Perseid meteor shower: What are they and when can you see them from the UK?

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The Perseid meteor shower has been taking place since mid-July, but will hit its peak over the next couple of days.

In full flow, the spectacular display could produce up to 100 ‘shooting stars’ an hour.

Picture: Sergei Gapon /Getty Images

Picture: Sergei Gapon /Getty Images

The shower is expected to peak on the night of Monday 12 August, though Tuesday will also offer excellent views.

Here’s everything you need to know on viewing the shower.

What are the Perseids?

The Perseids are an annual meteor shower that peaks in early-to-late August, though they technically take place in 2019 between the dates of 17 July and 24 August.

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The phenomenon is caused by debris from the tail of the Swift-Tuttle comet entering the Earth’s atmosphere and burning up, appearing as bright streaks of light crossing the sky.

The particles – which can be as small as a grain of sand – meet a fiery end after roughly a thousand years as part of the comet’s dust cloud.

The Perseids are so-called because the point from which they appear, known as the radiant, lies in the constellation of Perseus.

When is the best time to see them?

Although the shower peaks on August 12, you’ll be able to see a good deal of shooting stars over the next couple of nights.

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Unfortunately, you may have to stay up late or set your alarm for an early start if you want to spot the best of the display.

The ideal time for meteor-spotting is when the sky is at its darkest; between 1am and the onset of dawn twilight.

This year’s peak also comes close to a full moon, meaning that should the skies be clear, the meteors will be vying for your attention through the glare of the Moon.

How regular will the meteors be?

The Perseids are one of the more active meteor showers on stargazers’ calendars, producing an average of between 60 and 100 ‘shooting stars’ an hour at their peak.

2017’s shower was especially active, delivering up to 150 meteors an hour expected at its height, and while this year the shooting stars won’t be quite as regular, stargazers can still expect to see around 70 of them an hour.

What do I need to see them?

Meteor showers are typically visible with the naked eye, so no special equipment is needed, but those in rural areas with minimal light pollution will have a clearer view.

Heading out to a dark spot is the best plan of action, but stargazers should allow around 20 minutes for their eyes to become accustomed to the dark.

Patience is also a virtue, with shooting stars tending to appear in clusters, followed by a lull.

The meteors will appear to come from the direction of the Perseus constellation in the north-eastern part of the sky, although they should be visible from any point.

A cloudy night could still scupper your chances of spotting any meteors, however, so keep your eye on weather forecasts.