Perseid meteors to blaze across the sky tonight

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The Independent Online

A celestial light show is promised tonight – weather permitting – as the Earth ploughs through a thick cloud of comet dust.

A celestial light show is promised tonight – weather permitting – as the Earth ploughs through a thick cloud of comet dust.

The Perseid meteor shower, which puts on a display at this time every year, will peak tonight, sending shooting stars blazing trails across the sky at a rate of up to two a minute. This year's Perseid show should be a good one as there will be virtually no moon and the number of meteors is expected to be higher than usual.

The Perseids, which have long mystified and terrified sky-watchers, were first recorded in the annals of China's Han dynasty in AD36, are so named because they appear to emerge from the eastern constellation of Perseus. The meteors are debris shed by a six-mile-wide comet, Swift-Tuttle, that sails into our solar system from beyond Pluto every 135 years.

Ten years ago, Swift-Tuttle passed the Sun and the comet is now heading back towards the far-off Oort Cloud on the outer edge of the solar system, which is home to millions of similar comets.

When the comet particles hit the Earth's atmosphere at 135,000mph they become glowing hot and appear as shooting stars criss-crossing the sky in all directions. Most produce bright white streaks, but sometimes they burst like fireballs.

Robin Scagell, of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said: "The best time to watch will be from about 10pm onwards. The meteors will appear to come from the east but can appear anywhere in the sky.

"You can be anywhere in the UK but it's best to be away from street lights and in the country. Try to see as much of the sky as possible in order to have the best chance of seeing a shooting star," he said.

Swift-Tuttle was first observed in 1862 by two American astronomers, Lewis Swift and Horace Parnell Tuttle.

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