Perseid Meteor Shower 2021

This week sees the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. A meteor is also know as a shooting star and look like a star shooting quickly across the sky. They are caused when particles of matter from space strike the Earth’s atmosphere. The Earth moves through space very fast (approximately 110,000 kph). As the Earth moves, it collides with bits of debris floating around in space. When it collides, the particles are moving at around 110,000 Kph! When this happens the air gets compressed in front of the meteor. As the air compresses, it heats up so much that it glows.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lyrid-from-the-iss.jpg
Lyrid meteor as seen from the International space station. Credit: NASA

The Earth can hit a piece of matter at any time. They can be big and cause a very bright meteor (shooting star) or they can be small causing shooting stars that are not as bright. Sometimes the remains of a meteor can land on the ground! Most of the time though meteors are caused by small pieces of dust as small as a grain of sand. At certain times of year, Earth moves through areas of space that are more dusty than others. These are areas that comets and asteroids have passed through. When this happens there is a spike in meteor activity and this is called a meteor shower. Each August the Perseid meteor shower takes place. It is caused by dust left from a comet called comet Swift-Tuttle.

The meteor shower will be active from 17th July until 24th August the and will peak early on the 13th August 2021. Therefore, the best time to view it will be the night of the 12th /13th August. You can try and catch some meteors on the nights either side of that date, but the greatest number will be on those nights. The weather isn’t looking very good on 12th so it might be a good idea to look out on 11th if it’s clear. This year the Moon will set early so it is a really good year to try and see some meteors. You don’t need any equipment to watch the meteor shower. Find somewhere dark, with a good view of the sky and make yourself comfortable. A reclining deck chair is ideal. Also make sure you are really well dressed for the cold. A sleeping bag can be great for keeping warm. You can also have some snacks and hot drinks like hot chocolate to hand. After that just relax and enjoy the show! You don’t need to look any specific direction as meteors can appear anywhere in the sky. Try to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark for about 20 mins. Your eyes become more sensitive in the dark so avoid looking at any lights or phone screens as this will destroy your night vision.

You can expect to see a maximum of 100 meteors per hour but that depends a lot on conditions and luck. It is unlikely that you will see that many this year given that the peak is in daylight and the Moon is up. It is still a really good opportunity as this is a really nice activity to do as a family if the weather is nice. It also helps that the weather is generally milder in August and more comfortable to sit out and observe the sky.

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