If you have camping plans this weekend, you’re in luck. The annual Perseid meteor shower will be returning August 10–13, and it’s expected to be the best and brightest one in years, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel writes for Forbes.
The Perseid meteor shower—named after the Perseus constellation, where the meteors originate—occurs every August when the Earth passes through a path of debris left by the Swift-Tuttle comet. This comet orbits the Sun once every 133 years, and in doing so, the intense heat and tidal forces cause parts of the comet to break off, creating a floating field of debris. The dust and particles left behind compose a comet's two tails: the ion tail and the dust tail.
According to Siegel, a few factors determine how spectacular a meteor shower will be, including light pollution conditions, how close Earth gets to the center of the debris stream, the relative speed of the debris to Earth, and the stream's density. Plus, the new moon phase on August 11 guarantees a darker sky. For this reason, Saturday night should be the best time to head outside and look up.
"The Moon is very favorable for the Perseids this year, and that'll make the Perseids probably the best shower of 2018 for people who want to go out and view it,” NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke tells Space.com.
You’ll probably be able to see 60 to 70 meteors per hour at its peak. The most important consideration is to head somewhere with dark skies and little light pollution. For guidance, you can check out this online map of artificial sky brightness. Once you arrive at your preferred viewing spot, wait for the sky to get completely dark—about 2 to 3 hours after sunset.
Swift-Tuttle, the same comet that gives us these dazzling meteor displays, might also collide with Earth and wipe out life as we know it—but not for another 2460 years, at the very least. So until then, sit back and enjoy the cosmic show.