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Don't miss the meteor shower

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The highlight of the late summer stargazing calendar is definitely the Perseid meteor shower. The peak will be on August 12/13 and, as it is a nearly new moon, conditions should be ideal. Nic Fleet from Newbury Astronomical Society tells you what to look out for

METEORS come from the small particles, around the size of a grain of sand, left behind by comets (and some asteroids) as they orbit the sun. When the Earth’s orbit crosses a trail of these particles they can collide with our atmosphere and burn up as shooting stars.

The particles that cause the Perseids are travelling at around 60 km per second, which is why the meteors we see are typically very fast and bright.

The comet that left the Perseid meteor stream is a piece of dirty ice about 26km in diameter called 109P/Swift-Tuttle. It orbits the sun every 133 years and was last seen in 1992 – so it won’t be back again until 2126.

The Perseid shower is named after the constellation of Perseus. You can tell if a meteor is a Perseid by following its direction backwards and, if it’s coming from the direction of Perseus, it’s a Perseid.

The beauty of meteor-watching is that you just need your eyes. Meteors can appear anywhere in the sky so try and find an open area, away from street lights. A sun lounger, or deckchair, will let you relax and look up without craning your neck. It may be summer, but it can still get pretty cold out at night, so wrap up warm.

In good conditions at the shower’s peak you can expect to see an average of one meteor per minute. Numbers tend to be higher after midnight so try and stay awake as long as possible. Keep a count of how many you see every half-hour and if you get any good pictures send them to report@newburytoday.co.uk.

Here’s to clear skies and happy stargazing. www.newburyastro.org.uk

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