Astronomy fans get ready: It's Perseids time

Perseid meteor shower
A Perseid meteor streaks across the sky in early August 2008 near Rogers Spring in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nev. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The best meteor shower of the year will light up the night skies this week, and a dimmer moon means it will be more visible than in recent years.

The Perseid meteor shower occurs annually when debris left behind from the comet Swift-Tuttle ignites in the Earth's atmosphere, said Dave Falkner, program director for the Minnesota Astronomical Society's Eagle Lake Observatory.

"The material comes off the comet and forms a tail and stays in space," Falkner said. "Every year the Earth passes through the debris from the comet and forms shootings stars, or meteors."

The debris is only about the size of sand particles, but it glows because it's coming into the atmosphere at about 22,000 mph, Falkner said.

"The moon is going to be a crescent moon and will not be in the sky most of the night," he said. "So the sky will be good and dark, and it will be much easier to see meteors because of that."

The meteor shower will be visible tonight, but it will peak on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Falkner said the best time to see it is between midnight and dawn, although meteors may be visible earlier as well.

A telescope or binoculars aren't necessary to see the meteors, but it is important to get away from the city's light pollution. Falkner said the Minnesota Astronomical Society is also hosting a observation party at Baylor Regional Park north of Norwood Young America for people who want to see the show.