Why Thursday night's Perseid meteor shower is extra special

One of the most anticipated meteor showers of the year will be doubly special Thursday night as Jupiter bolsters the power of the Perseids.

The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks through early Friday morning, and astronomers don't expect to see a show of such extravagance again until the Perseids of 2027.

That’s because Jupiter’s weighty gravitational pull is influencing this year’s Perseids, tugging at the space particles responsible for the shower so that their orbits moved closer to Earth. So while an average Perseid meteor shower will rain down 60 to 90 meteors per hour, there may be double that amount this year.

“This is one I would watch this year,” said Bill Cooke, lead for NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Alabama.

The Perseid meteor shower is considered runner-up on the grandness scale only to the Geminid meteor shower in December.

But Cooke said the Perseids are special because they are known for sending showy fireballs streaking through the sky with long trains that may linger for several seconds. Fireballs are brighter than the planet Venus, and a Perseid fireball can light up the ground like a brief spotlight.

“They can produce some very spectacular meteors,” Cooke said about the Perseids. “Some people say they have a yellow color.”

While the Perseid shower radiates from the bold constellation of monster-slayer and mythical Greek hero Perseus, the meteors are actually debris from the Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. The comet orbits the sun in a large cigar-shaped path, with Earth passing through the comet rubble every year in mid-August.

The comet sheds debris that can range from the size of a pinhead to a half-dollar, Cooke said. They slam into Earth’s atmosphere at 132,000 mph.

“With a little luck you’ll see a ‘shooting star’ every minute or so on average,” said Alan MacRobert, senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine.

Sam Storch, a retired astronomy professor and member of the Astronomical Society of the Palm Beaches, said people shouldn’t be discouraged if they walk out their door and don’t see a meteor right away.

He suggests finding a dark spot away from light pollution and with no obstructions such as tall buildings. The moon this year will be waning crescent with only a sliver showing, so its light won’t interfere with seeing a meteor.

“The thing about the Perseids, they are reliable,” Storch said. “This is one of the ones to see.”

NASA is planning a webcast beginning at 10 p.m. Thursday on its UStream channel.'s broadcast will be live beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday.