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.”
NASA will livestream the meteor shower for those of you who fear the outside world or live in an area with too much light pollution. The stream will start at 10pm ET on August 11 and August 12.
Pro tip: lying on the ground and looking straight up will make you feel like you're in a coming-of-age film, but it's actually not the best way to watch a meteor shower. "Unfortunately the column of air directly above you is the thinnest slice of atmosphere," writes Robert Lunsford at the American Meteor Society blog, "therefore producing the least number of meteors. You are better off centering your field of view at approximately one-half the way up in the sky, high enough to avoid anything that may block your view."
You'll be the coolest person at your late-night hang out with that knowledge, and taking friends to view astronomical phenomenon is all about being the coolest person in town.