The Perseids meteor shower is the most prolific meteor shower of them all and it’s peaking this week in the night sky above the UK.
Skywatchers can expect to see up to 70 shooting stars per hour tonight as the dazzling cosmic spectacle reaches its peak.
As ever, if there is little moonlight and spectators can find a spot away from light pollution, there’s the potential to see even more.
Most meteors are likely to fall in the pre-dawn hours although they will be visible all night for those dedicated enough to stay out to watch for them.
Although the Perseids are active from around July 17 to August 24, astronomers have predicted the nights of August 12 and August 13 is when it will explode with intensity.
The Perseids meteor showe is, according to the Royal Observatory Greenwich: ‘one of the most dramatic things to see in the night sky’.
What causes the Perseids 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.
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.
How to see the Perseids meteor shower in the UK?
As ever, the best way to see the night sky is to get away from light – but you won’t need to go anywhere special to observe it.
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.
If you do decide to venture out for the evening, remember to dress appropriately and also give your eyes about twenty minutes to adjust to the darkness. Pretty soon, you’ll be seeing blasts of light as the meteors streak across the sky.