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. The full moon will be a bit of an issue but you can try a day or two earlier either as the moon sets earlier.
But the celestial event is already active, meaning shooting stars may already be visible on clear night.
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.
The shower is named after the constellation Perseus from which they appear to radiate. They will peak in Australian skies on the night of August 12 and early dawn of August 13.
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.
As particles from the comet hit the atmosphere at speeds of up to 200,000 kph, 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.
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. However the further south you are you will need to wait until just before dawn and find a good Northern Horizon.
The shower typically produces the most meteors in the wee hours before dawn.
Meteor showers are best viewed from places that are away from city lights, as light pollution can drown out the shooting stars.
So if you can get out of the house and the sky is not clouded over, find a secluded spot and wait for your eyes to get adjusted to the dark.
Donna the Astronomer