The annual Perseid meteor shower is going to be spectacular this year. NASA says that a special "outburst" will take place during the peak of the meteor shower, the night of August 11 into the next day. The expectation is that the outburst will feature up to 200 meteors per hour, twice the normal rate, according to NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke. It's the first outburst of the Perseid meteor shower since 2009.
The shower occurs because the Earth's orbit intersects with the wake of the ancient Swift-Tuttle comet. The outburst is the result of the Earth's orbit intersecting the wake closer to the actual comet than normal (itself the result of Jupiter's gravitational pull), meaning that there's a lot more debris to drive the planet through. That debris — called Perseids because they appear to be falling from the constellation Perseus — is traveling at 132,000 miles per hour and disintegrates in brilliant flashes of light as it enters Earth's atmosphere.
“Here’s something to think about," said Cooke, channeling a college freshman who just took their first class on space. "The meteors you’ll see this year are from comet flybys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago. And they’ve traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth’s atmosphere.”