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Page last updated at 11:05 GMT, Thursday, 12 August 2010 12:05 UK
Perseid meteor shower visible from Gloucestershire

Perseid meteor shower

Gloucestershire is in line to see a real spectacle in the night sky on Thursday, 12 August 2010, according to a local astronomer.

John Fletcher, who runs the Mount Tuffley Observatory in Gloucester, said that tonight is the night to get the best view of the Perseid meteor shower.

The phenomenon is visible each year from late July to late August, but tonight is being touted at the best night for watching in 2010.

We see these beautiful, bright streaks across the sky. These are the shooting stars, no more than mere grains of dust.
John Fletcher

This is because as the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour, they can be seen all across the UK sky - weather permitting.

And Mr Fletcher said he's already managed to spot the stars, streaking through the night sky.

"Two nights ago [Tuesday], around midnight, I saw - leading up to the maximum, which is tonight - nine bright ones and several fainter ones, emanating from the northern direction," he said.

"They came from the direction of Perseus, the constellation - this constellation is in the north, below the constellation Cassiopeia.

"So if you look in the northern direction you'll see a 'W' shape of stars and that's the constellation of Cassiopeia, and that's where they will emanate from."

Time exposure photograph of polar stars during a meteor shower
Time exposure photograph of polar stars during a meteor shower

The Perseid meteor shower is caused by debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle.

Every 133 years, the huge comet swings through the inner part of our Solar System and leaves behind a trail of dust and gravel.

When Earth passes through the debris, specks hit our atmosphere at 140,000mph and disintegrate in flashes of light.

These meteors are called the Perseids because they appear to fly out of the constellation Perseus.

"We see these beautiful, bright streaks across the sky," Mr Fletcher added.

"These are the shooting stars, no more than mere grains of dust.

"This is what should be seen tonight, if the sky is clear.

"In the western sky, in the late evening [and] before it gets totally dark, is when we'll see the bright star of Venus.

"[Venus] is a very, very brilliant star and a crescent moon - after that then it's the Perseid meteor shower."

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