Annually, between July 17 and August 24, the Perseid meteor shower puts on one of the brightest cosmic events of the year.
This year the meteor shower is predicted to reach its peak on the night of August 12, as Earth passes through the densest part of the Comet 109/Swift-Tuttle‘s trail.
The meteor shower is made up of particles that crumbled away from the 26 kilometre (16 mile) wide comet as it zooms in and out of the inner Solar System.
As Earth sweeps through the path of Swift-Tuttle’s 133-year-orbit of the sun, it collects some of these bits of leftover comet, which incinerate in our atmosphere in a fiery blaze.
During the meteor shower’s peak, skywatchers in the northern hemisphere can expect to see up to 60-70 shooting stars per hour, provided they’ve found some dark, clear skies for viewing.
“This year the moon will be near new moon, it will be a crescent, which means it will set before the Perseid show gets underway after midnight,” NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told Space.com.
This means no excess light to interfere with the often colourful exploding comet fragments.
The Perseids are named after the constellation Perseus because that’s where the point from which they appear to originate, called the radiant, is located. So that’s the part of the sky you should anchor your meteor search from, but they will scatter across the sky as shooting stars from there.
For skywatchers in the northern hemisphere, experts recommend watching for the meteor shower after 10 pm local time, but it will be at its best during the early hours of dawn.
Remember it takes your eyes about 30 minutes to fully adjust to the dark, and don’t worry about acquiring any fancy equipment – you’ll be able to see everything easily with the naked eye, especially if you can get out of the city and away from the smog and light pollution.
You can help find a dark enough spot near you, using this atlas of artificial sky brightness.
This year’s shower will be putting on its best display for those in Europe, but as it’s peak last so long, from the 11th to 12th, it should also put on a spectacular display for the US and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere.
According to Jolene Creighton at Quarks to Quasars, the meteors you’ll be able to see during the meteor shower’s peak each hour will be blasting into Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of around 209,000 kilometres per hour (130,000 miles per hour).
“And interestingly, most of these meteors are amazingly small,” she says. “Most particles are about the size of a small rock or beach sand, and they weigh just about 1-2 grams (roughly the same as a paperclip).”
Unfortunately for most of us in the southern hemisphere, the event will be below our horizon. But you might be able to catch a glimpse from the more northerly latitudes, with Brisbane expecting from 4 meteors per hour and Darwin up to 20.
So if you’re lucky enough to have a chance of catching the Perseid meteor shower, it sounds like you’ll be in for a spectacular night of skywatching.
This is an updated version of an article that was originally published in August 2015.