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The Perseid meteor shower - the year's most spectacular light show!

Get ready for the light show of the year this week, as the Swift-Tuttle comet showers us with shooting stars – the Perseids. Find out all about this celestial spectacle and where and how to witness it.

What are the Perseids?

This year’s show promises to be the best for years, and can be witnessed throughout the week but will reach it's peak in the early hours of Monday 13 August. Providing the sky is clear enough you could see them on other nights too. At it's peak you may see up to 80 shooting stars an hour; it should to be a magical night when many a wish is made. Without wanting to remove the romance, here are a few scientific facts to explain what causes this phenomenon:

1. The Perseids are debris particles from the comet Swift-Tuttle which passes the earth every August. 

2. As they hit the earth’s atmosphere they reach incredible temperatures and vaporise instantly – this is what you are seeing when you see a shooting star.

3. The Perseids are named after the Perseus constellation which is the point they appear to come from in the night sky – this is called the ‘radiant point.’ They are in fact light years away from Perseus and only 60 miles from earth.

4. You'll be able to witness the meteor shower throughout the week, providing the sky is clear enough. The peak time is late in the evening of the 13 August into the early hours of 14 August. After midnight is best, when the moon has dipped below the horizon and the sky is at its darkest.

How to see the Perseids

The beauty of this particular stargazing event is that you don’t need specialist equipment or knowledge. The shooting stars will be visible to the naked eye and should also be quite plentiful. You can just tilt back your head and look at the night sky. However, these simple tips will make this event even more spectacular:

1. Get away from light pollution: city and town centres are not the best places to view the night sky. Head to somewhere with minimal lighting such as the countryside, moorland or even a park.

2. Allow your eyes 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness: even the beam of your torch will affect your night vision.

3. Look toward Perseus: which is to the north east on the sky. If you trace back the shooting stars you will see that they come from this radiant point and this will heighten your chances of seeing more.

4. Be patient and consistent: Once you have chosen your spot and you are confident you are looking in the right direction, stay put and relax. Your reward will come.

The weather plays a part too and much of the UK should have a clear night, with perhaps the exception of Scotland. For more tips about how to get the most out of your stargazing why not take a look at our interview with astronomer, Steve Bowden – A beginner’s guide to stargazing. This could be the start of your new hobby!

Stargazing in the forest

If you are lucky enough to be staying at a Forest Holidays location this week, then the Perseids meteor shower is a must-see. We consciously keep light pollution to a minimum at all our locations and this opens up the night sky in a way that many people have never previously witnessed. 

The best locations for stargazing from the comfort of your cabin – or even your hot tub, are Thorpe Forest, Forest of Dean, Keldy, and Cropton, which all have some cabins that are open to the skies. Ardgartan Argyll and Strathyre too, have open aspects across the lochs. Here are some great reasons to try stargazing in Scotland.

If you have the stargazing bug, find out more about the night sky throughout the year here. We also recommend the many stargazing apps that are available. And wherever you are for the Perseids, it should be a night to remember. Enjoy the show!


Images
By Kim MyoungSung (meteo (missed focus)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By NASA/Bill Ingalls [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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