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Perseid meteor shower: Best times to see the 'shooting stars'

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With this as a background, perhaps the best times to look this year will be during the predawn hours several mornings before the night of full moon. That's when the constellation Perseus (from where the meteors get their name) will stand high in the northeast sky.

In fact, three "windows" of dark skies will be available between moonset and the first light of dawn on the mornings of Aug. 9, 10 and 11.

Generally speaking, there will be about 2 1/2 hours of completely dark skies available on the morning of the Tuesday (Aug. 9). This shrinks to about 1 1/2 hours on Wednesday, and to less than a half hour by Thursday morning.

The 2011 Perseid meteor shower viewing table here shows prime skywatching times for some selected US cities. All times are a.m. and are local daylight times. "Dawn" is the time when morning (astronomical) twilight begins. "Window" is the number of minutes between the time of moonset and the start of twilight.

Here's an example: When will the sky be dark and moonless for Perseid viewing on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 10 from Houston? Answer: there will be an 89-minute period of dark skies beginning at moonset (3:49 a.m.) and continuing until dawn breaks (5:18 a.m.).

Perhaps up to a dozen or so forerunners of the main Perseid display might appear to steak by within an hour's watch on these mornings.

In the absence of moonlight a single observer might see up to 100 meteors per hour on the peak night, a number that sadly cannot be hoped to be approached in 2011.

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