Saturday, 13 August 2011

Perseid meteor showers set to peak Continue reading the main story The Perseids are one of the most reliable meteor showers, appearing every August

The Perseid meteor shower, one of the highlights in the skygazers' calendar, is set to peak in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The peak will see about one meteor per minute at 0600 GMT, although meteors will still be visible until 22 August.

But experts say that the emergence of a full moon on Saturday could take the shine off this year's display.

The spectacle is created when the Earth passes through a field of debris left by the Swift-Tuttle comet.

"The Perseids are one of the most reliable meteor showers and normally you can expect to see at least a few tens of meteors each hour if you're observing from a dark site," explained Robert Massey, deputy executive secretary for the Royal Astronomical Society.

But he added: "This year, with the shower peak tonight through to Saturday morning coinciding with a near-full moon (due on the evening of the 13th), you'll probably only see a few brighter meteors each hour.

"Despite that, if you're lucky enough to have clear skies and patient enough to watch for a while, the meteors you see may be quite bright, as anything faint will be lost in the moonlit sky.

"This is also a great example of a free astronomical spectacle and something you can enjoy without needing any special equipment," he told BBC News.

Dr Massey said that it would be worth checking local weather forecasts to see if conditions were favourable, but suggested that "East Anglia could have some of the best weather in the small hours of the morning, pretty much the ideal time to be looking at the shower".

On Friday, the International Meteor Organization (IMO) was recording an average of 25 shooting stars an hour, with the figure set to increase as the the peak period approached.

Graphic showing location of Perseid meteor shower in night sky (Image: BBC)
  • The meteors are called the Perseids because they appear to fly out of the constellation Perseus
  • The yellow dot marks the Perseid radiant. The meteors can appear in any part of the sky, but all of their tails will point back to that area
  • The best views of the meteor shower are likely to be in the Northern Hemisphere