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Meteor shower will wow gazers overnight

By the CNN Wire Staff
Meteors fill the sky in this long-exposure shot of the sky over Nevada during the Perseid meteor shower in August 2008.
Meteors fill the sky in this long-exposure shot of the sky over Nevada during the Perseid meteor shower in August 2008.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Perseid meteor shower peaks early Friday morning
  • NASA will host live web chat during the show
  • Best viewing is in Northern Hemisphere
  • The Perseids have been observed for at least 2,000 years

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NASA chat Web page: http://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/perseids_2010.html

(CNN) -- There's still time to charge that laptop and brew some coffee before the Perseid meteor shower peaks predawn Friday.

OK, it's easy to understand why the coffee will come in handy during the long watch overnight. But the laptop?

Meteor gazers can join a NASA live chat with astronomer Bill Cooke. The Marshall Space Flight Center astronomer will answer questions beginning around 11 p.m. Eastern Time Thursday.

NASA also is broadcasting live the hums of the meteors as they whiz by.

With a waxing crescent moon expected to set beforehand, and hence less moonlight in the way, forecasters are expecting one of the best celestial shows of the year, weather in your neighborhood permitting.

With good viewing conditions, stargazers might be able to catch at least 40 meteors per hour, Space.com said.

"The August Perseids are among the strongest of the readily observed annual meteor showers, and at maximum activity nominally yields 90 to 100 meteors per hour," Space.com columnist Joe Rao said in his column. "Anyone in a city or near bright suburban lights will see far fewer."

NASA advises viewers that "the Perseids shower will begin around 10 p.m. YOUR local time. However, the best times to view are after midnight and before dawn, with the best activity around 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. local time. Best conditions are a clear, dark sky away from city lights. Go outside and look straight up at the sky."

The Perseids can be seen all over the sky, but the best viewing opportunities will be across the Northern Hemisphere. Those with sharp eyes will see that the meteors radiate from the direction of the constellation Perseus.

The Perseids have been observed for at least 2,000 years and are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years, NASA says. Each year in August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet's debris. These bits of ice and dust burn up in the Earth's atmosphere to create one of the best meteor showers of the year.