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Star gazers prepare for Perseid meteor shower

Skywatchers were today given advice on how to enjoy this year's display of Perseid meteors despite a full moon.

The Perseids, which come every August, are normally one of the highlights of the celestial year for amateur astronomers.

Under ideal conditions up to 100 of the shooting stars an hour should be visible when the shower peaks tomorrow.

But the glare of the full moon will make it difficult to see the fainter meteors.

The moon generates natural light pollution that can be equal to that from an illuminated city centre.

To help anyone hoping to spot the Perseids the National Trust has produced an online stargazing guide and listed some of its best "dark skies" locations.

Dr Marek Kukula, public astronomer at the Greenwich Royal Observatory in London, said: "The Perseids are always an exciting meteor shower to watch out for. Even in large cities it's often possible to catch site of some of the brighter Perseid meteors streaking across the sky, but from a really dark site you can sometimes see dozens per hour.

"Despite this year's Perseid shower coinciding with the full moon it's still well worth going out for a look. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky so try looking away from the bright moon to maximise your chances of seeing one."

The Perseids are grains of dust shed from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle burning up in the atmosphere.

Every year in August the Earth ploughs through a cloud of the dust as it orbits the sun.

Among the locations highlighted by the National Trust are the area around Stonehenge in Wiltshire and Mam Tor in the Peak District, high above Sheffield.

Philip Broadbent, National Trust outdoors programme manager, said: "It's worth spending the time to find the perfect spot to gaze up at the stars as once you're there looking into the night sky it will take your breath away. And the best thing is that it won't cost you a penny and this star time will always stay with you as one of those experiences that money can't buy."

Alastair McBeath, director of the Society for Popular Astronomy's meteor section, said: "As Perseid meteors near the peak are usually bright to occasionally very bright, this should mean observing will be quite rewarding despite the loss of fainter meteors to the moonlight."