It’s a good time to look up, because one of the year’s most spectacular skywatching shows is back to light up the night sky.
The Perseid meteor shower peaks in mid-August, when up to 100 meteors can be seen per hour.
But the celestial event is actually already active, meaning shooting stars may already be visible on clear nights.
The Perseids, are considered “the best meteor shower of the year,” according to NASA.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Perseids and how to watch this special event.
What is the Perseid meteor shower?
Meteors are often called “shooting stars,” but they actually come from bits of debris in space that hit Earth’s atmosphere and burn up.
Most meteor showers occur when Earth’s orbit around the sun takes it through the debris that trails behind comets, icy bodies that orbit the sun.
The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year from around mid-July to late August, as Earth passes through a cloud of dust particles and debris from a comet known as 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862.
“Comets shed debris, dust and ice, when they move around the sun,” says Bill Cooke, a meteor expert at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
“We get a meteor shower every time the Earth runs into that debris.”
As particles from the comet hit the atmosphere at speeds of up to 140,000 mph, they become heated and appear as streaks of light across the night sky.
Larger pieces of the comet that cause unusually bright meteors are called fireballs.
The Perseid meteor shower is called that because the shooting stars appear to stream from a point in the sky where the constellation of Perseus is located.
While the constellation is not the source of the meteors, it can help skywatchers figure out where to look.
As with all meteor shower radiant points, you don’t need to know Perseus to watch the shower. Instead, the meteors appear in all parts of the sky. These meteors frequently leave persistent trains. Perseid meteors tend to strengthen in number as late night deepens into midnight. The shower typically produces the most meteors in the wee hours before dawn.
When is the best time to see it in Australia?
Start watching for these meteors in early August. Their numbers will gradually increase.
They are predicted to peak on the night between August 11 and 12 but try the nights before and after, too, from late night until dawn.
Perseid meteors tend to strengthen in number as late night deepens into midnight.
The shower typically produces the most meteors in the wee hours before dawn.
Timeanddate.com has information on the best time to watch the Perseids depending on your geographical location.
What is the best way to watch it?
Meteor showers are best viewed from places that are away from city lights, as light pollution can drown out the shooting stars.
You don’t really need any special equipment; all you need is a clear sky.
So if you’re not in lockdown and can get out of the house, find a secluded spot and wait for your eyes to get adjusted to the dark.
Take a blanket and warm clothing – it’s mid-August, so it’s going to be cold.
Use the Interactive Meteor Show Sky Map to find the current direction of the radiant in the sky.
Meteors can be generally seen across the sky so you don’t need to look in a specific direction.
If lying out in the elements in the middle of winter isn’t your thing, NASA usually hosts a live stream on the Meteor Watch Facebook page.
Enjoy the sky show!
– with NBC