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Will you be watching out tonight for the Perseids Meteor?

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: August 11, 2014

  • Perseid Meteor taken on August 1981 by Kevin Kilburn

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Every year, the first two weeks in August are the best time to view shooting stars; meteors, scraps of comet debris intersected by earth as it orbits the sun to burning up in a streak of light on the edge of space.

By far the best meteor shower of the year between the end of July and about 23rd August are the Perseids. 

As the name suggests they appear to radiate from the constellation of Perseus, rising in north east in the midnight sky. 

The Perseids peak in the early hours of Wednesday, 13th August. 

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Given clear skies you can expect to see meteors with the naked eye; unfortunately moonlight will affect observations this year, but face north east and you will probably see a few.

Look for the obvious ‘W’ shaped constellation of Cassiopeia quite high, in the north east.

The wee small hours after midnight are best because we are facing head-on in the direction of earth’s orbit around the sun and like looking through the windscreen of a car driving into a snowstorm, the Perseids appear to radiate from our direction of travel as earth ploughs into the debris stream following in the wake of comet Swift-Tuttle.

The Perseids are quite bright meteors but even brighter, but fewer in number, are the alpha-Capricornids (15 July-20 Aug, peaking 2-3 August) that appear to come from low in the south east. 

There’s still time to catch one or two. 

They are brighter but slower because they have to catch up with earth in its orbit.

The picture shows a Perseid meteor taken a few years ago. 

A digital camera on a tripod can catch meteors and show the star constellations very well indeed if you set the lens to infinity and open the shutter with a remote release (to avoid camera shake) and give a long exposure, 30 seconds or so, depending on your local light pollution. 

Meteor photography is a bit like fishing without a worm, all try and mainly error, but you may be lucky…wish upon a falling star.

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