Stay up late on Monday for a shooting-stars spectacle
9 August 2002A fantastic, free light show is coming your way very early on Tuesday morning (13 August 2002) in the form of the Perseid meteor shower. This impressive set of shooting stars appears in the skies every August. First recorded as long ago as 36 AD, it is also known as 'the tears of St. Lawrence' after the Roman martyr. This year represents one of your best opportunities to see this phenomenon with the naked eye, with a shooting star appearing every minute until about 03.00 CET on Tuesday morning. The Moon will be only partly visible on Monday night so a dark sky is assured. This makes viewing even easier as long as it is a clear night.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through the trail of debris often left behind by a comet. These tiny bits of debris, most of which are only as big as a grain of sand, do not pose a threat to us. However, they do provide a spectacular light show as they vaporise on entering the Earth's atmosphere. This particular shower is named after the Perseus constellation because the shooting stars can appear to start there, but the material was actually shed by the Comet Swift-Tuttle.
To get the best view of this superb show, get as far away from the city lights as you can since these affect your ability to see the meteor shower. Make sure that you are comfortable - gazing at the sky for hours can cause neck strain. Find a reclining garden chair or lay out a blanket on the ground. The meteors can appear in any part of the sky, so make sure that you have as wide a view of it as possible.
However, if poor weather prevents you seeing this spectacular show, or you simply cannot stay awake that long, do not give up. You have another chance to view another set of shooting stars in November 2002 when the Leonid meteor shower comes our way. In the third week of November, the Leonids, leftovers from the Comet Temple-Tuttle, will give their last big show for the next 30 years.