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Perseid meteor shower: How, where and when to see the annual astronomical marvel

Lucky spectators can expect to see up to 50 meteors an hour during the shower's peak

Doug Bolton
Monday 10 August 2015 10:49 BST
The Perseid meteor shower peaks every August, when pieces of comet stuff hit the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrate
The Perseid meteor shower peaks every August, when pieces of comet stuff hit the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrate (AFP/Getty)

The annual Perseid meteor shower is set to peak in the coming days, and if skies are clear, will provide stargazers with some of the most stunning views in the sky.

The shower is always spectacular, but is set to be extra-special this year, due to a fortunate alignment of the heavens.

The shower will peak the day before a new moon, meaning the skies will be darker than usual.

Lucky observers can reasonably expect to see up to 50 meteors an hour in the sky during the most active time of the shower.

Here's everything you need to know about making the most of this fascinating and rare event.

When is the Perseid meteor shower?

Technically, the shower has been active in the sky since 13 of July, and will continue until the end of August.

However, activity will peak from 12 to 13 August, with an increased number of meteors visible in the skies around these dates.

Early rising (or staying up late) can help your chances too - some of the best showings of the meteors can be seen during predawn hours, rather than in the evening.

How can I watch the shower?

The best way to see the meteor shower is with the naked eye, once you've allowed yourself to adjust to the darkness (Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images)

Fortunately, you don't need any special equipment such as telescopes or binoculars to see the shower.

They're visible to the naked eye, and due to their fast speed, can be hard to follow with specialist equipment.

Sitting outside and looking up is the best way to see them, although you may wait for a while. The showers tend to come in spurts, so there may be nothing for a period, followed by a sudden flurry of meteor activity.

Your eyes can take as much as 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness, so taking your time (and putting your bright mobile phone away) can help in spotting the shower.

Where is the best place to watch the Perseid meteor shower?

Clear skies with no light pollution are essential to see the shower

The shower is only visible in the Northern hemisphere - so  if you're in the south and aren't willing to book a flight, you'll miss them.

If you are in the north, getting away from sources of light pollution should be your first move.

Fortunately the moon won't be there to brighten the sky, but the glow of the city can potentially make the meteors all but invisible.

If you live in the big city, try getting out to a secluded area. The further you get away from light sources, the better.

If you live in a more rural area, or a smaller town or city, taking a trip out to the country will be the best way to make the most of it.

What is the Perseid meteor shower?

Tiny pieces of a meteor that fell on the terrace of a house in Calcutta, India, are displayed in a box

There's no need to fear that your house could get flattened by a rock falling from space - the Perseids are actually tiny specks of comet hitting the Earth's atmosphere.

They collide with the atmosphere at high speeds, causing flashes of light when they disintegrate.

They come from a stream of space debris called the Perseid cloud, which stretches along the huge 133-year orbit of the Swift-Tuttle comet. Every year, the Earth passes through the trail of the comet, causing the shower to appear over our planet.

The meteors are named after the constellation Persesus, because that's where they appear to come from when we look at them from Earth.

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