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Perseid meteor shower: Tonight is your chance to see dazzling sight as it reaches its peak

Send us your pictures of the dazzling meteor shower which is set to be even more stunning than usual

Published 12/08/2015

Tonight the Perseid Meteor Shower is expected to reach its peak providing stunning views around the world.

If you haven't seen a meteor before - tonight is your chance (weather permitting).

The annual Perseid meteor shower is one of the best and most reliable meteor showers of the year and it is about to peak mid-week.

It peaks every year around August 12/13 and under ideal conditions produces a maximum frequency of meteors, or zenith hourly rate, up to around 100 meteors per hour. 

<<Send your pictures of the meteor shower to the Belfast Telegraph here>>

If it is cloudy you won't be able to see much, but even if it's partly cloudy it is still worth looking out.

  Perseid meteor shower: Clear conditions to make for 'truly amazing sight'

Professor Mark Bailey, director of Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, called the Perseids the "best and most reliable meteor showers of the year."

Mr Bailey added the Perseids may this year produce an outburst of activity around 7.40pm BST on August 12.

"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."

The weather is still reasonably mild, and the Moon, whose light often drowns out many faint meteors, is waning towards New Moon on the 14th and so will not interfere with the peak of this year’s shower. 

Meteors, which are sometimes called “shooting stars” — or “fireballs” if very bright — are produced by small dust particles called meteoroids, with sizes ranging from millimetres up to centimetres or more, as they collide with the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of typically several tens of kilometres a second, and burn up.

