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Perseid meteor shower is 'fireball champion,' and it's coming soon

Perseid Meteor ShowerNASA

Mark your calendars, sky watchers: The Perseid meteor shower is coming soon, and you don't want to miss it.

The Perseids were recently declared the fireball champion of annual meteor showers by Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. 

Fireballs are especially bright meteors that glow at least as brightly as Jupiter or Venus in the night sky.

"We have found that one meteor shower produces more fireballs than any other," Cooke said in a statement. "It's the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks on Aug. 12 and 13."

Cooke and his team have been tracking fireball activity since 2008, using a network of meteor cameras dispersed across the southern United States. A chart released by NASA shows that on average, Perseid meteors shine the brightest of all the annual showers, with Geminid meteors coming in a close second. 

The Perseid meteor shower occurs each year in August when the Earth passes through a stream of dust and debris left in the wake of Comet Swift-Tuttle. These stray bits of comet dust slam into our atmosphere at 132,000 mph, where they burn up and create light streaks across the sky. 

Cooke notes that Swift-Tuttle has an especially large nucleus--about 16 miles across. (Most comets have nuclei that are less than 2 miles across). The large nucleus probably led to an especially large debris stream, which is responsible for the especially good meteor show each year.

If you can get yourself to a dark sky, far from city lights, you may be able to see as many as 100 meteors per hour at the peak of the shower. Even in the light-polluted city, you may be able to catch some of the brighter fireballs. 

For best viewing, look to the sky on Aug. 12 and 13 between 10:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. The meteor shower will start slow, but should gain steam after midnight. 

For more information on the Perseids, check out the video below. 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Perseid Meteor ShowerNASA
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