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Perseid meteor shower pegged as a ‘must see’ event

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The annual celestial event – Perseid meteor shower – which is viewed by millions of skywatchers is here with August 12 night and early morning of August 13 pegged as the best time to view it.

Also known as shooting stars, meteor showers are the result of small particles, some as small as a grain of sand, entering the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed and heating up the air around them, causing the characteristic streak of light seen from the ground.

The Perseid meteor shower appears to originate from a single point, called a ‘radiant,’ in the constellation of Perseus. The great thing about this year’s meteor shower is that moon is just about new because of there is no bright moonlight to hinder the view.

For those who are not aware about Perseid meteor shower, it starts showing up as early as July 17 and lasts till August 24. Most of the time during this period, only a few are visible except for the peak during late August 12 evening and early morning of August 13.

In the UK the peak of the shower will be visible from late hours of August 12 right through to early hours of August 13 when as many as 100 meteors or more may be seen each hour. This year, for the first time since 2007, this peak coincides with a new Moon on 14 August, creating ideal dark sky conditions for meteor-spotting.

Sky & Telescope magazine predicts that, for North Americans, the Perseid shower will be at or near its peak late on Wednesday night (late on August 12th and early morning on the 13th).

“The nearly moonless sky this year means the viewing will be excellent,” notes Alan MacRobert, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope.

Although you may catch a few occasional Perseid meteors here and there in the early evening hours, the prime viewing hours are from about 11 p.m. or midnight (local time) until the first light of dawn.

Perseids can appear anywhere and everywhere in the sky and so the best direction to look is where the sky is the darkest from your perspective – usually straight up. Faint Perseids appear as tiny, quick streaks. Occasional brighter ones may sail across the heavens for several seconds and leave a brief train of glowing smoke.

Professor Mark Bailey, Director of Armagh Observatory, said, “The Perseid meteor shower is one of the best and most reliable meteor showers of the year. The French astronomer Jeremie Vaubaillon has also predicted that the Perseids may this year produce an outburst of activity around 7:40 pm BST [06:40 UTC] 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.”

How to enjoy the Perseids

You won’t need a telescope or a pair of binoculars to enjoy the Perseids. All you need is your eyes. The best place to view the shower would be an open space in the country side with a wide-open view overhead. You can bring you reclining lawn chair or ground cloth or a sleeping bag so you can lie back and watch the sky in comfort.

The trick is to relax and let your eye get accustomed to the darkness and when the shower is at its peak you would see about one meteor per minute. It is highly unlikely to see several at once, but you can keep your fingers crossed.

As soon as you see a meteor track its path backward and you will enventually see the constellation Perseus – the source of the meteor shower.

The higher the radiant, the more meteors you’ll see. But when the shower’s radiant is still low above the horizon, the few Perseids that do appear will be spectacularly long “Earthgrazers” skimming far across the sky along the top of the atmosphere.