Every summer, as we were getting our daughters ready to go back to school, we hauled the outside lounge chairs to the clearing in the middle of our back yard. Wrapping ourselves in blankets to protect ourselves from hungry mosquitoes, we plopped ourselves down, looked skyward, and waited.

Because it was the middle of August, our wait was not a long one. First here, then over there, again and again, our patience was rewarded with streaks of light zipping across the black sky. Blink at the wrong time and we’d miss it, but that was okay, because another one would come along shortly.

If you’re fascinated with meteors like I am, the surest way to see them is to watch for them during one of the known annual meteor showers, when there is a cloudless sky. There are the Quadrantids in January, the Lyrids in April, the Eta Aquarids in May, the Perseids in August, the Draconids and Orionids in October, and finally, the Geminids in December.

Meteor showers are named for the area of the sky where they can generally located. This month features the Perseids, named as such, because they appear to emanate from the area of the constellation Perseus. Though peak viewing was on the nights of August 11th and 12th, the shower officially occurs from July 14th through August 24th and you should still be able to view a few meteors during that time.

When the earth passes through the orbit of a comet, we experience meteor showers as bits of debris and dust from the comet heating up as they enter our atmosphere. These meteors are traveling at approximately 37 miles per second. The Perseids come from the comet Swift-Tuttle.

As it orbits the sun, Swift-Tuttle made its last close pass to earth in 1992, when it could be seen with the naked eye. The next close pass that will be visible will be in 2026, when it will be a comfortable 15 million miles away.

The Perseids are notably one of the most visible meteor showers we experience, however, this year has presented a challenge for viewing because the peak occurred simultaneously with a full moon. The bright light cast by the moon makes it a little more difficult to see some of the dimmer meteors.

Even so, on a clear night, at peak, up to 75 meteors per hour can be seen if you view the sky without any other interference from ambient light (from streetlights, buildings, etc.). The meteors can be seen after midnight, with the best viewing occurring just before dawn.

Comet Swift-Tuttle is the largest known object to make repeated passes by the earth. With a nucleus measuring approximately 16 miles in diameter, it is roughly the size of that which is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs. Most of the meteors it creates are only the size of a grain of sand, with some as large as marbles.

At one point in history, it was thought that Swift-Tuttle could collide with earth as it makes its pass in 2026, but more recent and accurate calculations show that there is no danger of that. Whew.