The annual Perseid meteor shower is back, with the peak night for the shooting stars falling on this Sunday night and into the early hours of Monday.
The Perseids are always popular with skywatchers, and this year's show could be especially dazzling — in part, experts say, because the crescent moon will have set and there will be no moonlight to wash out the fainter meteors.
"The shower is the second strongest of the year, rich in fireballs, and only the December Geminids are better (but night is much colder and not so comfortable to observe)," Bill Cooke, a meteor expert at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, told NBC News MACH in an email.
Cooke said the first shooting stars will appear around 10:30 p.m. local time on Aug. 12 and will come with increasing frequency as the night progresses. At their peak, the Perseids can produce 100 meteors an hour.
For the best views, Cooke recommends finding a dark place, away from any sources of light, and simply lying on your back and looking straight up. There's no need to look in any direction — the shooting stars should be visible in every part of the sky, weather permitting.
Meteor showers occur when Earth passes through the trail of dusty debris left behind by comets — in this case Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. As the bits of fast-moving debris hit our atmosphere, they burn up and cause brilliant streaks of light.
Discovered in 1862, Swift-Tuttle is considered a large comet. Its so-called nucleus — the icy, rocky chunk at its core — has a diameter of 16 miles. That's almost twice as big as the object believed to have smashed into Earth 65 million years ago that killed off the dinosaurs.
The Perseids get their name from the constellation Perseus, which the meteors seem to come from (they do not actually originate in the constellation).
If you miss the Perseids, don't worry. More meteor showers are coming up — including the Orionids, which will peak in late October.
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