This Sunday, you could be in for the show of the year as Minneapolis gets a taste of the 2012 Perseid Meteor Shower, if you know where to go.
If the clouds cooperate (that means, if they stay away), you can see the annual meteor shower any night this week, but it will be strongest on Sunday morning around 4 a.m., said Terry Jones, astrophysics professor the University of Minnesota.
The shower splashes through the sky every year in early August when Earth passes through Comet Swift-Tuttle's orbit and sweeps up some of this debris. We see shooting stars—rapid streaks of light—as the tiny rocks encounter the thin upper atmosphere of the Earth and the air is heated to incandescence.
The Perseid shower is the brightest of all major meteor showers, Jones told Patch, because Swift-Tuttle sheds the largest amount of this interstellar dandruff as it arcs through the cosmos.
There's just one problem, Jones said: unless you're really diligent and lucky, trekking up to or down to on Sunday will be a real bust. Because Minneapolis is at the center of a gigantic blob of light polution (map!), and because the meteor shower will be visible in the northeast portion of the sky, anyone looking for the full Perseid experience has to head east of the Twin Cities. If you try to catch it from anywhere in Southwest Minneapolis, you won't see anything like the spectacular one meteor per minute show visible in rural areas.
"You have to understand that people aren’t going to sit outside, staring at the same spot in the sky for an hour just to see a single shooting star," Jones said with a chuckle.
For the geeks among us, here's some trivia: The Perseids get their name from Perseus, the constellation from which they seem to emanate, but they can appear anywhere in the sky. Their only connection with Perseus is that, if you trace their path backward across the sky, eventually you get to Perseus.