All year long as Earth revolves around the sun, it passes through streams of cosmic debris. The resulting meteor showers can light up night skies from dusk to dawn, and if you are lucky you might be able to catch a glimpse.
The next shower you might be able to see is known as the Perseids. Active from July 17 to Aug. 26, it is expected to be at its peak from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.
The Perseids light up the night sky when Earth runs into pieces of cosmic debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. The dirty snowball is 17 miles wide and takes about 133 years to orbit the sun. Its last go-round was in 1992.
Usually between 160 and 200 meteors dazzle in Earth’s atmosphere every hour during the display’s peak. They zoom through the atmosphere at around 133,000 mph and burst about 60 miles overhead. But the moon will be about half full, which could interfere with viewing in some places.
Where Meteor Showers Come From
If you spot a meteor shower, what you are usually seeing is an icy comet’s leftovers that crash into Earth’s atmosphere. Comets are sort of like dirty snowballs: As they travel through the solar system, they leave behind a dusty trail of rocks and ice that lingers in space long after they leave. When Earth passes through these cascades of comet waste, the bits of debris — which can be as small as grains of sand — pierce the sky at such speeds that they burst, creating a celestial fireworks display.
A general rule of thumb with meteor showers: You are never watching the Earth cross into remnants from a comet’s most recent orbit. Instead, the burning bits come from the previous passes. For example, during the Perseid meteor shower you are seeing meteors ejected from when its par