How to watch the Perseid Meteor shower, one of Earth's most spectacular shows

Harry Cockburn
Comets streak across the night sky beneath stars that appear to rotate in a long-exposure photograph taken above Corfe Castle on August 12, 2016 in Corfe Castle in Dorset: Getty

The cosmic magic of the annual Perseid Meteor shower is one of the heavens’ most dependable light shows.

Each summer, as the earth passes through a stream of debris left in the wake of the Swift-Tuttle comet, the night skies are lit up by as many as 150 shooting stars streaking overhead per hour.

The celestial spectacle is forecast to be especially dazzling this weekend, in particular on the night of 12-13 August, when the Earth passes through a particularly dense patch of the comet’s trailing fragments.

The Swift-Tuttle comet orbits the sun every 135 years, but unlike the planets it has an almost vertical orbit.

Each year as the Earth completes its orbit, it ploughs through a tail of dust and ice left behind by the comet.

The meteors themselves are usually no larger than a grain of sand, but when they crash into the Earth’s atmosphere they are travelling at over one hundred thousand miles per hour, or 60 kilometres per second.

As they burn up they can appear green, white and orange.

The Perseids are so named because from Earth they appear to originate from the constellation Perseus, which is in the north east of the night sky.

But observers are advised to look in the opposite direction for maximum viewing pleasure, where they will see the zooming space rubble flying for longer, away from the bright light of the waning gibbous moon.

Provided conditions are favourable, most people with a patch of dark sky available should be able to witness the shower.

There is no need for binoculars or expensive telescopes as the best way to spot a shooting star is to maintain as wide a field of vision over the sky as possible.

For the clearest view of the whooshing sparkle dust, find a dark site away from artificial light, and with as large a view of the sky as possible.

Robin Scagell, vice president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, told the Press Association: “There was one rogue report that said it was going to be the most impressive display for 96 years or some other rubbish.

“But the numbers are going to be quite good. We can look forward to a decent display, even though they aren't going to be raining down from the sky.

“The Perseids can be very bright and often quite spectacular. Some meteor showers are slow, but we are moving into the Perseid stream so they are coming at us quite swiftly.

“I think under good conditions you might see one or two a minute, probably more towards Sunday morning rather than Saturday.”

He added: “You could see none at all for a few minutes and then two or three. You might be lucky or unlucky. That's the way with meteors.”

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