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Perseids bring fiery show to August sky

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The Perseids are coming – the most famous, predictable, and visible meteor shower in the Northern Hemisphere.

August is the time of year when astronomers and the rest of us bond. No telescopes, not even binoculars, are needed – just a comfortable dark spot flat on your back, be it hammock, lounge chair, or blanket, looking slightly northeast and toward the zenith after 10 p.m. on Aug. 11.

If you're fortunate enough to be by a lake, take a rowboat out, pull in the oars, and lean back.

Memories easily connect warm summer nights and the Perseids. For children, it's often the first time that looking up at the stars means something exciting will happen. Not just a chance glimpse at a "shooting star," but the awe of watching meteor after meteor streak across the sky.

The "shooting stars" or meteors we see throughout the year are a tiny fraction of the myriad streams of comet dust in space. Our best two meteor showers each year are the Perseids and the Geminids (in December, peaking around the 14th), each named after the constellations from which they appear to come.

Of course, "shooting stars" is just an expression. Stars are astronomically large, often many times the size of our sun, and too incomprehensively far away to "shoot" across our relatively puny skies. This is a good thing. Were even the smallest star to come barreling toward Earth, well, let's not think about it.

The Perseids are the size of a grain of sand zooming along at 132,000 m.p.h. They are visible for only a second or two but their incandescent images linger in memory much longer. Predictions this year are that the shower will peak at upward of 60 meteors an hour at 2 a.m. on Aug. 12 and again on the 13th.

The first arrivals start in dribs and drabs about a week before the 12th, and continue, petering out, for about a week.

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