Saturday, August 11, 2007

Stargazers set sights on meteors

The Perseid meteor shower is an annual event Shooting stars are set to grace the night sky with a spectacular light display this weekend.

The annual Perseid meteor shower will reach its peak during the early hours of Monday, but it will be visible from Saturday night until Tuesday morning.

The celestial show will be most apparent in the north-eastern part of the sky near the Perseus constellation.

If the skies remain clear, it will offer stargazers the best opportunity for a few years to see the Perseids.

The shower this year coincides with a new Moon, providing sky watchers with the dark skies necessary for excellent observing conditions.

"If we're lucky, on Sunday night and Monday morning we might see as many as 100 meteors an hour," said Dr Robert Massey from the UK's Royal Astronomical Society. "But the usual caveat applies: you still need good weather."

The best viewing conditions will be where the sky is clearest and darkest. However, meteors should be visible, to a lesser degree, in cities despite light pollution and smog.

"You will see them almost wherever you are, so it's worth a look," Dr Massey added.

Both hemispheres will receive good views but the prime locations will be Western Europe and North America.

Watchers will get the best of the display from about 2200 BST (2100 GMT) on Sunday 12 August, which will peak just before sunrise on Monday 13 August.

Tiny particles
The annual Perseid showers are caused by small bits of debris, many no bigger than a grain of sand, that enter the Earth's atmosphere when our orbit passes through the tail of the Swift-Tuttle comet.

These particles travel at very high speeds, reaching up to 50 kilometres per second (32 miles per second), and burn up in the atmosphere.

This causes the air around them to get extremely hot, which produces the streak of light that we see.

"It's a spectacular phenomenon that everyone can enjoy. The great thing is that you don't need any equipment apart from your eyes," Dr Massey said.

"It's a laid back form of astronomy. You can go outside, look up at the sky and enjoy it. And that's really what it's about."

As an added bonus, watchers should be able to see Mars, which will be in view as a bright red dot in the eastern sky after midnight.


Anonymous said...

Blah its gone cloudy round here in Lancashire.

Anonymous said...

cant see any meteors !


Army Veteran Jailed For Stirring Up Racial Hatred ...