Perseid meteor shower to dazzle skywatchers as it climbs towards peak

The Perseid meteor shower is one of the biggest and brightest meteor showers of the astronomical calendar, and it’s set to peak on August 11 and 12.

During its peak, the Perseid meteor shower will rain down up to 100 meteors per hour.

But in the nights leading up to that, skywatchers will still have a great opportunity to see shooting stars crisscross the night sky.

The best time to see the meteors is when the sky is at its darkest – between 1am and dawn. So it might be an idea to set an alarm if you really want to get the best view.

As with any kind of astronomy, it’s advisable to get as far away from light pollution as possible. But you should still be able to see the meteor shower from any part of the UK. Just be sure to allow around 20 minutes for your eyes to become accustomed to the darkness.

Dr Robert Massey, from the Royal Astronomical Society, said: ‘The shower will be visible all over the UK, as long as the skies are clear.

‘Unlike a lot of celestial events, meteor showers are easy to watch and no special equipment is needed, although a reclining chair and a blanket make viewing much more comfortable.’

To make the best of the meteors, observers should avoid built-up areas and try to find an unobstructed view to the east.

The shooting stars will appear to come from a single point, or ‘radiant’, situated in the constellation Perseus, that climbs higher as the night progresses.

Greater numbers of meteors are visible when the radiant is high. But the most spectacular long-lasting meteors, known as ‘Earthgrazers’, can be seen when the radiant is still low above the horizon.

What causes the Perseid meteor shower?

The Perseid meteor shower, one of the high points in the celestial calendar, occurs each year as the Earth ploughs through dusty debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle.

The comet measures around 26 kilometres (16 miles) wide and last passed Earth back in 1992. It won’t pass close again until 2126.

Even though the comet itself doesn’t come close that often, the trail of cosmic debris it leaves in its path causes the Perseid meteor shower every autumn.

As the particles, ranging in size from a grain of sand to a pea, hit the Earth’s atmosphere at 37 miles per second, they burn up and streak across the sky.

Once darkness falls this evening and the night gets underway, you can expect to see one of the shooting stars every few minutes.

The meteor shower gets its name from the fact that the debris appears to come from the constellation known as Perseus. With the favourable viewing conditions this year, you won’t want to miss it.

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