Hundreds of shooting stars will be visible from across the UK this evening as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaks.
Star-gazers in the Midlands and the North will have the best view of the meteors as the Met Office predicts visibility will be limited across southern England and Scotland because of cloud cover.
The Perseids are being widely anticipated this year as they coincide with a new moon, creating the ideal dark sky conditions, and will also be joined overhead by a bright man-made star, the International Space Station (ISS).
Occurring yearly between July 17 and August 24, the meteors reach their peak on Wednesday and Thursday night when over 100 meteors an hour will be produced.
Professor Mark Bailey, director of Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, called the Perseids the “best and most reliable meteor showers of the year”.
Mr Bailey added 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.”
A spokeswoman for the Met Office said currently cloud cover is expected to be minimal in the Midlands and the North, and advised those looking to see the bright streaks of light to head to rural spots.
Members of Birmingham Astronomical Society are readying themselves to take advantage of the region’s clear skies.
Member and keen astronomer John Downing, 71, said the “moon will be the biggest factor”.
Mr Downing added: “If it is a full moon then you can’t see much but this year we’ve got a clear sky. We could be lucky and being able to see the ISS is an added bonus.”
The Perseids are usually fairly bright. Also, they tend to leave a trail, or train, behind them. You can see the train hanging there glowing in the sky for a few seconds - sometimes for several minutes - after the meteor has gone.Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy
The ISS, which orbits earth every 90 minutes, will be visible for four minutes from 10.28pm on Wednesday.
Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said: “The thing about shooting stars is they’re a wonderful free spectacle we can all enjoy, assuming clear skies.
“Its best to watch them from the countryside but even in town, these meteors are bright enough for a few to be visible.
“The moon is out of the way which makes a lot of difference because the sky will be much darker all night. For every bright shooting star you see there are always fainter ones, and this will make it easier to see the fainter meteors and ring up the numbers.
“The Perseids are usually fairly bright. Also, they tend to leave a trail, or train, behind them. You can see the train hanging there glowing in the sky for a few seconds - sometimes for several minutes - after the meteor has gone.”
He urged people to keep a special eye out for the International Space Station.
“It will move from the west below the bright star Arcturus and then move towards the south, fading out as it passes into the Earth’s shadow at 10.32pm,” said Mr Scagell. “And it will be the brightest thing in the sky, apart from aircraft. It’ll be in mid sky from southern England and quite low in the sky from northern Scotland but still visible.”
Meteors are the result of particles as small as a grain of sand entering the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed and burning up.
They can appear anywhere but seem to emerge from a single point, or “radiant”. The Perseid’s radiant is in the north-east constellation of Perseus.
What are the Perseids?
The Perseids are named after the constellation, Perseus, due to the direction in which the shower appears to stem from.
The meteor shower falls from and is in line with Perseus in the north-eastern point of the sky.
How to watch meteors advice from MeteorWatch.org:
Find an area outside which has a wide view of the sky and away from bright lights to improve your chances of seeing more meteors.
Allow a few minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark; you will then be able to see the fainter meteors which are more common.
Dress warmly, because in the middle of the night and early hours of the morning, it can be quite cold. Lie on the ground on a rug, with a sleeping bag or blanket, or sit on a reclining garden chair so you can spend as much time as possible looking up without craning your neck.
Standing and looking up for long periods can be uncomfortable and will reduce your chances of seeing those ‘wow’ meteors. Try to keep your gaze on the sky for as long as possible, many people have missed that perfect meteor when they looked away. You will also see aircraft and satellites!
More on observing the night sky at meteorwatch.org.