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A man watches the stars in front of his tent. Photo by AP
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The annual Perseid meteor shower, which is expected to peak late Thursday night, promises to be the one of the best displays of the year.

Numerous "shooting stars" - which are actually dust and ice particles colliding into the Earth's atmosphere - will flash across the night sky, delighting stargazers the world over.

The meteor shower, which has been slowly gaining intensity over the past week, is expected to illuminate the sky from midnight to the early morning hours, producing its best display between 2 A.M. and 5 A.M., when 60 to 100 meteors an hour will be seen in optimal conditions.

The meteors will be best seen well away from large cities and light sources, providing the sky is clear, forecasters say.

The Israeli Astronomical Association and regional councils have planned several sky-gazing events throughout the Negev.

"Unlike other astronomical activities, no observation equipment is necessary in this case," says astronomer Ilan Manulis of the Givatayim Observatory. "Just lie on your back on a blanket and gaze at the sky, and the meteorites will come. The beauty is you don't even have to look in any particular direction."

Several groups will be hosting events in honor of the occasion. The Astronomical Association is sponsoring a major stargazing event at the Timna Valley national park in the southwestern Arava. A smaller event offering instruction for stargazers will be held in Shittim.

The non-profit organization Reshit Mada (Science Origins ) and the Tel Aviv University Astronomy Club will be holding a joint observation in Mitzpeh Ramon. And the Bareket Observatory in Maccabim is organizing viewings on individual farms in the Negev.