The Perseid Meteor Showers
The Leonids
When to watch

Though they vary, the Perseids are more predictable than most meteor showers. And while never grand on the scale of historic meteor storms caused by the November Leonid meteor shower, the Perseids are dependable.

"From every northern location in the world, a fair number of nice meteors will be seen," says Rainer Arlt, an astronomer at Astrophysikalisches Institut Potsdam in Germany. "The only hindrance is artificial light."

The Perseids regularly produce 50 to 150 meteors per hour -- more than 1 per minute -- under dark skies. There have been years when they produced only a handful, and other years when the count soared above 200 per hour. The first records of the shower date back to 36 A.D., with a Chinese account of "more than 100 meteors" being sighted one early morning.

This year's peak hourly rate is expected to be on the low end of the range, likely around 50.

The best times to watch will be the overnight hours on Aug. 11/12 and Aug. 12/13, astronomers say. The peak is forecast to occur Aug. 12, between 14h and 17h UT, or Universal Time, said Arlt. Unfortunately, that's 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT. Observers in Hawaii should see the peak under dark skies in the very morning of August 12, and parts of eastern Asia will see the peak fall during night hours, Arlt said.

"Those who have dry transparent air may be able to see up to 50 Perseids an hour," during the peak, said Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society. Hazy humid conditions would reduce that count.

A dozen or more per hour could also be visible a night or two before the peak, and then a night or two after. The shower continues through about Aug. 22, by which time it will have wound back down to just 1 to 2 meteors per hour.

Also, up to 10 shooting stars not associated with the Perseids occur every hour of every night this time of year. These other meteors, which are typically not as bright as the Perseids, can approach from any direction in the sky.