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Meteor shower this weekend

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The most famous yearly meteor shower is due to peak on Friday night and Saturday morning, and if the weather cooperates it should be visible throughout Utah.

But this year, don't count on a stunning celestial spectacle from the Perseids meteor shower, warns Patrick Wiggins of Hansen Planetarium.

"Under normal circumstances, observers away from city lights are usually able to count 60 or more Perseids per hour. Unfortunately, this year's peak is set to occur when there will be a nearly full moon in the sky, whose light could wash out the fainter meteors."

For hard-core meteor-watchers, however, the good news is that the moon will set about 4 a.m. Saturday. That should provide an hour or so of darkness before dawn starts to break.

In a written statement, Wiggins said some Perseids may also be seen in the nights leading up to and following the predicted peak. They are called Perseids because the streaks of light seem to radiate from a point inside the constellation Perseus, located high in the northeast.

Telescopes and binoculars are better left at home for meteor showers, Wiggins said. The instruments merely restrict the observer's view of the sky.

"A lawn chair and the naked eye are the best devices for viewing meteor showers," he said.

Meteors, a k a "shooting stars" or "falling stars," are actually tiny bits of rock, many no larger than a grain of sand. They are debris left over from the passage of the comet Swift/Tuttle, which last passed near the sun in 1992 and is now headed into deep space.

When cometary fragments strike the upper atmosphere, they are whizzing along at 40 miles per second. They burn up because of air friction, momentarily leaving a streak of glowing ionized gas behind.

For more information about the meteor shower, phone Hansen Planetarium's Starline Information Service at 532-7627, or log onto the planetarium Web site at www.utah.edu/planetarium.