Science

Perseid meteor shower peaks this week filling the sky with up to 100 shooting stars an hour


Perseid meteor shower peaks this week with up to 100 shooting stars an hour filling the sky as Earth passes through the trail of debris left behind by Comet Swift–Tuttle

  • Perseid meteor shower is the result of debris left behind the Comet Swift-Tuttle 
  • The shower is one of the brightest meteor showers in the northern hemisphere
  • There are up to 100 ‘shooting stars’ per hour and the space rocks are very bright
  • The shower will be at its most visible in the UK between midnight and 05:30 BST 

The Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak this week with up to 100 shooting stars per hour, as the Earth passes through debris left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle.  

The shower actually started in mid-July but won’t reach its full illumination until the Earth passes through the bulk of the debris between August 11 and August 13. 

The event is one of the high points in the celestial calendar, particularly for the northern hemisphere with up to 100 bright meteors streaking across the sky. 

The meteors, mostly no bigger than a grain of sand, burn up as they hit the atmosphere at 36 miles per second to produce a shooting stream of light. 

A long exposure shows stars behind a tree during the annual Perseid meteor shower near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, Israel

A long exposure shows stars behind a tree during the annual Perseid meteor shower near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, Israel

The meteors are called Perseids because they seem to dart out of the constellation Perseus and can be seen with the human eye anywhere in the world.

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If skies are clear, the Perseid meteor shower should be visible across the UK from around midnight until 5.30BST, according to Royal Museums Greenwich. 

The celestial show will be visible both north and south of the equator, although those in mid-northern latitudes will be treated to the best views.

This means the United States, Europe, and Canada will be able to see the Perseids at their best, according to astronomers.

Stellar views will also be possible of the meteor shower in Mexico and Central America, Asia, much of Africa, and parts of South America. 

You will be able to see the shower anywhere the skies are clear but there are places you can get a better view and avoid moonlight or street lighting.

The meteors are called Perseids because they seem to dart out of the constellation Perseus and can be seen with the human eye anywhere in the world

The meteors are called Perseids because they seem to dart out of the constellation Perseus and can be seen with the human eye anywhere in the world

The Royal Museums Greenwich recommend checking the forecast before setting off as there is rain and thunderstorms predicted for much of the UK this week.

‘Reduce the amount of light pollution in your field of view,’ the museums said.

‘This could mean heading out to the countryside, a nearby park or even do something as simple as turning your back to street lamps if you are not able to go anywhere,’ they wrote.

Astronomers recommend giving your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the dark to catch more of the fainter meteors – and don’t look at your phone.

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NASA advise against telescopes or binoculars because the naked eye is sufficient. 

Meteors can generally be seen all over the sky, so there’s no need to look in any particular direction.  

Stunning nature in action: A meteor of the Perseids meteor shower burns up in the atmosphere behind a huge statue of a bison near the village of Petkovichi, Belarus, 12 August 2019

Stunning nature in action: A meteor of the Perseids meteor shower burns up in the atmosphere behind a huge statue of a bison near the village of Petkovichi, Belarus, 12 August 2019

When asked about the best way to view the Perseids meteor shower Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office said: ‘All you’ve got to do is go outside, find a nice dark spot, lie flat on your back and look up. 

‘You don’t want binoculars. You don’t want a telescope. You just use your eyes.’ 

Those who want to capture the celestial event with a camera should use a tripod to ensure their image is not blurred. 

For the best results, take a long-exposure shot, lasting from a few seconds to a minute and keep the camera stable.

NASA’s Bill Cooke warns against setting the exposure any longer than that, otherwise you’ll pick-up the rotation of the stars, which could block out streaks from meteors. 

Explained: The difference between an asteroid, meteorite and other space rocks

An asteroid is a large chunk of rock left over from collisions or the early solar system. Most are located between Mars and Jupiter in the Main Belt.

A comet is a rock covered in ice, methane and other compounds. Their orbits take them much further out of the solar system.

A meteor is what astronomers call a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns up.

This debris itself is known as a meteoroid. Most are so small they are vapourised in the atmosphere.

If any of this meteoroid makes it to Earth, it is called a meteorite.

Meteors, meteoroids and meteorites normally originate from asteroids and comets.

For example, if Earth passes through the tail of a comet, much of the debris burns up in the atmosphere, forming a meteor shower.

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