If you like to wish upon a falling star, head outside this weekend before dawn and you should be able to increase your luck substantially.
Earth will be plowing through a region of space liberally sprinkled with dust from a comet.
The planet passes through this stretch every year at this time, but with only a slim new moon in the sky, it will be darker than usual and better suited for viewing the Perseid meteor shower.
"It’s going to be a great show," said Bill Cooke, who keeps an eye out for meteoroids and comets from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
At the peak of the storm, which occurs at 2 a.m. EDT on Monday, Cooke estimates as many as one to two meteoroids per minutes. But the show should begin around 9 p.m. on Sunday when the constellation Perseus rises in the northeast and continue until first light on Monday.
We can thank Comet Swift-Tuttle for leaving behind the debris that causes the showers, but we’ll have to do it in absentia. The comet, which is the largest object known that makes repeated passes by Earth, hasn’t been around since 1992.
Nevertheless, we are reminded of its presence every year when Earth passes by its celestial footsteps, which seem to emanate from the constellation Perseus, which is why the storm is known as the Perseids.
As particles from the comet’s tail enter Earth’s atmosphere, the air in front of them becomes compressed and hot. Scientists estimate temperatures can climb as high as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit due to the particles’ intense speed — about 132,000 mph. The heat vaporizes the particles, creating streaks of light we call shooting stars.
For best viewing, try to find a dark spot, away from city lights and look east. For added bonus, Mars will be out, in full red bloom, in the constellation Taurus, just below Perseus.