This weekend is peak activity for the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. Below is a quick guide for successful viewing under northern skies.
Guidelines for Viewing
You don’t need any special observing equipment, just your eyes and a good clear horizon away from as much street lighting as possible.
It’s much more enjoyable viewing meteor showers in a relaxed state, so why not get an old deck chair or picnic rug to lie down on? Meanwhile avoid any hand torches or mobile phone use as it’ll destroy your dark adaption.
After 11.30pm on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, look North East. The constellation Perseus will be about 30 degrees above the horizon, below the distinctive W shape of Cassiopeia.
This is the area of sky from which the meteor activity will originate. At peak (probably after midnight) up to 100 shooting stars per hour could be seen, although its worth pointing out that a waning gibbous moon will begin rising in the east around the same time, which could blot out some activity.
These shooting stars are remnants from the comet Swift-Turtle which last hurtled around our sun back in 1992, but left a trail dust and ice particles which impact our atmosphere at a whopping speed of 135,000 mph.
While you wait for meteors why not contemplate the very bright star ‘Capella’, sitting just left and below Perseus. Capella appears to be one star but is actually a binary system – composed of two giant stars orbiting each other at about 70% the distance of our Earth from the Sun (you’d need a very powerful telescope to see both). These giant stars have exhausted their hydrogen stores, and cooled and swollen, moving off the main sequence towards red giant oblivion.