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Get ready for one of the year’s best meteor showers

TORONTO – One of the best meteor showers of the year is set to peak over the next few days.

The Perseids – one of many meteor showers we experience annually – is upon us. You may even have caught a few already.

The shower, which is active from July 13 to Aug. 26, peaks between Aug. 12 to 13. The American Meteor Society says that normal rates are from about 50 to 75 meteors an hour in rural locations. However, even if you’re in a city, you’ll be sure to see some meteors.

Each day, Earth is showered with plenty of meteoric material. In fact, scientists estimate that it is close to 1,000 to 10,000 tons daily. Hard to believe, but most of the debris is miniscule, the size of dust grains a few micrometres in size.

Every so often, Earth crosses into the debris left over from a passing comet. This larger-than-usual mass of debris enters our atmosphere and burns up high above, rarely nearing the ground. When it enters the atmosphere, it creates the brilliant streaks of light that we enjoy.

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Meteor showers get their names based on the point in the sky from which they appear to originate, called the radiant. In the case of the Perseids, the radiant appears in the constellation Perseus.

This sky chart depicts the radiant, or the direction from which the Perseids originate. (@Science NASA)
This sky chart depicts the radiant, or the direction from which the Perseids originate. (@Science NASA) Science@NASA

The Perseids are one of the year’s best, not only because of the hourly number of streaks in the sky we can expect, but also because it occurs during the summer months, a perfect time to lay out on a lawn and keep an eye on the sky.

Perseids are also known for producing fireballs, larger explosions of light that last longer than the average meteor streak.

What you need to know:

You don’t need a telescope. Just lie down on the grass (bring warm clothing and/or a blanket) and… look up. Remember not to take your eyes off the sky! You never know when one will fly.

Try to find a dark location. As most of us live near or in an urban centre, dark skies are becoming increasingly more difficult to find. However, you can always find a nearby park (away from baseball lights, etc.) or drive a little out of the city to try to get a little more dark.

Read: Saving the night: Light pollution a concern for human health and wildlife

The Northern Lights with a meteor (right) captured on Aug. 4. (Bill Longo)
The Northern Lights with a meteor (right) captured on Aug. 4. (Bill Longo) Courtesy of Bill Longo

Try not to lose your night vision! The longer you’re in darkness, the more likely you are to spot those faint meteors. Avoid using your phone (unless you have a red screen which shortens the length of time your eyes will take to be once again adapted to the dark), or going inside.

The later, the better. The longer you wait past sunset, the darker your sky will become, thereby allowing you to see faint meteors. Also, this year, during the peak, the moon will only be 26 per cent illuminated and it sets at 11:30, which means less illumination in the night sky.

Even though the meteor shower doesn’t peak until Sunday night, any time this weekend – and in the nights ahead – is a great time to catch those great streaks in the sky. So find a dark sky, bring a blanket and look up.

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If you happen to catch any fireballs, be sure to report them to the American Meteor Society.