Stunning image of Perseid Meteor Shower taken at Tullagh Bay in Donegal from Ronan McMonagle
Stunning image of Perseid Meteor Shower taken at Tullagh Bay in Donegal from Ronan McMonagle
The Perseids Meteor shower took place last night, regarded as one of the best displays of the year. Photographed around 2am with the Milk-Way over Spelga Dam, located in the Mourne Mountains, County Down. Pic By Paul Moane
TOPSHOTS A photographer prepares to take pictures of the annual Perseid meteor shower in the village of Crissolo, near Cuneo, in the Monviso Alps region of northern Italy, on August 13, 2015. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year when the Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLOMARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images
A meteor streaks across the sky early Wednesday, Aug 12, 2015, in Springville, Ala. The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight. (Mark Almond/AL.com via AP) MAGS OUT
A meteor streaks across the sky near an American flag early Wednesday, Aug 12, 2015, in Springville, Ala. The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight. (Mark Almond/AL.com via AP) MAGS OUT;
In this photo taken with long exposure, a wind turbine is set against a starry sky Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, near Marshalltown, Iowa. The annual Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak on Wednesday and Thursday. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
In this photo taken with long exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky behind a grain elevator during the annual Perseid meteor shower Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, in Baxter, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
A shooting star seen through thin cloud in the skies over the Bathing House at Howick in Northumberland as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaked, delighting viewers in the Midlands and the North. PA Wire
A shooting star in the skies over the Bathing House at Howick in Northumberland as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaked, delighting viewers in the Midlands and the North. PA Wire
A shooting star in the skies over the Bathing House at Howick in Northumberland as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaked, delighting viewers in the Midlands and the North. Photo: PA Wire
A meteor seen during a Perseids meteor shower over St Mary's Lighthouse near Whitley Bay, as hundreds of shooting stars will be visible from across the UK this evening as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaks. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
RETRANSMITTED ADDING BYLINE. A shooting star in the skies over the Bathing House at Howick in Northumberland as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaked, delighting viewers in the Midlands and the North. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
A shooting star in the skies over Kielder Water, Northumberland, as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaked, delighting viewers in the Midlands and the North. Tom White/PA Wire
RETRANSMITTED ADDING BYLINE. A shooting star in the skies over the Bathing House at Howick in Northumberland as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaked, delighting viewers in the Midlands and the North. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
RETRANSMITTED ADDING BYLINE. A shooting star in the skies over the Bathing House at Howick in Northumberland as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaked, delighting viewers in the Midlands and the North. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
RETRANSMITTED ADDING BYLINE. A shooting star seen through thin cloud in the skies over the Bathing House at Howick in Northumberland as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaked, delighting viewers in the Midlands and the North. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
RETRANSMITTED ADDING BYLINE. A shooting star in the skies over the Bathing House at Howick in Northumberland as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaked, delighting viewers in the Midlands and the North. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
A shooting star in the skies over the Bathing House at Howick in Northumberland as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaked, delighting viewers in the Midlands and the North. Photo: PA Wire
A shooting star in the skies over the Bathing House at Howick in Northumberland as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaked, delighting viewers in the Midlands and the North. Photo: PA Wire
A photographer prepares to take pictures of the annual Perseid meteor shower in the village of Crissolo, near Cuneo, in the Monviso Alps region of northern Italy, on August 13, 2015. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year when the Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLOMARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images
Cows stand in a field during the annual Perseid meteor shower in the village of Crissolo, near Cuneo, in the Monviso Alps region of northern Italy, on August 13, 2015. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year when the Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLOMARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images
A photographer prepares to take pictures of the annual Perseid meteor shower in the village of Crissolo, near Cuneo, in the Monviso Alps region of northern Italy, on August 13, 2015. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year when the Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLOMARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images
A picture shows the Milky Way during the annual Perseid meteor shower in the village of Crissolo, near Cuneo, in the Monviso Alps region of northern Italy, on August 13, 2015. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year when the Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLOMARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images
A photographer prepares to take pictures of the annual Perseid meteor shower in the village of Crissolo, near Cuneo, in the Monviso Alps region of northern Italy, on August 13, 2015. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year when the Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLOMARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images
A photographer prepares to take pictures of the annual Perseid meteor shower in the village of Crissolo, near Cuneo, in the Monviso Alps region of northern Italy, on August 13, 2015. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year when the Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLOMARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images
A photographer prepares to take pictures of the annual Perseid meteor shower in the village of Crissolo, near Cuneo, in the Monviso Alps region of northern Italy, on August 13, 2015. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year when the Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLOMARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images
A photographer prepares to take pictures of the annual Perseid meteor shower in the village of Crissolo, near Cuneo, in the Monviso Alps region of northern Italy, on August 13, 2015. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year when the Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLOMARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images
A photographer prepares to take pictures of the annual Perseid meteor shower in the village of Crissolo, near Cuneo, in the Monviso Alps region of northern Italy, on August 13, 2015. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year when the Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLOMARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images
A photographer prepares to take pictures of the annual Perseid meteor shower in the village of Crissolo, near Cuneo, in the Monviso Alps region of northern Italy, on August 13, 2015. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year when the Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLOMARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images
