The Perseid meteor shower has arrived once more, with the night sky being lit by streaking lights formed from leftover comets.
The meteor shower arrives every August and is a major part of the astronomical calendar, since the Perseids are among the best and most visible of the year’s meteor showers.
It happens when the Earth moves through the trail left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle. As Earth collides with that debris, it sparks into light, and those lights can be seen streaking across the sky.
It gets its name from the constellation Perseus, from which those shooting stars appear to be ejected. (That is referred to as the “radiant”.)
The shower is potentially visible for a long time: between 16 July and 13 August. But there are better and worse times to see it during that period.
The peak of the shower falls on the night of 12 and 13 August, with the strict peak coming before dawn on Friday morning. That is the best night – and best time – to see the showers.
The best time to head out on that night or any other is not dictated by the meteors themselves, but rather the night sky that serves as their backdrop. The aim is to ensure that the sky is as dark and clear as possible, rather than that the Perseids are as bright as possible, since they are more dependable.
For most people, that most intense time of darkness will come between midnight and 5am. That will ensure both that the sky is dark and that the target is as high up in the sky as possible.
But it is still worth checking if you are not able to make those times. In the UK, the Perseids are always above the horizon; from the time the Sun sets, you might be able to see something, though obviously it might be harder, the lighter the sky is.
And similarly, if you do miss the maximum peak over the night of 12 and 13 August, don’t worry. It is still visible for some days either side of that, though the meteors will of course be harder to see the further away from that date.
It might well be that the peak of the shower is not the best time to see, because of the weather or issues. It is worth checking that whichever night you pick won’t be warm enough and the sky will be clear enough; clouds can obscure the view entirely, and a cold night could ruin it all anyway.
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