Keep an eye towards the sky this Thursday, August 12, to see not one, but two astronomical events worth losing a little sleep to see. This Thursday after sunset, the planets Venus and Mars, as well as the crescent moon will be tightly grouped together in the western sky until about 10:00pm.
Shortly after 10:00pm until sunrise, keep a look out for the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. In years past the shower has been known to spread from July 23rd through August 22nd, and this year the shower is expected to peak August 12th-13th. This year's shower is expected to be visible during the shower. Just before sunrise on August 13th should provide the best view of the Perseids, with dozens streaking across the sky every hour.
The cause of the Perseid shower is dust from the comet Swift-Tuttle. On average, the Perseids produce approximately 50-60 meteors per hour. To see the Perseids, look towards the constellation Perseus (in the northeast) after midnight until just before dawn. For best viewing, get as far away from urban light pollution as possible to somewhere with a clear, unobstructed view of the night sky.
For more information and to obtain a partial sky map, visit NASA’s post on the event: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/05aug_perseids/.