On any given night of stargazing, you can expect to see about two meteors every hour. Meteors, commonly known as ‘shooting stars’, are flashes of light caused by pieces of dust or rock burning up as they pass through the Earth’s atmosphere. Incredibly, these are usually the size of a grain of sand, but they travel so fast that they create a trail that glows as brightly as the stars.
Every so often, the Earth’s orbit brings us into a particularly dense patch of cosmic debris – a trail of rock and dust left in the wake of an asteroid or comet. We see this as a meteor shower.
The Perseid (‘Per-see-id’) meteor shower is one of the most active in the northern hemisphere. Caused by debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids are named after the constellation that the meteors appear to come from: Perseus (astronomers call this point the meteor shower’s ‘radiant’).
When can you see the Perseid meteor shower 2021 in the UK?
This year, the Perseids will peak on 12-13 August, but you can spot them anytime from around 16 July to 23 August. The meteors can be seen at any time of night, but the darker it is, the better your chances, so aim for between midnight and 5am. A night with little moonlight, around the new Moon on 8 August, would be perfect.
How can I see the Perseid meteor shower 2021?
Let your eyes adjust, then look directly up. Although the meteors originate in Perseus, it’s not important to specifically find that constellation – they can travel across the whole sky. So make sure you can see as much sky as possible, without obstruction from buildings or trees, to give yourself the best chance.
Most importantly, make sure that you’re comfortable, by taking a chair (a reclining one is best), a blanket, and maybe even a bottle of wine with you.
How many meteors will I be able to see?
How many meteors you’ll be able to see will change over the course of the shower. On the peak on 12-13 August, you may be able to see up to an astonishing 150 meteors per hour – at least, provided the sky is clear.