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How to catch a perfect Perseid meteor shower

Perseid over Mount Rainier
A Perseid meteor flashes above Mount Rainier in 2016. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The outlook for this year’s Perseid meteor shower is checking all the boxes. Up to a meteor a minute? Check. Moonless sky? Check. Peaking during the weekend? Check. Clear weather? That even looks like a check mark for the night of Aug. 12-13 in Seattle.

Only two clouds hang over what’s traditionally the year’s most watched meteor display. One is literal clouds: The skies won’t always be totally clear for this weekend’s peak, although the National Weather Service shows the cloud cover forecast improving as the weekend wears on. There’s also the smoke from Western wildfires to contend with.

The other cloud has to do with expectations: Yes, the Perseids can produce a meteor per minute, but that’s at the very peak of the shower, under peak conditions. So don’t be disappointed if your meteor mileage varies.

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Relive the peak of the Perseid meteor shower

Image: Perseids and Milky Way
Perseid meteors flash with the Milky Way as a backdrop. (GeekWire photo by Kevin Lisota)

Crowds of skywatchers turned the peak of the Perseid meteor shower into a mass spectator event overnight – and you can catch an encore presentation this weekend, if you know where to go.

For me, last night’s arena was Rattlesnake Lake, about 35 miles east of Seattle. Cars were lined up for miles along the blacktop leading off from Interstate 90’s Exit 34, even though it was 1 o’clock in the morning.

That’s just about the time the moon set, leaving the stage of the clear, black sky open for the meteor performance. My stargazing friend and I settled in right at the lake’s edge, along with hundreds of other people scattered in the darkness. We saw roughly one meteor a minute: Sometimes they came in bunches. Sometimes we just waited and stared. And sometimes we’d miss a flash, only to hear the “oooh” rising up from the surrounding crowd of skywatchers.

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Perseid meteor shower should pack extra punch

Image: Perseids
A composite view from an all-sky camera in Chickamauga, Ga., shows Perseid meteors flashing on the night of Aug. 11, 2010. (Credit: NASA / MSFC / Meteoroid Environment Office)

August’s Perseid meteor shower is always one of the most accessible sky spectaculars of the year, but this year’s show is expected to be even more spectacular than usual.

The meteoric display is due to reach its peak on the night of Aug. 11, heading into the morning of Aug. 12. But you should be able to see shooting stars all this week, assuming the skies are clear. The best time is after moonset, which occurs around 1 a.m. on the peak night.

The Perseids pop up every year, reaching their height around Aug. 11-13. That’s when Earth passes through a stream of cosmic grit left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. When those flecks of grit streak through the upper atmosphere, they ionize the surrounding air and create the flashes we know and love.

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