Look up next week! Perseid meteor shower will peak on Thursday night, with up to 40 shooting stars visible every hour over the UK

  • Sky gazers are set to be treated to one of the best celestial displays of the year 
  • Perseids are one of the most plentiful showers, with up to 40 per hour this year
  • This year the peak falls on the night of August 12 and before dawn on August 13 

A stunning meteor shower called the Perseids will be visible with the naked eye when it peaks on Thursday next week. 

Known as the ‘fiery tears of Saint Lawrence’, the celestial event takes place when the Earth ploughs through galactic debris left by the passing of the Swift-Tuttle Comet.

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

For those in areas with low light pollution, smog and clear skies, the Perseids will be visible to the naked eye, with no specialist equipment needed. 

It is predicted the peak of the Perseid meteor shower will be on the night of August 12 into the early hours of August 13 when the sky is at its darkest.

In ideal conditions with no clouds, observers could see up to 40 meteors per hour, according to NASA. 

‘If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, and far away from light pollution, you might spot more than 40 Perseids an hour,’ NASA explained.

‘If you’re in a city, you may only see a few every hour; skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere will also see fewer Perseids, with none visible below about 30 degrees south latitude.’

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 Perseids (pictured), which peak during mid-August, are considered the best meteor shower of the year. The pieces of space debris that interact with our atmosphere to create the popular Perseids meteor shower originate from Swift-Tuttle

WHERE DO METEORS COME FROM? 

Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids. 

When comets come around the sun, they leave a dusty trail behind them.

Every year Earth passes through these debris trails, which allows the bits to collide with our atmosphere and disintegrate to create fiery and colorful streaks in the sky. 

Source: NASA 

The best way to catch a glimpse of the radiant show is away from the lights of towns, cities, buildings, and trees and where there is a clear view of the horizon.

This year on the peak, the moon will be in a thin crescent phase, creating perfect viewing conditions without interference from moonlight. 

This means the moon will be emanating very little light at all – at around 20 per cent illumination – creating perfect conditions in the sky for stargazing. 

Conditions for next Thursday look hopeful, according to Dr Robert Massey, deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society. 

For stargazers in the northern hemisphere, experts recommend watching for the meteor shower after 10pm local time, but it will be at its best during the early hours of dawn. 

‘The light of the moon won’t interfere with the shower, so you stand a much better chance of seeing more meteors,’ said Dr Massey. 

‘If there is a full moon in the sky, then you might as well be in the city because it will light up the whole sky, but this year the moon really will help us see more Perseid meteors.’

The pieces of space debris that interact with our atmosphere to create the popular Perseids meteor shower originate from Swift-Tuttle. 

This annual meteor shower takes place each August, and peaks mid-month. 

It was Giovanni Schiaparelli who realised in 1865 that this comet was the source of the Perseids. 

Comet Swift-Tuttle was discovered in 1862 independently by both Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle.  

Swift-Tuttle is a large comet – its nucleus is 16 miles (26 kilometers) across – and it last passed near Earth in 1992. 

Source: NASA  

The Perseids actually started in mid-July but won’t reach their full illumination until the Earth passes through the bulk of the debris next week. 

Peak meteor count for the Perseids in previous years has been up to 100 meteors per hour, according to NASA, but it’s anticipating up to 40 next week.  

‘In 2021 the Perseid meteor shower is active between 16 July and 23 August, with the number of meteors increasing every night until it reaches a peak in mid-August, after which it will tail off,’ Royal Museums Greenwich explains.  

When comets travel close to the sun, they heat up and disintegrate. If this happens in Earth’s path around the sun, they can head towards our atmosphere at high speeds.

The superheated air around the meteors glows and leaves behind trails of light and explosions in the form of fireballs. 

The Swift-Tuttle Comet, which causes the Perseids, spans 16-miles wide and is formed of ice and rock.

It ploughs through our Solar System once every 133 years, with the last pass in 1992.

The comet will come within one million miles of Earth on August 5, 2126 and August 24, 2261.

The name ‘Perseids meteor shower’ comes from the fact meteors appear to shoot out from the Perseus constellation – the 24th largest constellation in the sky.   

Perseids is often dubbed the best of the year because of how bright and active it is.

‘The Perseids meteor shower is special because it’s at a nice time of year, at least if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere,’ said Dr Massey. 

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

‘It tends to give us a few tens of meteors an hour – so a pretty decent rate if you’ve never seen something like this before – and it does that more or less year in year out. 

The sparkling treat is set to continue over the Northern Hemisphere for a few days after the peak with reduced activity. 

NASA said: ‘If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, and far away from light pollution, you might spot more than 40 Perseids an hour! (If you’re in a city, you may only see a few every hour; skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere will also see fewer Perseids, with none visible below about 30 degrees south latitude.’ 

Observers have been advised to plan and check the forecast before in case the weather is unpleasant, so they can travel to a new location or go out on a different day.

The next major meteor shower will be the Draconids in October, although it tends to tends to be a less active shower than the Perseids. 

The Draconid meteor shower comes from the debris of comet 21 P/ Giacobini-Zinner – a small comet with a diameter of 1.24 miles (2 kilometers). 

There are another nine meteor showers happening in 2020 including the Perseids

  • Delta Aquariids: July 29-30 2020 – 20 per hour – Steady stream over days
  • Alpha Capricornids: July 29-30 2020 – 5 per hour – Yellow slow fireballs
  • Perseids: August 12-13 – 100 per hour – Bright, fast meteors with trains
  • Draconids: October 8-9 – 10 per hour – From comet Giacobini-Zimmer
  • Orionids: October 21-22 – 25 per hour – Fast with fine trains
  • Taurids: October 9-10 (Southern), November 10-11 (Northern) – 10 per hour 
  • Leonids: November 17-18 – 15 per hour – Fast and bright
  • Geminids: December 14-15 – 100+ per hour – Bright and plentiful
  • Ursids: December 21-22 – <10 per hour  – Sparse shower 

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