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Perseid meteor shower: Coming soon to a sky near you

Perseid meteor shower: Beloved by skywatchers, 2013 will be an excellent one for the Perseid meteor shower. The moon will set before midnight on the peak Perseids nights.

NASA Astronaut Ron Garan, Expedition 28 flight engineer, tweeted this image from the International Space Station on Sunday Aug. 14 2011 with the following caption: "What a 'Shooting Star' looks like from space, taken yesterday during Perseid Meteor Shower."

(AP Photo/Ron Garan - NASA)

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Get ready to start looking up this summer.

For Northern Hemisphere observers, the latter half of July on into August is usually regarded as "meteor viewing season," with one of the best displays of the year reaching its peak in mid-August.

The annual Perseid meteor shower is beloved by everyone from meteor enthusiasts to summer campers, and 2013 will be an excellent one for the Perseids. The moon will set before midnight on the peak nights of Aug. 11 and 12, meaning dark skies for prospective observers. [See Amazing Perseid Meteor Shower Photos of 2012]

This week, however, let's concentrate on some of the lesser-known summer meteor displays. 

In general, Earth encounters richer meteoric activity during the second half of the year, and stargazers are more likely to see twice as many meteors per hour in the predawn hours as compared with the evening hours. During the premidnight hours, the United States is on the "trailing" side of the Earth due to our orbital motion through space. Any meteoric particle generally must have an orbital velocity greater than that of the Earth to "catch" the planet.

After midnight, when the United States is  turned onto the Earth's "leading" side, any particle that lies along the Earth's orbital path will enter the planet's atmosphere as a meteor.  As such, objects collide with the atmosphere at speeds of 7 to 45 miles per second (11 to 17.7 kilometers per second), their energy of motion rapidly dissipates in the form of heat, light, and ionization, creating short-lived streaks of light popularly referred to as "shooting stars."


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