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Perseid meteors to light up summer skies

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 07:33
Published on Friday, 09 August 2013 13:25

The evening of 12 August and morning of 13 August see the annual maximum of the Perseids meteor shower. This year prospects for watching this natural firework display are particularly good.

Meteors (popularly known as 'shooting stars') are the result of small particles entering the Earth's atmosphere at high speed. These heat the air around them, causing the characteristic streak of light seen from the ground. For the Perseids the material comes from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed near the Earth in 1992. This shower of meteors appears to originate from a 'radiant' in the constellation of Perseus, hence the name.

The shower is active each year from around 17 July to 24 August, although for most of that period only a few meteors an hour will be visible. From the UK the best time to see the Perseids shower is likely to be from late evening on 12 August to the morning of 13 August, when as many as 60 meteors perseid vlt smallA Perseid meteor (at left) seen in August 2010 above the four enclosures of the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope at Paranal, Chile. Credit: ESO / S. Guisard. Click for a larger imagean hour may be seen. This year prospects for the shower are relatively good, as the Moon is a waxing crescent and from most of the UK will have set by 2230 BST, meaning that its light will not interfere significantly with the view.

Unlike many celestial events, meteor showers are straightforward to watch and for most people, the best equipment to use is simply your own eyes. Advice from longstanding meteor observers is to wrap up well and set up a reclining chair to allow you to look up at the sky in comfort. If possible it also helps to be in a dark site away from artificial light and have an unobstructed view of the sky.

Although the number of visible meteors is hard to predict accurately, you can expect to see one at least every few minutes. They mostly appear as fleeting streaks of light lasting less than a second, but the brightest ones leave behind trails of vaporised gases and glowing air molecules that may take a few seconds to fade.

"Comet Swift-Tuttle won't be visiting our neck of the woods again until the year 2125, but every year we get this beautiful reminder as the Earth ploughs through the debris it leaves in its orbit" said Prof. Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen's University Belfast. "Every meteor is a speck of comet dust vaporising as it enters our atmosphere at 36 miles per second. What a glorious way to go."

 


 

Science contact

Prof. Alan Fitzsimmons
Astrophysics Research Centre
Queen's University Belfast
Tel: +44 (0)2890 973 124
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Media contact

 

Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
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Images and captions

https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/press/perseid%20vlt.jpg
A Perseid seen in August 2010 above the four enclosures of the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope at Paranal, Chile. Credit: ESO / S. Guisard

https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/press/perseid%20iss.jpg
An image of a Perseid seen from above, made by astronaut Ron Garan from the International Space Station in August 2011. Credit: Ron Garan / ISS Expedition 28 Crew / NASA

 


Further information

 

International Meteor Organisation: 2013 calendar
http://www.imo.net/files/data/calendar/cal2013.pdf

 


Notes for editors

 

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS, www.ras.org.uk), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3500 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

Follow the RAS on Twitter via @royalastrosoc