Every day the earth is bombarded from space with millions of pieces of sand, dust and specks of rocks. When these pieces of debris hit our atmosphere at speeds in excess of 50 km/second they burn up and can be seen as spectacular streaks across the night sky. These are shooting stars and are visible every night if the sky is clear. However, there are certain times of the year when the Earth passes through a cloud of dust and debris and creates many more shooting stars.
This time of year and for a couple of days either side of the 12th August, the Earth passes through a cloud of debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle and we are treated to celestial fireworks in the form of the Perseid meteor shower. The shower peaks on the 12th of August with up to 80 shooting stars visible every hour. In reality, this means after midnight on Friday is the best opportunity to see them. Unfortunately this year, a bright moon that rises just before eleven pm interferes with the sight and will wash out some of the fainter meteors.
That doesn’t mean you won’t see any. It’s still worth while getting out and looking up provided we have clear skies. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but all appear to radiate from a point in the sky in the constellation Perseus and so they are known as the Perseids. Not to worry if we are clouded out, as in December we have a further opportunity with another fine meteor shower, the Geminids.