The main meteor shower of the year for northern skywatchers has arrived. The annual Perseids meteor shower lasts for more than five weeks, starting on 17 July and lasting until 24 August, but it peaks on the night of 12-13 August.
Under pristine observing conditions, this reliable meteor shower can reach peak rates of 60 to 100 visible meteors an hour. This year, however, the full moon will wash out many of the fainter meteors. The Perseids themselves are dust grains that were once part of the tail of comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. They now hit Earth’s atmosphere at a velocity of about 130,000 mph, and burn up high above our planet’s surface.
The chart shows the view looking north-east from London at midnight as 12 August becomes 13 August. The meteors will emanate in all directions from the radiant point. A reclining garden chair can be useful when settling in for a meteor, and don’t forget to take a warm coat. Unfortunately, the shower becomes more difficult to see the further south you are located. From Sydney, Australia, for example, you would be lucky to see anything.