Perseid meteor shower set to light up Canadian skies this weekend

Photographer Jeff Berkes caught this Perseid meteor in Utah, 2011.Olympics fans have been watching stars compete in their various athletic trajectories, but this weekend there's another set of "stars" about to put on a spectacular showcase.

The annual Perseid meteor shower is set to hit its peak in our northern skies for what NASA predicts will be the "best meteor shower of the year" on Saturday night.

As CBC notes, meteor showers occur when our planet crosses paths with debris fields left behind by visiting comets. Bits of rock and metal crumble off the comet tail as it passes by and they hurtle toward the Earth's atmosphere at hundreds of thousands of kilometres per hour. When the meteors hit the upper atmosphere, the air in front of them compresses causing temperatures to reach several thousand degrees and burn up the falling matter.

The heat is what causes the newly minted meteors to glow so that they appear like bright streaks of light trailing through the sky. In the case of the Perseid, the comet in question is the 109P/Swift-Tuttle and its debris tends to fall in the area of the Perseus constellation, lending to its mythological name.

[ Related: See photos of last year's Perseid ]

NASA recommends finding a dark, open space to watch the show with as little light pollution as possible. That means avoiding heavily lit areas and perhaps seeking out less populated pastures, if possible. Weather also plays a major role. Clear skies naturally offer the best view and spectators are encouraged to start looking for the show to start from the east.

Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekendThe Perseid meteor shower peaks Aug. 11-12, 2012.

Several dozen meteors are projected to fall this year and the optimal time to grab your deck chair, popcorn and camera starts from midnight (your local time) onward.

Though they've been given the short shrift this summer, Vancouverites may be rewarded for their meteorological suffering. The West Coast is showing clear, beautiful skies this weekend that will make for ideal viewing conditions.

Ontario space watchers may have to squint a little, as rainy, cloudy conditions could interfere with prime viewing time.

In Ottawa, at least, the Citizen optimistically reports that by the time the weather clears on Sunday night, viewers will still be able to catch the Perseid's final hurrah before next August's encore.