This year, the Perseid meteor shower began on 17 July and will end on 24 August, but the best chance for seeing it will be the early hours of the morning around the time of its peak this weekend, on 12 and 13 August. The meteors should be a particularly impressive spectacle this year, as the moon will only be around 10 per cent illuminated on the peak mornings thanks to a new moon on 16 August.
How active is the Perseid meteor shower?
When the shower had just begun, observers could only see around one meteor every hour, which is little more than you would see on any given night of stargazing. But as we reach the peak this weekend, the number of meteors will increase up to 50 to 75 per hour, with a maximum of 100.
What is the Perseid meteor shower?
Meteor showers are caused by clouds of debris left in the wake of comets, which Earth passes through on its path around the sun. The tiny grains of dust or rock enter the atmosphere at such high speeds that the friction between them and the air makes them burn up, producing a flash that moves across the sky.
The Perseids are caused by comet Swift-Tuttle, which takes 133 years to orbit the sun. The comet was last visible, with the help of binoculars, in 1992 and won’t be seen again until 2125. But in the meantime, we can enjoy the display it left behind.
Why is it called the Perseid meteor shower?
Each meteor shower is named after the point in the sky where the meteors appear to start, or radiate, from. In the case of the Perseids, this is the constellation Perseus. The Perseids are visible from all over the world, but the best displays tend to be in the northern hemisphere, where Perseus can be seen. The constellation sits in the middle of a triangle formed by the W or M-shaped (depending on where you are) constellation of Cassiopeia, the Pleiades star cluster and the bright star Canopus, which is in the constellation Carina. If you can see any of these, you are looking in the right part of the sky.
Where should you look for the Perseids?
Don’t worry too much about finding Perseus, just let your eyes adjust and look out for meteors, which will shoot across the sky in all directions. They will appear and disappear within seconds, moving rapidly across the sky. If you are lucky, you might even see some fireballs – big and brilliant meteors that appear as bright as Venus.
What’s the best time to look for the Perseids?
A few days either side of the mid-August peak should offer a good chance of seeing some shooting stars. Check weather forecasts for cloud coverage and try looking on any clear night during that week and in the weeks leading up to the peak. It is generally better to look before the peak rather than after. On any given night, the best time to look is just after midnight, wherever you are in the world.
How can you increase your chances of seeing the meteor shower?
You don’t have to venture into the middle of nowhere to see meteors, but a dark sky will help, so try to reduce the light pollution around you. If you can, go to the middle of a park or otherwise away from streetlights. If you are viewing at home, turn off all your lights and try to find a view that isn’t obstructed by trees, buildings and other objects.