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The Greatest Show Off Earth

Don’t miss the Perseids, the best of the meteor showers

The moon reaches last-quarter Thursday, rising around midnight. Look for the faint lights of the Pleiades star cluster, marking the back of Taurus the bull, 10 degrees above the moon.
    The next night, or rather morning, the moon rises near 1am, now just scant degrees from Aldebaran, the red heart of the bull, and Jupiter, forming a tight triangle. Brilliant Venus trails this pack by about 20 degrees.
    The waning moon rises in the wee hours Sunday before dawn, trailing Jupiter by a dozen degrees. Look for the moon to the right of Venus early Monday and to the left of the morning star before dawn Tuesday.
    Pre-dawn skies through the weekend provide the best viewing of the annual Perseid meteor shower. The shower is expected to peak in the wee hours before dawn Sunday, with as many as 40 to 60 meteors streaking across the sky in a given hour.
    However, meteors don’t run like clockwork, but rather in fits and starts. So if you really want to see them at their best, be prepared to wait. Set up a lawn chair or a blanket and get comfortable. While you can see the Perseids anywhere in the sky, they appear to originate from the constellation Perseus. The Perseids are fast and bright movers, often leaving in their wake long trains that can last several seconds. And don’t be surprised to see the occasional Perseid streaking across the sky throughout the week.
    Sunset reveals Mars, Saturn and Spica high in the southwest. Mars has been edging toward the other two, and Monday night the red planet threads the needle, plassing just above Spica and just below Saturn, the three bright objects forming a near-straight line. They are all within five degrees of one another, close enough to fit within binoculars’ field of view.