The Perseid meteor shower will reach its peak this week as the Earth passes through the debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle (great name, right?).
The meteor shower started in mid-July but reaches its full brightness over the next few days as the Earth passes through the debris between 11th August and 13th August.
The Perseid meteor shower is one of the brightest showers in the celestial calendar, with up to 100 shooting starts an hour to be seen if you’re in the Northern hemisphere.
The actual meteors are small, no bigger than a grain of sand, but we see them as they burn up as they hit the atmosphere – travelling at 36mps leaving a streak of light in the sky.
The shower will be visible from north and south of the equator, but the best view is north. So if you’re in the United States, Europe and Canada you’ll see it best.
The lower hemisphere – Mexico, Central America, Asia, Africa and South America – will still have a good view.
If you get a clear sky the shower is visible across the UK – here’s how to watch.
How to watch the Perseid meteor shower in the UK
If we have a clear night, which it seems it will be with this hot weather, you should be able to see the Perseid meteor shower at around 12am (midnight) UK time to 5.30am.
You can see the meteor shower wherever you are, but you can optimise your viewing experience.
Check the weather beforehand as a clear sky is best – the days before peak are better to see the Perseid meteor shower than after so now is your key time.
Reduce light pollution (countryside, a park and so forth) or just turn your back to the street lights. Let your eyes adjust too.
The radiant of the Perseids is always above the horizon if you’re looking in the UK – that means you should be able to see them when the Sun sets. Maybe start to look early evening onwards.
What is the weather forecast?
More sun and heat for now, but the Met Office has warned there will be thunderstorms and showers from mid week – so check the forecast on the day if you’re heading out to get a better vantage point.
How to get the best view of the Perseid meteor shower
If you pick a spot that has low light pollution aka no streetlights you’ll get a better view.
The countryside inevitably is a better place to view them because of the reduced light pollution, but a park could work just as well.
Give your eyes 15 minutes to adjust as astronomers recommend giving yourself time to adjust your eyes to the dark. (Basically, don’t look at your phone!)
NASA actually says not to use a telescope or binoculars as you can see the shower with the naked eye.
Astronomers suggest the best viewing experience is outside, in a dark spot, lying on your back and looking up.
If you do want to take a photo you’ll need a long-exposure shot, a few seconds to a minute, and keep the camera stable.
Why are they called the Perseids and what causes it?
The Perseid meteor shower gets its name as it appears to come out of the constellation Perseus. Astronomers call this the meteor shower’s radiant.
It’s one of the highlights of the meteor calendar due to the ease of seeing the streaks across the sky. The debris left behind by comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle hits Earth causing the light streaks we see in the sky.
What’s the difference between a meteor, asteroid and a comet?
Asteroid – a large piece of rock from a collision or the early solar system. These are found between Mars and Jupiter in the Main Belt.
Comet – a rock covered in ice, methane and compounds. The orbit takes them further into our solar system.
Meteor – this is the flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns up.
Meteoroid – these are the debris itself, they tend to be small and burn up in the atmosphere.
Meteorite – When a meteoroid makes it to earth we call it a meteorite.
Meteors, meteoroids and meteorites all normally comes from either a comet or asteroid.
Did you know?
- The Perseids get their name from the constellation Perseus, who was the hero who beheaded the Gorgon Medusa and went on to marry Andromeda in the Greek Myth. The paid had nine children – and the name Perseids really comes from the Greek word ‘Perseides’ which refers to Perseus’ descendants…so really the meteors are all his kids.
- In Catholicism, the Perseids are known as the ‘tears of St Lawrence’ as the peak often matches the date when the saint was martyred.
- The Perseids are also linked with the god Priapus. The Romans believed he fertilised the fields once a year on the date of the shower peak.
And if you miss it – take a look at the many videos capturing the event. Here’s one taken in Yosemite National Park in 2015.
To find something to watch tonight visit our TV Guide.