When and how to watch incredible Perseid meteor shower this week

Stargazers have something to look forward to at the end of this week — weather permitting — with the Perseid meteor shower set to peak across the night of August 12–13.

According to astronomers, observers in the northern hemisphere could see up to 50 meteors an hour, with the light show best seen a few hours prior to sunrise on Sunday morning.

The spectacle, which occurs from mid-July to mid-August each year, is caused by Earth crossing through the orbital path of the comet 109P/Swift–Tuttle, a body that itself last passed near Earth back in 1992.

As the comet travels around the Sun, it leaves tiny bits of debris, some no bigger than a grain of sand, in its wake.

When these enter the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of around 133,200 miles per hour they burn up, often in less than a second, becoming what we know as a shooting star.

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On any given day, one can tend to see around six random — what astronomers refer to as “sporadic” — meteors per hour from a chosen viewpoint on Earth.

When the Earth passes through a meteor shower like the Perseids , however, this rate of activity increases manyfold.

Physicist Professor Don Pollacco of the University of Warwick told Daily Express US: “The Perseid meteor shower is one of the richest and this year it occurs close to the New Moon on the evening of August 12.

“With the Moon not visible […] it is one of the best opportunities to see this particular shower. The shower is best seen on the morning of August 13, a few hours before sunrise.”

Prof. Pollacco added: “Typically, the Perseids produce more than 100 meteors per hour, which includes many bright, electric-blue colored meteors.”

The Perseids take their name from the “radiant”, the point in the sky from which they appear to originate, which is located within the constellation of Perseus.

Prof. Pollacco continued: “Setup outside maybe around 11pm or later, with a reclining chair. Look eastward — but not directly at Perseus.

“You should see maybe a meteor every few minutes, and if you could track their paths back they would appear to all originate from Perseus.

“One interesting observation is seeing a meteor at the shower radiant. This is coming straight towards you!”

The view will be better as the night progresses because the radiant will appear to rise higher in the sky.

That said, however, Saturday evening, when the radiant is lower in the sky, stargazers may catch sight of so-called “Earthgrazers” — meteors that skim the top of the atmosphere and can leave long, bright trails in their wake.

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According to the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society, “observers on the west coast of North America and the eastern Pacific Ocean are particularly well-placed” to see the Perseids.”

To optimize your chance of a good view, they also recommend watching the shower from a “dark sky site”, away from the light pollution produced in cities and towns.

They added: “Unlike many astronomical events, meteor showers are easy to watch and no special equipment is needed.

“A meteor shower is best observed with the naked eye, and a reclining chair and a blanket make viewing much more comfortable.

“If clouds do make viewing impossible on the peak night itself, the shower will continue on subsequent nights, with likely reduced activity.”

Also, they noted, “there remains the possibility of some later peaks as the Earth intersects filaments of debris.”

The last time that comet 109P/Swift–Tuttle — from which the Perseid meteors actually originate —According to Prof. Pollacco, the Perseids is not the only meteor shower presently putting on a show in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

He explained: “Also active during this time, but reaching a peak on August 18, is another shower, the Kappa Cygnids.

“Its maximum meteor rate is only a handful of meteors per hour — but they tend to be fast moving and often very bright.”

However, he concluded: “If you are going to try and observe just one meteor shower this year, make sure it’s the Perseids!”

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