They're fast, they're bright and they'll put on a free show in the nighttime sky in the next couple of days for Nevadans willing to give up an hour or two of sleep.
The Perseid meteor shower that shoots across the summer sky each year will be at its most prolific Thursday night and Friday morning, said amateur astronomer Tony Berendsen, owner of Tahoe Star Tours. "The best time will be Thursday from 1 to 2 o'clock in the morning, but you don't have to wait until 1 a.m.," he said. "At 11 p.m., you can look high to the northeast, and you should see some meteors. You also can see them in the early morning any time before 4 a.m."
The number of meteors have been increasing for the last couple of weeks and will peak Thursday and Friday, usually with more than 60 meteors per hour and sometimes up to 100, he said.
"This year is going to be good because there's a new moon, so on Thursday, there will be just a thin crescent moon, and it will set shortly after sunset," Berendsen said. "That means all night, we will have dark skies, and the weather is supposed to be clear, which should make it real nice for viewing."
Meteors are pieces of comets, which are dirty snowballs in space made up of frozen ice and rock-like particles, Berendsen said. The particles that become the meteors in the Perseid showers come from the Swift/Tuttle comet discovered in the 1860s.
"Most of the meteors are about the size of a grain of sand or a thumb, but they are traveling 20,000 mph and there is enough atmosphere up there that they run into atoms and molecules," he said. "So, even if they're just the size of a grain of sand, they give off a fair amount of light when they vaporize."
"They're mostly rock but also contain ammonium, so they sometimes leave a gaseous trail."The meteor showers emanate from a point in the constellation Perseus the Hero."They will show up in any area of the sky, but they will always come from the Perseus constellation, high in the northeast sky," he said.Since the Perseid showers come in August when the nighttime temperatures are warmer, Berendsen said it's a good time to camp in the backyard with the children wrapped up in blankets or sleeping bags while the family enjoys a free out-of-this world show.