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Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Thursday, 12 August 2010 12:03 UK
Meteor showers light up the sky
Perseid meteor trail
Time exposure showing a Perseid meteor trail over British Columbia

Star-gazers are being urged to stay up late and enjoy one of the best displays of the Perseid meteor showers for some years on the night of 12 August 2010.

This is because they coincide with a moon-free night, so the skies are darker than usual.

Dr Carolin Crawford from the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge advised the use of one bit of specialist equipment.

"A reclining chair. You'll get a crick in the back of the neck if you're looking up for long," she pointed out.

Shooting stars

Dr Carolyn Crawford, Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge
Dr Carolyn Crawford with the 170-year-old Northumberland telescope

The Perseid meteor showers happen every year between late July and late August.

"It is a display of shooting stars created by little particles colliding with the earth's atmosphere," explained Dr Crawford.

"They slam into it at over 100,000 miles per hour, and then they burn up to leave this long firey streak."

Perseid meteors

They are the most predictable of the meteor showers.

"Every year, as we go around the sun, we encounter this little stream of tiny particles. These have been left behind by a comet called Swift-Tuttle," she said.

"Comets are big snowballs of ice, dirt, pebbles and gravel, and they evaporate every time they go around the sun and leave behind all these little bits.

"All that's happened is the Earth is running into this stream every year, and that's how we know it's going to happen; it's a very predictable thing."

Optimum viewing

Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge
The Northumberland telescope is at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge

If you are interested in seeing this spectacle then the advice is to stay up late on 12 August, although people can expect to see the shooting stars on dates immediately before and after.

Dr Crawford believes the best viewing time will be after midnight.

And apart from that reclining chair - or maybe a rug on the lawn - no other equipment is needed.

Except maybe an umbrella in case it rains.

Perseid meteor show reaches peak
13 Aug 09 |  Science & Environment


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