The always anticipated Perseids meteor shower begins July 17 as Earth passes through the path of the Comet Swift-Tuttle, but the shower known for its blazing bright meteors won’t peak until Aug. 12. If you see meteors before then, they could be part of the Delta Aquarids meteor shower, which started last week, continues through Aug. 13 and peaks July 29-30.

Look at the Delta Aquarids meteor shower as the warm-up act for the Perseids. The latter show is so reliable and ooh-and-ahh worthy that stargazers plan around them with camping excursions and treks to dark sky preserves.

NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke advises stargazers to allow about 30 minutes for their eyes to adjust to the dark and then settle in for a few hours during the Perseids meteor shower peak. Those who are patient will be rewarded, he said, noting that at a rate of 150 meteors per hour, stargazers should see about two or three a minutes — some faint trails of light, others generating fireballs.

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The earlier show produces about 20 meteors an hour at its peak and is regarded as an average meteor shower. A crescent moon will have set by the time they tune up, leaving skies dark for the late night and early morning Delta Aquarids meteor shower, according to seasky.org.

The Perseids meteor shower, the main act, is good for up to 150 meteors an hour, according to space.com. This year, a waning gibbous moon — one that appears less than half full, but is more than half-lighted — could block out some of the fainter meteors, but the Perseids are so bright that you should still plan on catching the show. The meteors radiate from the constellation Perseus, but you’ll be able to see them no matter where you’re looking in the sky.



The Perseids’ Aug. 12 peak comes when Earth passes through the densest, dustiest area of the wide path of Comet Swift-Tuttle — about 16 miles wide at its nucleus, according to space.com. The last time it passed near Earth was during its orbit of the sun in 1992, something that won’t happen again until 2126. The comet itself is a rare occurrence, but the annual meteor shower is a brilliant reminder of it.

Meteors are pieces of comet debris that heat up as they enter the atmosphere, then burn in a bright burst of light that streaks across the sky at up to 37 miles per second, according to space.com. Most of the Perseids meteors are so small — they’re about the size of a grain of sand — that they’ll never become “meteorites” that fall to the Earth.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

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