The Perseid meteor shower, one of the brightest and most dependable of the annual meteor showers that light up the nighttime sky, will reach its peak this week, experts say.
Favorable viewing conditions, including a new moon that will mean the maximum available darkness, will prevail at the shower's peak from late Aug. 11 into the early morning hours of Aug. 14, they predict.
The best opportunity to see the most meteors will occur during the dark, predawn hours of Aug. 13, a NASA blog says.
The Perseid meteor shower has long been a favorite with sky watchers for providing some of the brightest "shooting stars" and for its summertime arrival.
"It's one of the two best annual meteor showers, and the only one that happens during warm weather," says astronomer Bob Berman of the Slooh observatory that connects a numbers of telescopes to the Internet so the public can get a view of cosmic phenomena.
If cloudy skies prevent a viewing, stargazers will be able to watch Slooh's live streaming of the shower staring a 8 p.m. EDT on Aug 12.
The Perseids, so named because they seem to originate from a point in the constellation Perseus, arrive every summer as the Earth moves through the debris trail left by the comet Swift-Tuttle.
"Perseids are reliable, and one-third of them leave behind lingering "trains" that glow for a second or two after the meteor is gone," Berman says.
Picking a viewing location as far from bright city lights as possible will yield the best chance of spotting meteors in the shower coming from the northeast, experts say.
Under optimum conditions watchers may be able to spot as many as 100 meteors every hour, NASA says.
People have been observing the Perseids for at least 2,000 years, the space agency says, as bits of ice and dust from the Swift-Tuttle comet -- left behind as it travels its 133-year orbit around the sun -- collides with the Earth's atmosphere.
The first recorded mention of the Perseid shower was found in Chinese writings from A.D. 36.
The last time the comet itself, finally discovered in 1862, passed by the Earth was in 1992.
NASA will also be hosting a streaming presentation of the shower from the evening of Aug. 12 through early Aug. 13, featuring experts from the agency's Micrometeoroid Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.