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How to see the Perseid meteor shower as it peaks

An unusually active meteor shower reached its peak last night, but there is still time to get out and catch a glimpse.

The Perseid meteor shower began on July 17 and will continue until Aug. 24, and though it peaked sometime in the early morning hours of Aug. 12, meteors will still fall at high rates on Saturday, Aug. 13.

The Perseids are tiny pieces of debris and dust that have broken off from the Swift-Tuttle comet, which orbits the sun every 133 years. As Earth moves through space, it hits this dust, and the debris descend into Earth's atmosphere, burn up and leave the dashes of light some call "shooting stars."

The Perseid shower — named because the meteors seem to fly out from the constellation named Perseus — happens every August. During a typical shower, a skygazer can expect to see about 100 meteors per hour. This year, forecasters said peak viewing times

There are a few caveats here. First, conditions are rarely perfect: Everything from light pollution to the glow of the moon can obscure the stars. And night skies in American cities are increasingly filled with enough light to cloud the view.

The best way to see the show is to go outside around midnight, or shortly after, in a location with as dark a sky as possible. The moon should set between midnight and 1:00 a.m., depending on location. In New York City, moonset occurs at 1:34 a.m. ET on Aug. 13, and viewers will want to allow eyes the recommended 45 minutes to adjust to the darkness.

If traveling to a place with sufficiently dark skies is untenable, NASA will broadcast the shower on Ustream.

Those who can't see the show can still marvel at this thought: "The meteors you'll see this year are from comet flybys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago," said Cooke in the release. "And they've traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth's atmosphere."