- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

Fetch the blankets and prepare to stay up late for the annual Perseid meteor shower, which will be visible tomorrow night and into the early morning on Thursday.

The most spectacular meteor shower of the year will begin at about midnight tomorrow and last until about 7 a.m. Thursday.

“The moon is favorable this year. There’s not much moon. You just sort of need to spread out a blanket or a lawn chair and look up,” said Bill Cooke, a meteor-shower expert with the Space Environment Group at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “The main thing is to take in as much of the sky with your eye.”

“What makes the Perseids so cool is that they’re rich and bright meteors. You can’t miss them,” Mr. Cooke said. “The weather’s warm, and they’re nice, bright meteors.”

A meteor shower occurs when many chunks of ice or rock fall into the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, producing what’s known as shooting stars.

The Perseid meteor shower appears each August, when the Earth passes through the trail of the Swift-Tuttle comet.

The comet itself is several years ahead of its trail, a blanket of materials sloughed off by the comet in its revolution around the sun.

“The comet right now [is] in the outer solar system. It kind of drops the stuff off. They trail years behind the comet,” Mr. Cooke said.

The meteor shower fragments are “mixtures of ice and dust that hit the atmosphere at about 50 kilometers per second. That’s about 30 miles per second. That’s approximately 100,000 miles per hour. Pretty fast,” Mr. Cooke said.

At the height of the Perseid meteor shower, there will be about 100 fragments hitting the atmosphere each hour. They burn out about 60 or 70 miles into the atmosphere, Mr. Cooke said.

Many experts advise people to look to the Northeast for the meteors because they come from between the constellations Perseus and Cassiopeia. But Mr. Cooke said it is simpler than that.

“The best thing to do is look straight up,” he said.

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