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Perseid meteors to light up summer skies

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 August 2015 09:48
Published on Friday, 07 August 2015 11:00

 

The evening of Wednesday 12 August into the morning of Thursday 13 August sees the annual maximum of the Perseid meteor shower. This year, a new moon makes prospects for watching this natural firework display particularly good. 

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. GuisardA 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. Click for a larger image

 

Meteors (popularly known as 'shooting stars') are the result of small particles, some as small as a grain of sand, entering the Earth's atmosphere at high speed. The tail of the Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed near the Earth in 1992, leaves such debris in the Earth’s path. On entering the atmosphere, these particles heat the air around them, causing the characteristic streak of light seen from the ground. This shower of meteors appears to originate from a single point, called 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 peak of the shower occurs in the late evening on 12 August to the morning of 13 August, when as many as 100 meteors or more may be seen each hour. This year, for the first time since 2007, this peak coincides with a new moon on 14 August, creating ideal dark sky conditions for meteor-spotting. 

 

Professor Mark Bailey, Director of Armagh Observatory, said “The Perseid meteor shower is one of the best and most reliable meteor showers of the year. The French astronomer Jeremie Vaubaillon has also predicted that the Perseids may this year produce an outburst of activity around 7.40pm BST on 12th August. Although it is unfortunately still daylight at that time in the UK and Ireland, it is just possible that enhanced rates may persist for a few hours around this time and so be observable soon after dark.”

Perseid shooting star near the Pleiades over Woodingdean, Sussex, on the early morning of the 13th August, 2013. Credit: Darren BaskillPerseid shooting star near the Pleiades over Woodingdean, Sussex, on the early morning of the 13th August, 2013. Credit: Darren Baskill. Click for a larger image

 

Unlike many celestial events meteor showers are straightforward to watch, and for most people the best equipment to use is simply the naked eye. Advice from experienced 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 place away from artificial light, and to have an unobstructed view of the sky.

 

Although the number of visible meteors is hard to predict accurately, at least one every few minutes can be expected. 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.

 

 

 


Media contacts

 

Dr Sam Lindsay
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: 020 7734 4582 x115
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Dr Morgan Hollis
Royal Astronomical Society
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Dr Sheila Kanani
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)7802 877 698
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Science contact

 

Prof Mark E. Bailey
Armagh Observatory
Armagh
BT61 9DG

Tel: +44 (0)2837 522 928
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Web: http://star.arm.ac.uk/ and http://climate.arm.ac.uk/

 

Images and captions

 

How to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower, featuring Dr Robert Massey of the RAS. Credit: The Weather Network UK


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

 

Perseid shooting star near the Pleiades over Woodingdean, Sussex, on the early morning of the 13th August, 2013. Credit: Darren Baskill


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: 2015 calendar


Notes for editors

 

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), 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