Summer is in full swing now. Although the weather, flora, and fauna don't seem to be acknowledging it, the universe is. The earth remains on its same trajectory and orbit. That puts us just about where we where last year. That puts us in the heart of the Perseids meteor shower which should start to peak this weekend.
The Perseids meteor shower occurs every summer, this summer arriving July 17th and stretching through August 24th. The peak of meteors should be between August 11th and ending on the 12th or 13th. During the peak you can potentially expect to see between 60 and 100 meteors per hour. The start of the shower slowly ramps up till the peak and then rapidly drops off as far as the occurrence of meteors.
The Perseid meteor shower is the result of the earth passing through the path of the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. Swift-Tuttle is a periodic comet that orbits the sun every 133 years. Each time it passes it leaves more debris in its orbit path that the earth crosses through every summer. The meteor shower is named Perseid because the area in the sky that the meteors appear to originate from is relatively close to the constellation Perseus. Perseus is one of the first heroes in Greek mythology.
If you are interested in viewing the show, its best to get away from any sources of artificial or ambient light. Set yourself up in a location in which you have a good view of the northeast sky. Through my research for this article I found it is recommended to look up halfway up into the night sky in this direction to see the majority of the action. The best times for viewing are from midnight into the wee hours of the morning.
Some of the meteors are so faint that you will not be able to see them unless your eyes have adjusted to the night. It may take up to 20 minutes to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark. If you do find that you need a light source, it's best to use a light that has a red filament or cover. This helps you to retain your night vision if you need to use it. This year could be an exceptional year for viewing since the peak activity is during a waxing crescent of the moon, so there should be little interference of the moonlight.
A shooting star or falling star from the Perseids is the debris from the comet that enters the atmosphere and visually burns up during its plunge. I always get confused with the terminology on what to call this debris. Before the debris enters the atmosphere and burns up it is called a meteoroid. When the meteoroid enters the atmosphere and burns up and produces a shooting star, it is called a meteor. In the unlikely event that the meteoroid enters the atmosphere and doesn't completely burn up and reaches the earth surface, it is called a meteorite.
Hopefully the sky remains clear at night so we can enjoy the show.