But Cooke said the Perseids are special because they are known for sending showy fireballs streaking through the sky with long trains that may linger for several seconds. Fireballs are brighter than the planet Venus, and a Perseid fireball can light up the ground like a brief spotlight.
“They can produce some very spectacular meteors,” Cooke said about the Perseids. “Some people say they have a yellow color.”
While the Perseid shower radiates from the bold constellation of monster-slayer and mythical Greek hero Perseus, the meteors are actually debris from the Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. The comet orbits the sun in a large cigar-shaped path, with Earth passing through the comet rubble every year in mid-August.
The comet sheds debris that can range from the size of a pinhead to a half-dollar, Cooke said. They slam into Earth’s atmosphere at 132,000 mph.
“With a little luck you’ll see a ‘shooting star’ every minute or so on average,” said Alan MacRobert, senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine.
Sam Storch, a retired astronomy professor and member of the Astronomical Society of the Palm Beaches, said people shouldn’t be discouraged if they walk out their door and don’t see a meteor right away.
He suggests finding a dark spot away from light pollution and with no obstructions such as tall buildings. The moon this year will be waning crescent with only a sliver showing, so its light won’t interfere with seeing a meteor.
“The thing about the Perseids, they are reliable,” Storch said. “This is one of the ones to see.”
NASA is planning a webcast beginning at 10 p.m. Thursday on its UStream channel. Slooh.com's broadcast will be live beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday.