Perseid meteor shower to rain down Saturday night, Sunday morning
Weather • Weekend thunderstorms may obscure the view.
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People who stay up late Saturday night into Sunday morning will be treated to quite a display — if clouds don't get in the way.

The Perseid meteor shower will peak at about 6 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 12. But the best time for Utahns to watch the meteors is from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., when Utah will be facing into the shower, said Patrick Wiggins, NASA/JPL solar system ambassador to Utah.

"It's the license plate effect," he said. "Look at your car: You have a lot more bugs on your front license plate than on your back one."

The streaks of light zooming across the sky are caused by pieces of rocky debris — ranging in size from a grain of sand to a small piece of gravel — hitting the Earth's atmosphere and burning up, Wiggins said. After they burn up, they fall harmlessly to Earth as meteoric dust — and the Earth accumulates up to 150 tons of it per day.

The Perseid meteor shower — named because the shower appears to originate from the constellation Perseus — is composed of debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet.

Anyone away from city lights should be able to see up to 60 to 120 meteors per hour, but that's only if the weather cooperates.

Thunderstorms are forecast for Saturday and Sunday, and it's uncertain how cloudy the skies might be.

"There is a potential for it to be somewhat cloudy," said Christine Kruse, National Weather Service meteorologist.

If skies are clear, though, the best piece of viewing equipment is a lawn chair or blanket. Seeing the biggest swath of sky possible is important, so binoculars and telescopes only get in the way, Wiggins said.

"So many people are impatient. They go out for a short while right after sunset and don't see anything," Wiggins said. "Consider spending more than 20 minutes looking and doing so after midnight. Look at the whole sky. You never know exactly where they're going to be."

smcfarland@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sheena5427 —

Star party

P Saturday from sunset to 11 p.m.

Where • Stansbury Park Observatory Complex, 252 Highway 138, Stansbury Park.

What • View Mars, Saturn, galaxies and nebulas through telescopes.

More • Stick around afterward to watch the meteor shower away from city lights