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Perseid meteor shower promises celestial fireworks display across Massachusetts skies

The skies over Massachusetts will illuminate with fireballs and shooting stars this week to the delight of stargazers as the Perseid meteor shower peaks during its annual pass by Earth.

A favorite for backyard skywatchers, the Perseids are called a “fireball champion” by Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. The meteor shower will send as many as 100 shooting stars an hour streaking across night skies.

Fireballs are very bright meteors that can be seen on any given night as random meteoroids strike Earth’s upper atmosphere — it’s not unusual, but it becomes more common as the Earth is passing through the debris stream of a comet, which is what’s happening this week.

“We have found that one meteor shower produces more fireballs than any other,” explains Cooke. “It’s the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks on August 12th and 13th.”

Whether you’ll be able to witness the celestial fireworks display will depend on the weather. The National Weather Service says skies will be mostly clear over the coming week, with a chance of some thunderstorms on Wednesday that could potentially foil stargazers.

For the best view, Cooke recommends finding a place with a clear, unobstructed view of the night sky.

“Get away from city lights,” Cooke says. “While fireballs can be seen from urban areas, the much greater number of faint Perseids is visible only from the countryside.”

The Perseid meteor shower is often considered to be one of the best meteor showers of the year with its glittering light show and pleasant late-summer temperatures. This year’s shower peak has the added bonus of dark skies courtesy of an early setting crescent moon.

The Perseid shower comes from Comet Swift-Tuttle. Every year in early- to mid-August, Earth passes through a cloud of dust sputtered off the comet as it approaches the sun. Perseid meteoroids hitt our atmosphere at 132,000 mph and become meteors to produce the annual light show.

The best time to view the spectacle will be on the nights of Aug. 12 and 13 from 10:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. The meteor rate will start out slow but pick up and peak just before sunrise when the constellation Perseus is high in the sky.


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