You could see up to 100 meteors per hour over Central Indiana tonight. Here’s how to watch

The annual Perseid meteor shower, regarded as one of the best to observe each year, will reach its peak late Tuesday night and into the early hours of Wednesday morning. 

Traveling at speeds of about 30,000 to 40,000 mph, Brian Murphy, director of the Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium at Butler University, said the warm weather paired with the brightness of the meteors makes for an impressive spectacle each August. 

Meteors are small pieces of matter — typically the size of pebbles or grains of sand — left behind by comets as they orbit through space. 

The meteors seen during Perseid come from the Swift-Tuttle Comet. While the Swift-Tuttle Comet only passes by Earth every 133 years, Murphy said, the pieces of matter left in the comet’s orbit become visible when they enter Earth’s atmosphere and begin to burn up. 

“Every time a comet passes near the sun, it leaves a bit of debris in its orbit because some of that material leaves the comet’s nucleus and stays in that orbit,” Murphy said. “If Earth gets near that orbit, which occurs for this comet once a year, what happens is we have that debris hitting the Earth.”

The meteor shower, however, gets its name from the constellation Perseus, he said, because it appears to radiate from the collection of stars “almost like spokes out of a wheel.”

Murphy compared the meteor shower to a snowstorm — in the same way that heavy snowfall appears to come from a centralized point when looking up at the sky, the Perseid Meteor Shower appears to come from Perseus. 

The meteors move so quickly, Murphy said, they typically burn up about 60 to 100 miles above Earth’s surface, which creates their quick two- to three-second streak across the sky. Because of this, Murphy does not suggest trying to view the shower with binoculars or a telescope. 

“You won’t even notice them because they move too fast,” he said. 

Murphy recommends looking toward the northeast sky between 11 p.m. Tuesday and 2 a.m. Wednesday to allow the meteor shower to reach its highest point in the sky.

Looking straight up at the sky, however, will work just as well because it ensures an unobstructed view of the shower and will remain the darkest part of the sky until the moon reaches its peak around 2 a.m.

Those viewing from well-lit city areas, Murphy said, should expect to see around 25 to 40 meteors per hour. In a darker location, however, up to 100 meteors per hour could be visible. 

And While the National Weather Service predicts Tuesday night to be mostly cloudy as well as a slight chance of rain and thunderstorms Wednesday morning, NASA will be live-broadcasting the shower with a telescope view starting at dusk Tuesday.

Murphy said the meteor shower will likely be visible for the next three to four days, but after it reaches its peak between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, it will slowly start to taper off.

Contact IndyStar Pulliam Fellow Brooke Kemp at bkemp@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @brookemkemp.