Grab a blanket and a friend, and prepare to be a little sleep-deprived — the Perseid meteor shower is peaking this week.
The Perseid meteor shower, widely known as one of the biggest meteor showers each year, is active from July 17 to Aug. 24, and peaks from Aug. 11-12.
During its peak, you should be able to see about 100 meteors per hour.
It's an equipment-free activity, so as long as it's dark outside and you're not in the middle of the city, you should be able to see the little pieces of space junk burning through the atmosphere.
Here's everything you need to know about how to make the most of this year's Perseids:
What are the Perseids?
The Perseids, like other meteors, are pretty much just junk flying around in space.
"There's junk out there in space, most of which is rocks, but occasionally it's stuff we've put up there and has fallen off the spacecraft or stuff like that," said Shannon Murphy, instructional support and outreach coordinator for the University of Michigan Department of Astronomy.
Meteor showers come from comet debris, Murphy said, and comets are balls of ice and rock, mixed with traces of "scary stuff" like methane and cyanide.
Murphy said astronomers will refer to them as dirty snowballs.
While the floating snowball is in space, it's called a meteoroid, Murphy said, and it becomes a meteor when it hits the atmosphere, it can heat up enough to melt and glow.
"Because it's a lot of ice with rocks and sand, if the comet comes close to the sun, the sun warms it up and it sort of breaks apart, so it's leaving little bits of rock and sand behind it in its orbit," Murphy said. "And we get the meteor shower when Earth passes through that debris. ... It's kind of like flying through a swarm of insects while you're driving down the expressway."
The particular comet that sparks the Perseid shower is the Swift-Tuttle comet. Swift-Tuttle takes 133 years to orbit the sun, according to NASA, and it last entered our solar system in 1992.
The Perseids are named after the constellation Perseus, the point in the sky where it looks like the meteors are shooting from.
The best places to watch
As with most watchable space events that take place during the nighttime, it's best to go somewhere with good visibility and minimal light pollution — so getting out of the city is probably your best bet.
Still, as long as you're not in a super dense, urban area, Murphy said the meteors should still be visible.
"This year, the moon is a crescent that won't rise until really early in the morning," Murphy said. "So this is a particularly good year to watch because the moon won't be out there lighting up the sky."
The best time to watch
During its peak, the Perseids can be seen throughout the night, but some hours are more prime for viewing than others. You'll want to wait until it's "really dark," Murphy said, adding that in Michigan, "the spot where the meteors appear to come from is almost always above the horizon."
And, as the night progresses, they'll get higher and higher above the horizon. Experienced observers say 3-4 a.m. is the ideal viewing time.
"The closer you are to dawn, the more meteors you'll see, but only until it starts getting light," Murphy said.
Murphy said it's important to keep in mind that even with 100 meteors shooting by an hour, there's still a lot of time in between.
"This isn't gonna be meteors raining down around you," she said.
Watching the Perseid meteor shower is a no-equipment-necessary activity. As long as you're out of the city, in the dark, you should be golden.
"No equipment is needed, but bring a blanket or sleeping bag, and lots of bug spray, and nice music is good too, or a podcast and a buddy," Murphy said.
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