What Out of the Earth is the Perseid Meteor Shower?
The Perseid meteor shower is one of the most stunning celestial events in the astronomer’s calendar, and this year is set to be one of the biggest meteor showers in some time when it lights up the skies of Britain next week.
While the spectacular shower of shooting stars officially started on 17 July and runs until 24 August, it will peak between Thursday 11 and Saturday 13 August,
Astronomer Bill Cooke from NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville said, this year, forecasters have predicted a Perseid outburst with double normal rates on the night of 11-12 August.
He noted that, under perfect conditions, we could be treated to up to a whopping 200 meteors every hour – so be ready to get your stargazing on.
What is the Perseid meteor shower?
Named after the Perseus constellation, which is the point from which they appear to come from in the night sky, the Perseids are are pieces of debris from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle.
As these chunks of celestial rock fall from space through the Earth’s atmosphere, they appear as bright streaks of light zipping across the sky.
Due to the perspective from which spectators watch the shower from the earth, the meteors you see – if you’re lucky enough – will appear to emerge from a single point in the sky known as the ‘shower radiant’.
This will be made up of several meteors, which are the result of a particle the size of a grain of sand vaporising in Earth’s atmosphere.
There will, however, be some larger and more impressive than this within the shower radiant. Those that are larger than a grape will produce a fireball, often accompanied by an afterglow known as a meteor train – a column of ionised gas that fades from view as it loses energy.
The Perseids are popular with stargazers because the shower usually sees around 60-100 meteors per hour. However, this year’s shower is expected to be particularly impressive, with up to 150 meteors per hour.
When is the best time to see the Perseid meteor shower?
The good news is that the best place to spot the Perseids is in the Northern hemisphere. The bad news is those wishing to catch a glimpse of the shooting stars will have to either stay up late or get up extremely early.
The best time to spot the display is between 1am and before the onset of dawn twilight.
Stargazers should allow around 20 minutes for their eyes to become accustomed to the dark.
Where is the best place to see the Perseid meteor shower?
The darker the location, the better, so those hoping to spot the Perseids should aim for vantage points away from the light pollution of towns and cites.
The meteors will appear to come from the direction of the Perseus constellation in the north-eastern part of the sky, although they should be visible from any point.
It may take a while to see any shooting stars as they tend to appear in clusters, followed by a lull, so patience is key.