The Perseids Annual Meteor Shower

One of the most spectacular displays of shooting stars should be reaching its peak tonight.  Astronomers are getting ready to observe the annual Perseid meteor shower which fills the night sky with streaks of white light as small rock fragments burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

This annual event takes place throughout July and August but the rate of meteors or shooting stars is likely to peak either Tuesday night or this evening.  Since much of northern England was covered with cloud, last night but the forecast for Wednesday is for a more broken sky, tonight is probably the best chance to observe this phenomenon for most people in northern England.

The Perseid meteor shower is caused by the Earth passing through a stream of debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle.  The name Perseid refers to the star constellation of Perseus, as when viewed it seems that the meteors originate from this part of the night sky, although star system of Perseus is not responsible in any for this free light show in the sky.

At the peak of the shower, observers can expect to see around 80-100 streaks of meteor light per hour.  Astronomers record how many shooting stars occur over a fixed period of time, this is expressed as a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR).  The National Trust has published a list of the best places to view the meteor shower, places such as Stonehenge and Wicken Fen.  Any one can view this annual event, but light pollution from cities and towns is a problem, so a trip to the countryside with its generally darker skies may be required.

Here’s hoping the sky tonight is at least partially clear and that we can see something.

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