Science at NASA has great news for sky watchers. The Perseid meteor shower is underway and when the shower peaks on August 11 through 13, the brightest planets in the solar system are lining up in the middle of the display.
Hundreds of shooting stars will be visible during the pre-dawn skies. Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteorite Environment Office says that there will be meteor rates at one hundred per hour. Perseids can be seen any time after 10 or 11 at night, but the pre-dawn hours are the best. Urban glare can make it harder to see them. Cooke says that a trip to the countryside will triple the number of meteors that can be seen.
This year's Perseid showers will be extra special because the planets Jupiter, Venus and the crescent Moon are gathering together just as the meteor shower reaches its peak. The alignment will be visible in the eastern sky, just before sunrise on the three mornings of highest meteor activity.
For those who like to count the number of shooting stars that they see, meteor tallies from amateurs can by used by NASA to study and model the Perseid debris stream. NASA has developed an application for Android and iPhones for amateur sky watchers that can be downloaded for free. The Meteor Counter application allows users to easily capture meteor observations with an innovative "piano key" interface. As the keys are tapped, Meteor Counter records critical data for each meteor: time, magnitude, latitude, and longitude, along with optional verbal annotations. Afterward, these data are automatically uploaded to NASA researchers for analysis. Meteor Counter also provides a news feed and event calendar, updated by professional scientists with the latest meteor happenings and upcoming showers.