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Tonight's Perseid meteor shower could be best show in decades

Swift-Tuttle Comet Particles as seen from the International Space Station in 2011.
Swift-Tuttle Comet Particles as seen from the International Space Station in 2011.(WDBJ)
Published: Aug. 11, 2016 at 11:23 AM EDT
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Ask any amateur astronomer what their favorite meteor shower is, and they'll probably say the Perseids.

It consistently has a high rate of meteors each year, produces a higher percentage of bright ones than most other showers, not to mention it takes place in the warmer months when observers are able to stay outdoors without braving the extreme elements.

WHAT IS A METEOR SHOWER?

A meteor shower is created when small particles, around the size of a grain of sand and up to the size of a pea, enter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, creating a fiery streak across the earths atmosphere. The Perseids are created when Earth crosses floating debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle. Named after the Perseus constellation that appears to be the point of origin for the meteors.

WHEN CAN I SEE THE METEORS?

If you have been looking to the sky the past few weeks, you've likely been seeing more and more of them. The peak is Thursday night into the early hours of Friday morning.

NASA suggests going outside between midnight and dawn on the morning of Aug. 12. Allow about 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Lie on your back and look straight up. Increased activity may also be seen through the weekend.

There's no need to bring binoculars or a telescope. In fact, that will make the meteors more difficult to see. Just focus on a location in the sky and be patient.

On Thursday night, as many as 100-200 meteors per hour could be visible from Earth. NASA says that number will half every subsequent night, as Earth leaves Swift-Tuttle’s trail of debris behind.

THIS YEAR MIGHT BE THE BEST IN DECADES

Expert astronomers believe this may be an extra special year for the Perseids. This year, the planet Jupiter’s gravity has pushed the comet’s debris closer to the Earth. Instead of traveling through the edges of the comet's trail, the Earth will be closer to the middle of it and we can expect more meteors shooting through the sky.

Scientists are calling this an "outburst," meaning it's a shower with an unusually high number of meteors. The latest outburst happened in 2009, according to NASA, and another outburst like this isn't expected until 2027 or later.

WILL THE WEATHER COOPERATE?

The forecast will be very similar to the past few nights. While we can't rule out a few showers and storms before midnight, the forecast should be mainly dry. The more important part of the forecast, the clouds, should be broken enough to spot them shooting across the sky. Temperatures will hold steady in the mid and upper 70s after midnight when viewing will be best.

Let us know what you see!