Perseid meteors: what are they and where can I see them?

Aug 11, 2014

The spectacular celestial light show will still be visible this week, despite the supermoon

Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images

The Perseid meteor shower is set to reach its peak in the first half of this week, lighting up the night sky with fireballs "as bright as Jupiter or Venus", according to the Daily Telegraph.

Caused by debris left behind by the Swift-Tuttle comet, which has been dubbed the "fireball champion", the Perseid meteor shower is the most spectacular of the year in the northern hemisphere, and is enjoyed by hardy fans of meteors and summer campers alike.

However, with the moon 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter than usual last night, The Independent warns that stargazers are facing a natural obstacle to their viewing of the Perseid extravaganza this year. 

What is a Perseid shower?

The Perseid is the brightest and most consistent meteor shower. It often produces 50 to 100 meteors per hour at its peak. It takes place every August, and is caused when small specks of debris left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle's voyage through the solar system. When the Earth passes through this cloud of dust the particles disintegrate into flashes of light. Sometimes, a Perseid fireball will blaze across the sky, producing a particularly spectacular effect.

Where and when can I see them?

The pre-dawn hours are the best time to view Perseid showers. The further from a city and its plentiful urban lights you can get the better. Having found your spot, search for the darkest patch of sky you can find, make yourself comfortable and wait for the celestial show to begin.

Any other tips?

Do not be tempted to use a telescope or binoculars, as either instrument will simply reduce the amount of sky you can view, thus diminishing your chance of seeing the meteors. Planning to Instagram what you see? Resist the temptation to glance at your smartphone while you wait, as the glare from its screen will harm your night vision.

But isn't the Perigee moon spoiling the party this year?

Although the so-called 'supermoon' had an impact on how many shooting stars could be seen on Sunday night, Tony Markham, director of the Society for Popular Astronomy, told the Independent there is still plenty of Perseid enjoyment to be had. He recommends that spotters turn their back to the moon or stand so it is hidden behind a tree or building. "The Perseids are rich in bright meteors and so many Perseids will still be seen despite the moonlit sky background," he says.

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