The Perseid meteor shower this weekend can best be viewed the nights of 11 August through 13 August.
The best viewing time is from eleven pm and later. After midnight Saturday evening expect to see at least one meteor or shooting star per minute. During that peak you’ll see perhaps up to 80-per hour. Some years it's more than that. In its revolution around the Sun, the Earth is passing through the stream of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. It orbits the Earth once every 133-years. The debris creates the meteors. If they hit the ground, they are called meteorites. Those that remain in space and do not enter our atmosphere are called meteoroids. You won’t even know they are there. If you take pictures, the streaks of light against the background stars may be spectacular. The 2011 NASA diagram below shows you where to look.
If you don’t attend a community or park viewing event, take a lawn chair out into your back yard or area where you can see the sky. Sit facing the northeast. The meteors will come primarily from that direction. Many families make popcorn or snacks to be served with soft drinks to create a festive affair.
If you have a telephone that takes apps, load the free Meteor Counter application. It will always give you the latest news and allows you to enter whether you are a beginner, intermediate or expert astronomer with meteors. You can aid astronomers by providing data about the meteors you see.
A 2011 NASA video guide for the Perseid meteor shower can be found at: http://scarsdale.patch.com/articles/stargazers-get-set-for-meteor-showers-this-weekend#youtube_video-7339329
An excellent NASA notation and video about the smoke left from meteors causing noctilucent clouds is at: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2012/07aug_meteorsmoke/
The Astronomy Picture of the Day guide to photos of this shower can be found at: http://apod.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/apod/apod_search Be sure to check this site daily during and after the meteor shower to see the spectacular pictures captured from around the world. If this APOD site is not one of your daily excursions into astronomy, make it a “favorite” or a “bookmark” and begin to enjoy the delights it offers.
A guide for photographing meteors can be found at: http://www.realclearwx.com/m1.htm
To learn about future meteor showers, the meteor calendar for 2012 can be found at:http://www.imo.net/calendar/2012
The American Meteor Society guide for now through 17 August can be found at: http://www.amsmeteors.org/2012/08/meteor-activity-outlook-for-august-11-17-2012/
When in grade school and quite ignorant about astronomy, I thought the “shooting stars” were space ships traveling from star to star. They were a great curiosity to me and perhaps began my life-long love of studying and teaching astronomy. I remember sitting on the grass as a child in the early summer evenings to watch the meteors, the moon, and constellations. The sky was always dark and the stars bright back then. My family loved seeing the Milky Way which is currently barely visible due to light pollution. I can still visualize the beauty of the Milky Way of my youth without even closing my eyes. For that I feel blessed.