The second week of August means only one thing to an astronomer: the annual Perseid meteor shower.
Every year, the Earth passes through the stream of dust that has been deposited in space from the tail of comet Swift-Tuttle. Our planet begins its passage through the stream around 17 July and exits on about 24 August. On or around 12 August, we plough through the densest part of the stream, triggering the peak of the meteor shower.
The chart shows the view looking north-east from London around midnight on 12 August. The moon will have set earlier, allowing uninterrupted views of the shooting stars. The best time to watch is between midnight and 5am. Find the darkest site you can and settle in to let your eyes adjust to the dark. A blanket and a garden lounger can make viewing easier.
The shooting stars will appear to radiate in all directions from the point marked on the diagram as “Perseids”. If you can spare the time, begin your watch on 11-12 August and go out for the next three nights as the peak sometimes takes us by surprise. From a dark site, you may see up to 60 meteors an hour, although in rare circumstances more than 100 meteors an hour have been seen.