Clouds partly cover the star speckled night sky over Sieversdorf, eastern Germany, on August 11, 2015. The peak of the Perseid meteor shower is expected for the night to Thursday, August 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO / DPA / PATRICK PLEUL +++ GERMANY OUTPATRICK PLEUL/AFP/Getty Images
A falling star crosses the night sky over Sieversdorf, eastern Germany, on August 11, 2015. The peak of the Perseid meteor shower is expected for the night to Thursday, August 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO / DPA / PATRICK PLEUL +++ GERMANY OUTPATRICK PLEUL/AFP/Getty Images
A general view of the stars above Sycamore Gap, prior to the Perseid Meteor Shower above Hadrian's Wall near Bardon Mill, England, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. The annual Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak on Wednesday night, but much of the UK is facing cloudy conditions. The best places to view the event is in northern England and Scotland. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Members of the public watch the Perseid meteor shower above Sycamore Gap which is along Hadrian's Wall near Bardon Mill, England, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. The annual Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak on Wednesday night, but much of the United Kingdom is facing cloudy conditions. The best places to view the event is in northern England and Scotland. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
A general view of the stars above Sycamore Gap prior to the Perseid Meteor Shower above Hadrian's Wall near Bardon Mill, England, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. The annual Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak on Wednesday night, but much of the UK is facing cloudy conditions. The best places to view the event is in northern England and Scotland. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Stars and meteor streaks are seen behind a destroyed house, near Tuzla, Bosnia, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. The annual Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)
A Perseid meteor along the Milky Way illuminates the dark sky near Villadiego in the province of Burgos, northern Spain, during the "Perseids" meteor shower on August 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ CESAR MANSOCESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images
A long exposure image showing an aeroplane passing in the sky during the Perseids meteor shower over the remains of St. Ilia Roman early Christian basilica dated back to the 5th6th century AD near the town of Pirdop, early on August 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO / NIKOLAY DOYCHINOVNIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images
Stars seen as streaks from a long camera exposure are seen behind Arnotegui Hermitage, in Obanos, northern Spain, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015. Some Catholics refer to the Perseids as the "tears of Saint Lawrence", since 10 August is the date of that saint's martyrdom. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
Stars and storm seen as streaks from a long camera exposure are seen behind an ancient Hermitage, in Murillo del Fruto, northern Spain, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. The meteor shower is expected to peak Wednesday night into Thursday morning.(AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
Stars seen as streaks from a long camera exposure are seen behind a silhouette of a Spanish fighting bull, conceived decades ago as highway billboards in Cordoba, Spain, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. Some Catholics refer to the Perseids as the "tears of Saint Lawrence", since 10 August is the date of that saint's martyrdom. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Stars seen as streaks from a long camera exposure are seen behind an ancient Hermitage, in Murillo del Fruto, northern Spain, Wednesday Aug. 12, 2015. Some Catholics refer to the Perseids as the "tears of Saint Lawrence", since 10 August is the date of that saint's martyrdom. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
Handout photo issued by the European Space Agency of a Perseid seen in August 2010 above the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope at Paranal, Chile, as a man-made shooting star will add extra sparkle to a spectacular display of Perseid meteors this week. Photo: S. Guisard/ESO/PA Wire
A long exposure image showing an aeroplane passing in the sky during the Perseids meteor shower over the remains of St. Ilia Roman early Christian basilica dated back to the 5th6th century AD near the town of Pirdop, early on August 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO / NIKOLAY DOYCHINOVNIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images
A long exposure image showing a Perseids meteor (R) streaking across the night sky over the remains of St. Ilia Roman early Christian basilica dated back to the 5th6th century AD near the town of Pirdop, early on August 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO / NIKOLAY DOYCHINOVNIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images
A long exposure image showing a Perseids meteor (L) streaking across the night sky over the remains of St. Ilia Roman early Christian basilica dated back to the 5th6th century AD near the town of Pirdop, early on August 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO / NIKOLAY DOYCHINOVNIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images
A Perseid meteor along the Milky Way illuminates the dark sky near Villadiego in the province of Burgos, northern Spain, during the "Perseids" meteor shower on August 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ CESAR MANSOCESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images
A Perseid meteor along the Milky Way illuminates the dark sky near Villadiego in the province of Burgos, northern Spain, during the "Perseids" meteor shower on August 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ CESAR MANSOCESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images
A Perseid meteor along the Milky Way illuminates the dark sky near Villadiego in the province of Burgos, northern Spain, during the "Perseids" meteor shower on August 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ CESAR MANSOCESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images
A Perseid meteor along the Milky Way illuminates the dark sky near Villadiego in the province of Burgos, northern Spain, during the "Perseids" meteor shower on August 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ CESAR MANSOCESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images
A file picture taken in the northeastern village of Rotbuehl, Switzerland, on August 13, 2009, shows a meteor entering the earth's atmosphere during the Perseid meteor shower, as the earth passed through the densest part of the dusty debris stream from the comet Swift-Tuttle. Close to 100 shooting stars per hour will be visible from around the globe on a night sky, between August 12 and 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SEBASTIAN DERUNGSSEBASTIAN DERUNGS/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken early on August 13, 2009 shows a meteor entering the earth's atmosphere during the Perseid meteor shower over the northeastern village of Rotbuehl in Switzerland. AFP PHOTO / SEBASTIAN DERUNGSSEBASTIAN DERUNGS/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken late on August 12, 2013 shows a long exposure picture showing the sky at night during a Perseid meteor (L) shower, with a meteor streaking across the sky (L) over St Ioan medieval church near the village of Potsurnentsi. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFFDIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images
Handout photo issued by the Royal Astronomical Society of a Perseid shooting star over Woodingdean, Sussex, on the early morning of August 13, 2013, as a man-made shooting star will add extra sparkle to a spectacular display of Perseid meteors this week. Photo: Darren Baskill/Royal Astronomical Society/PA Wire
File photo dated 13/08/13 of a meteor seen during a Perseids meteor shower over Gloucestershire, as hundreds of shooting stars will be visible from across the UK this evening as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaks. Photo Tim Ireland/PA Wire

