'Spectacular' meteor showers to light up the sky

This file photograph taken late on Aug 12, 2013 shows a long exposure picture showing the sky at night during a Perseid meteor (left) shower, with a meteor streaking across the sky (left) over St Ioan medieval church near the village of Potsurnentsi.
This file photograph taken late on Aug 12, 2013 shows a long exposure picture showing the sky at night during a Perseid meteor (left) shower, with a meteor streaking across the sky (left) over St Ioan medieval church near the village of Potsurnentsi.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Those wishing to catch the Perseid meteor shower that is expected to be particularly spectacular this year should do so when it peaks overnight on Wednesday next week.

Perseid - an annual display of natural fireworks -with its extra-dark skies is anticipated to create optimal stargazing conditions, astronomers said.

When the celestial show hits its peak overnight on Wednesday, up to 100 shooting stars per hour will streak across the sky for a spectacle visible around the globe. August 12 and August 13 will be the ideal nights to catch the Perseids, according to CNN.

In a lucky development, the Moon's glow will not interfere with meteor-watching, as it will be approaching its darkest or "new" phase, experts say.

"It's going to be a spectacular show this year," astronomer Morgan Hollis of the Royal Astronomical Society told AFP. "You'll be able to a see a lot more than normal." The mid-July to mid-August light show comes from the tail of comet Swift-Tuttle, which swings around the Solar System every 130 years or so, depositing debris in Earth's orbit as it nears the Sun.

As Earth races around the Sun, these grains smash into the atmosphere at about 60km per second, burning up in flashes of light.

Occasionally, longer and brighter streaks are seen, from pea- or marble-sized comet remnants.

The showers - named after the constellation of Perseus from which they appear to fly out - peak when Earth passes through the heart of the debris field.

The Perseids are also known as the "tears of St. Lawrence" in honour of a martyred Christian saint. He was an early deacon, Laurentius, tortured to death by the Romans in AD 258, and whose saint's day of August 10 coincides with the Perseids buildup.

Unlike some celestial events, one doesn't need special technology to watch the Perseids unfold. It is best to find a wide open space away from tall buildings or trees, and with as little artificial light as possible.

"The more of the sky you can see the better," said astronomer Affelia Wibisono from the Royal Observatory Greenwich. "You don't need any binoculars or telescopes. It's actually better if you use your eyes." The only equipment she suggested was a nice comfy chair from which to watch the show, and some warm clothes.