Page last updated at 12:43 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 13:43 UK

Perseid meteor show reaches peak

Perseid (SPL)
The Perseids occur when Earth passes through dusty material from a comet

Skygazers have observed a dazzling sky show, as the annual Perseid meteor shower reached its peak.

No special equipment was required to watch the shower, which occurs when Earth passes through a stream of dusty debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle.

Budding astronomers were advised to lie on a blanket or a reclining chair to get the best view.

But skygazers in the south of England were left disappointed as clouds spoiled their views of the spectacle.

"There are different times of the year when you can see meteor showers but August is normally the best time because that's when the skies are clearest," said a spokesman for the National Trust, which published a guide to the top sites to witness the event in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"Rural areas and wide open spaces are the best. It's just unfortunate that the southern part of Britain seems to have been shrouded in cloud."

However, skygazers in northern England and Scotland were able to get a clearer view.

As the cometary "grit" from Swift-Tuttle strikes our atmosphere, it burns up, often creating streaks of light across the sky.

Infographic (BBC)
The tails of the Perseids point back to a "radiant" in the constellation Perseus
They can appear anywhere in the sky
Perseids consist of dusty debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle

The meteors appear to come from a point called a "radiant" in the constellation of Perseus - hence the name Perseid.

The late evening on 12 August through to the early hours of the 13 August was the best time to see the shower. In North America, the best time to watch was before dawn on Wednesday.

Astronomers say up to 100 meteors per hour are expected to streak across the sky during the shower's peak.

But this year, light from the last quarter Moon also interfered with viewing.

Astronomers say binoculars help to view the spectacle, but also restrict the view to a small part of the sky.

The Perseids can appear in any part of the sky, but their tails all point back to the radiant in the constellation Perseus.

Black Down in Sussex
Teign Valley in Devon
Penbryn Beach in Wales
Stonehenge Landscape in Wiltshire
Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire
Mam Tor in Derbyshire
Friar's Crag in Cumbria

Skywatchers took part in the first "Twitter Meteorwatch". People around the world "live-tweeted" images of the meteors, as well as pictures of the Moon, Jupiter and other celestial objects.

The "48-hour Twitter marathon" formed part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009).

The rock and dust fragments which cause the shower were left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle when it last came near the Sun.

The comet orbits the Sun once every 130 years and last swept through the inner Solar System in 1992.

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