Tips on how to see it:

When it gets dark select a clear, dark observing site with as little moonlight or artificial light pollution as possible

The constellation Perseus can be seen rising low in the North East.

Although Perseid meteors will appear to originate from this general direction, known as the radiant, the actual shooting star can be seen in any part of the sky. 

For example, you may look at an angle of about 45 degrees away from the radiant, perhaps overhead or towards the north or east, whilst keeping the radiant near the edge of your field of view.  If possible, look away from any nearby light pollution. 

Always allow time for your eyes to become accustomed to the dark, and expect to wait 20 or 30 minutes before seeing your first meteor.  To avoid fatigue, wrap up warm and recline in a comfortable chair under a rug or sleeping bag to avoid the cold.  Take time to enjoy your view of the dark, night sky.   

What are meteors?

The regular annual meteor showers, such as the Perseids, are produced by streams of meteoroids in the inner solar system that happen to be moving on orbits that intersect that of the Earth.  As the meteoroids run into the Earth’s atmosphere, they burn up in the mesosphere at heights typically between 80 and 100 km above the ground.  The meteor shower occurs at a specific time of year, corresponding to when the Earth in its annual revolution around the Sun crosses the Perseid meteoroid stream. 

What causes them?

Shower meteors are caused by streams of meteoroids moving in nearly the same orbit as an associated parent body, usually a comet.  In the case of the Perseids, the parent body is a large comet called 109P/Swift-Tuttle.  The comet nucleus has a diameter of approximately 25 km, and it moves in a very stable orbit about the Sun nearly perpendicular to the plane of the planetary system, and with an orbital period of a little more than 130 years. 

This means that the Perseid meteoroids encounter the Earth at a relatively high speed, around 60 kilometres a second, so their visible flight across the sky as meteors is characteristically fast. They are called Perseids because they emanate from a point in the sky, known as the radiant, in the constellation of Perseus.

What is so special about the Perseid? And why is it so reliable?

Although the Perseid parent body returns to the inner solar system every approximately 130 years, the comet itself was only discovered in 1862 and then re-observed during its last orbit around the Sun in 1992.  It is not expected to return until 2126.  Nevertheless, the comet has probably made hundreds of prior revolutions around the Sun, leading to a rather broad meteoroid stream that produces meteors at a low level from approximately the end of July to mid-August. 

This makes the Perseids one of the most reliable of the annual meteor showers, having been recorded over nearly 2,000 years.  However, because the meteors you see are produced by collisions with the Earth’s atmosphere of meteoroids ejected from the comet many revolutions ago, well before any recorded observations of the comet, there is always the possibility of a surprise. 

Further reading:

Perseid meteor shower: Clear conditions to make for 'truly amazing sight'  

Perseid meteor shower: Where to get the best view  

Perseid meteor shower: moon and International Space Station line up to make yearly show even more beautiful

Astronauts tuck into vegetables grown in space

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