The Perseid meteor shower 2011 will hit its peak Friday night and early Saturday, but don’t expect to see the sky falling — a full moon will dull the starry skies.
Every year, the Earth passes through the orbit of the Swift-Tuttle comet, causing a spectacular meteor shower as shooting stars streak across the sky.
The annual mid-August show, caused by a wide swath of debris from the comet burning up upon entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, is a highlight for skygazers. These disintegrating chunks of dust, rock and ice stream out of the constellation Perseus — hence the name "Perseids,” NASA says.
But 2011 is not the best year to see the Perseids at their peak, according to ABC News.
A full moon waxing just as the meteor shower peaks Friday night and before dawn on Saturday means the sky will be bright and the meteor show hard to see.
“Experts note that moonlight and meteor showers don't mix,” writes Tony Phillips, an astronomer who manages the Science News page at NASA's website.
For keen skygazers, the best chance to view the Perseids will be in the Northern hemisphere, just before dawn on Saturday, Phillips writes. Make sure you’re far from city lights, and check the weather forecast for clear skies.
If you have a clear view of the Perseid meteor shower, you might also get to glimpse the International Space Station as it makes early-morning flybys over the United States during the Perseid shower.
Meteors will remain visible until August 22, but after the peak will be far less of a spectacle.
"The Perseids are one of the most reliable meteor showers and normally you can expect to see at least a few tens of meteors each hour if you're observing from a dark site," Robert Massey from the Royal Astronomical Society told the BBC.
"This year, with the shower peak tonight through to Saturday morning coinciding with a near-full moon, you'll probably only see a few brighter meteors each hour.”