The Perseids are the yearly meteor shower produced by the orbital debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle. The shower is active from mid-July until the last week of August when individual meteors zip across the sky. But tonight (August 12) marks the shower’s so-called peak – a night of intense activity when hundreds of shooting stars light up the night. During the peak, the Perseids are known to produce up to 100 meteors every hour, on top of spectacular fireballs.
The meteor shower will be best seen between midnight tonight and the pre-dawn hours on Tuesday, August 13.
Around 2am local time is usually a sweet spot for meteor hunting but this year’s shower comes with a catch.
Mike Hankey of the American Meteor Society said: “This month our main focus is the Perseid meteor shower.
“The best-known meteors of the year, the Perseids, are back but this year, this year’s shower will have to contend with a bright Moon on the peak nights.
“Still, you could see a dozen or more meteors per hour, including the occasional very bright meteor, also called a fireball.”
Light is the biggest enemy of meteor hunters, which is why astronomers always advise finding dark and secluded areas far from city lights and cars when watching a shower.
But the Perseids tonight are still expected to produce many bright and colourful fireballs, making them an event worth staying up for.
Mr Hankey said: “The meteors in this shower are particles left behind in the debris trail of a comet called Swift-Tuttle.
“This 16-mile-wide icy dustball orbits the Sun every 133 years. It last swept through the inner solar system in 1992 and will return in the year 2126.
“Earth passes through part of this trail every year, creating the meteor shower as tiny pieces of comet debris collide with our atmosphere and burn up.”
For the best chance of spotting the Perseids without the Moon getting in the way, find out your local moonset times for Tuesday morning.
Here in the UK for instance, when viewed from London, the Moon will dip below the horizon around 3.13am BST.
Mr Hankey said: “For the best meteor watching, just face east and look up.”