Skywatchers looking out for the Perseids should also be able to see the following planets.
› Mars visible from dark until 4 a.m.
› Saturn visible from dark until 2 a.m.
› Venus best viewed at 9:30 p.m.
› Jupiter best viewed at 11 p.m.
The most visible meteor shower of the year will blaze through the sky this weekend.
The Perseid meteor shower peaks each August when the Earth passes through a comet's trail of dust and small particles.
"We started going through it on July 17, and we'll finish Aug. 24," says Dr. Michael Pugh, professor of physics at Chattanooga State Community College. "But Aug. 12 is when we pass through the densest and dustiest part of the comet's path."
These particles, commonly referred to as shooting stars, hit the atmosphere going about 37 miles per second, he says. And on Sunday night, spectators should be able to see 60 or 70 of them per hour.
He explains that it's not that the comet trail is going so fast, but that Earth is, the effect being like having comet debris hitting the Earth's windshield.
Pugh is in agreement with NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke and other scientists around the country predicting what could be the "most popular meteor shower of the year," according to the website Space.com.
The meteor shower's peak will be visible both Saturday and Sunday, but the better show will be Sunday, says Cooke.
Conditions seem to be especially right for this annual show. The Perseids will coincide with a crescent moon, which will set before midnight, making it easier to see this year than many other years, says Ajani Bakari, outreach and communications and lecturer at UTC's Clarence T. Jones Observatory in Brainerd.
"While astronomers do love our moon, it makes it difficult to do lots of observance," he says. "The more full the moon is, the brighter it is, so the more it obscures the night sky. But because it will be closer to a new moon when the Perseids peak, it will make it easier to see more of the meteors that occur."
Bakari, who studies physics at Chattanooga State, advises that it's also a good time to see planets like Mars and Venus.
Mars will be the unmistakable bright red ball in the sky, he says, and Venus will probably be the first bright light seen that night.
According to Space.com, Mars will be visible until about 4 a.m., Saturn until 2 a.m. Venus and Jupiter can be best viewed at 9:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. respectively.
If spectators took a slow-motion photograph, the Perseids would look like a chrysanthemum, with little streaks of light coming toward the eye, says Pugh.
The best way to view the meteor shower is with the naked eye because you can see a wider area than you can by looking through a telescope or binoculars. Those tools would be good for looking at stars that remain in the sky, but meteor showers will be scattered.
Pugh recommends going to a hillside away from lights, especially somewhere outside the city to avoid light pollution.
You have to wait until after sunset to see anything. But once its dark, look north and a little to the right. The meteor shower will originate from the constellation Perseus, hence the name, Perseids.
Viewers can put free astronomy apps on their cellphone or iPad that will help find the constellation, he says.
Most eyes take about 30 minutes to adjust to the meteor showers. The longer you stay and watch, the more you'll see.
Viewers may have to wait until 10 p.m. before the sky is dark enough to see the activity. Real comet watchers will stay up and catch the prime viewing time from midnight to 2 p.m., says Pugh.
He recommends Ooltewah as a viewing spot because it doesn't have as many street lights as Chattanooga.
Bakari suggests Harrison Bay State Park, noting that the observatory has a Star Walk display there that informs viewers about the planets.
Other than seeing a spectacular light show, Bakari and Pugh say seeing the display may also give spectators perspective.
"There's a reason that ancient people viewed these events so highly," says Bakari. "They viewed them as the heavens speaking to them."
"When you look into outer space, when you look long enough, it feels like you're looking down," adds Pugh. "And it gives you a since of wonder."
Contact Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.