The Perseid meteor shower will dazzle in the early morning hours of Aug. 13. Plus, a popular planet shows up in the night sky.


Hello and welcome.

I'm Jane Houston Jones at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

2009 is International Year of Astronomy.

And each month this year we’re showcasing a great celestial object or event.

This month it's the Perseid Meteor Shower!

Title - Perseid meteors appear as streaks in this time-exposure

Have you ever wondered what makes these cosmic fireworks?

Meteor showers are just the debris of a passing comet or sometimes the debris from a fragmented asteroid.

When a comet nears the sun, its icy surface heats up.

This causes clouds of gas, dirt and dust to be released, forming a tail of debris that can stretch for millions of miles.

As Earth passes near the dusty tail, some of the dust particles hit our atmosphere.

They burn up and create the great celestial fireworks we see.

NASA generates meteor shower forecasts to prevent potential hazards to spacecraft that are launching or orbiting Earth.

NASA also monitors these showers to check the accuracy of the forecasts.

Title - Deep Impact mission is repurposed as Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization, Deep impact Extended Investigation

NASA’s Deep Impact mission is now on an extended mission called EPOXI.

Title - Deep Impact mission is repurposed as EPOXI

It will visit comet Hartley 2 in 2010.

Title - Dawn Spacecraft

And the Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres

Title - Asteroid Vesta

flies by Vesta for the first time in 2011, and flies by the

Title - Dwarf Planet Ceres

dwarf planet Ceres in 2015.

Title - 2006 Perseid Meteor Shower

You don't need a telescope or binoculars to view a meteor shower.

In fact, meteor showers are best seen with the unaided eye.

You'll see some Perseids all month long -- before and after midnight –

Title - Looking Northeast, August 12, 2 – 4 a.m.

but the real fireworks will appear in the wee hours of Wednesday, August 12th.

Title - Radiant: the point from which meteors seem to originate

Between 2 and 4 a.m. local time, look for up to 100 meteors per hour.

Meteor showers are best seen in the hours after midnight.

That's when Earth is facing the direction in which the dust particles are colliding with our atmosphere.

Title - Looking East, August 12, 3:00 a.m.

And as a bonus for staying up late, two planets are visible in the eastern sky – one bright and the other faint.

Venus is just rising low on the horizon and is much brighter.

Mars, despite that e-mail hoax about it being big and bright this month, appears as a reddish faint star-like object above Venus.

And Jupiter shines as a brilliant beacon in the west.

Title - Looking Southwest, August 12, 3:00 a.m.

Through a telescope, you might even be able to see nearby Neptune!

Title - To learn more about NASA’s missions:

You can learn all about NASA's missions at

Title - Thanks to the following for submitting images: Fred Bruenjes, Pete Lawrence, Wally Pacholka, Anthony Wesley

That’s all for this month, I’m Jane Houston Jones.

Title - NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

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