I don't do as much stargazing as I used to, but I always try to catch the Perseids meteor shower every autumn. The best time to see 'em - this weekend from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. each night.

The shower is associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which leaves debris when it passes through the orbital path of Earth every 166 years. That debris - usually little grains of material - cause the streaks of light. Bigger debris cause fireballs, which are rare but unforgettable.

The Perseids are fairly consistent. You are going to see SOMETHING if you go out and look up.

Get out of town. Let your eyes adjust to the dark. Take a lounge chair, relax. No binoculars are needed. Stay out at least a half hour - the longer the better. Now, it will almost certainly NOT be like the picture I included, but you may see - on average - 60 meteors an hour. Of course, that's all over the sky. The worst words you can hear (if you're with an observing group) is, "Oooh, did you see that one over there?"...and they're looking in the opposite direction from you.

My favorite two Perseids showers are:

  • A camping trip to Little Rock Creek Lake, south of Lake Como, where I saw two large meteors, side-by-side, streak parallel to the Milky Way. There were lots of meteors that night.
  • About an hour before sunrise, on Lost Horse Observation Point, with a group of friends (only two of us awake by that time), a bright greenish meteor seemed to come straight down out of the sky. Not many meteors that night, but the one stand-out was amazing.
  • The shower lasts for a few days. According to many astronomers, the "peak" of the Perseids for us on this side of Earth is Sunday night into Monday morning, August 12.

    Now, if you see some glowing colors near the northern horizon, that will be the Northern Lights. They've been appearing every so often this summer. For tips on when they're expected, check www.spaceweather.com