor shower this weekend
Hundreds of meteors are expected to light up the sky this weekend
Meteor shower Aug 11 2012 - Perseids 1am

The Perseid meteor shower is anticipated to be at its peak in the next few nights with a predicted 60-100 brightly, colorful meteors shooting through the sky per hour.

The annual meteor shower is active through the summer month of July 23 through Aug. 22, but the peak and potential to see the best display of meteors are this weekend, on Aug. 11 and 12.

Jim Honeycutt, adjunct lecturer in astronomy at Oxford College, explains that meteor showers are the results of comets passing through the Earth's orbit on their trip around the Sun.

As they get closer to the Sun, they start to melt, releasing gases, particles and a few larger pieces of material. Every year, the Earth pass through the area where the left over comet material is located and we see a meteor shower. This meteor shower is the debris left over from comet Swift-Tuttle.

"Weather permitting, the Perseid meteor shower will be visible on the night of Aug. 11," said Honeycutt. "The best time to observe will be after 11 p.m., when the constellation Perseus will be rising in the northeast.

The meteors will seem to radiate outward from this area. The crescent moon will be rising after 1 a.m., but should not cause too much of a problem. You don't need binoculars or a telescope, these would limit you to a small area of view and also the meteors move fast. So find yourself a dark area, a chair facing eastward, lay back and watch the night sky.

The night of Aug. 11 is the best night, but a couple of days before or after, you can see some of the shower." 

While the brightness of meteors make for a spectacular show and easy to see against the night sky, they are typically not much larger than a grain of sand in size.

However, as they travel at great speeds, these tiny particles put on an impressive show. There is no danger to sky watchers as the fragile grains disintegrate long before they reach the ground.

"Most of the meteors you see are very small and they enter the atmosphere at fast speeds burning up as they fall," said Honeycutt. "A very few of the meteors are a little larger, some may explode and there is always the chance one could make it to the ground. A meteor that hits the ground is called a meteorite."

To get the best view of the Perseid meteor shower, find an observation spot away from city lights and look approximately halfway up the sky facing northeast. Looking directly up at the sky or into Perseus is not recommended because that is where the starting point of the radiant originates. You will have a better view of the shooting stars by looking slightly away from the origin to catch the trail of meteors.

Jim Honeycutt, Adjunct Lecturer in Astronomy at Oxford College of Emory University, contributed to this story.