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Year's Busiest Meteor Shower Just Around the Corner

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Aug 10, 2013 12:30 PM EDT
Perseid Meteor Shower
With its seemingly endless flow of bright meteors visible to the naked eye, the Perseid meteor shower is a favorite among stargazers. So it came as little surprise when NASA officials reported that a recent analysis of data collected over a four year period showed that the annual event is the busiest of its kind. (Photo : NASA)

August is here and with it barbecues, trips to the pool and, of course, the Perseid meteor shower.

As the meteor shower of all meteor showers, the Perseids are scheduled to arrive in full force Aug. 11 and 12, according to NASA, as Earth and its atmosphere travel through a region of the sky punctuated by debris left in the wake of the comet Swift-Tuttle.

While it's true that Earth is constantly being bombarded with interstellar rubble -- NASA estimates that between 10 and 40 tons of material of invisible meteoric dust enters the atmosphere every day -- the Perseids hold a special place in the heart of stargazers due to its especially bright and busy show.

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In fact, a recent study conducted by Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office showed that the annual event produces more fireballs (a meteor at least as bright as Jupiter or Venus) than any other.

The reason, Cooke explains, lies in the size of the comet's nucleus, which measures some 26 kilometers in diameter.

"Most other comets are much smaller, with nuclei only a few kilometers across," he explained in a press release.

Slamming up against the Earth's atmosphere at 132,000 mph, these fragments are easily spotted with the naked eye, though Cooke suggests that individuals take to the countryside to get the full effect.

Unfortunately, this year's show will peak during the day on Monday, though astronomers assure there will be plenty to see both Sunday and Monday nights, especially with a new moon corresponding with the event.

To get in on the action, a person needs only look in the direction of the constellation Perseus located in the northeast after dark below the easy-to-spot "W" signifying Cassiopeia. It's from this region in the sky that the shower will appear to emanate from.

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