Meteor show to light up British skies

The skies above Britain are expected to shimmer with a “natural firework display” as a meteor shower crosses into the earth’s atmosphere, astronomy experts have predicted.

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Although the Perseids meteor shower is an annual event, the Royal Astronomical Society believes prospects for this year’s showing are particularly good and could mean up to 60 shooting stars an hour in the UK.

Stargazers will need only their own eyes to enjoy the natural occurrence, which is a result of material falling from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed near the Earth in 1992.

“Comet Swift-Tuttle won’t be visiting our neck of the woods again until the year 2125, but every year we get this beautiful reminder as the Earth ploughs through the debris it leaves in its orbit,” said Professor Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen’s University Belfast.

“Every meteor is a speck of comet dust vaporising as it enters our atmosphere at 36 miles per second. What a glorious way to go.”

The best display will last from late Monday night (Tuesday AEST) through to early Tuesday morning local time, with weather conditions expected to be favourable.

“It’s looking pretty good for people to have a chance to see the meteor shower across large parts of the country, including the London area, with a lot of clear skies expected on Monday night,” said Matt Dobson, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association.

“The best thing for stargazers to do is obviously to get away from any sources of light in big cities.”

Meteors, commonly known as shooting stars, are the result of small particles entering the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed.

These heat the air around them, causing the characteristic streak of light seen from the ground.

The Perseids meteor shower is active each year from around mid-July to late-August, but for most of that period only a few meteors an hour will be visible.

People looking out for the meteors may also get a glimpse of larger “fireballs”, according to Brendan Owens, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

He said the Earth would pass through the comet’s trail like a snowplough, with material of different sizes being trapped by the planet’s gravity. The larger material may fall to earth as meteorites.

“If people are extremely lucky, we can see some fireballs, which are large chunks that burn up but don’t completely burn up,” he said.

“Sometimes it ends up with meteorites. There is a possibility of meteorite impact but it is very small.”