- Update: The Perseid meteor shower is tonight and tomorrow morning. Here's how to see it and where.
A few weeks ago the blue moon took centre stage, but tonight all eyes will be on the year's most active meteor shower.
Up to 100 shooting stars an hour can be seen in the skies above tonight through tomorrow morning, as the Perseid meteor shower peaks – and absolutely anyone can see this, wherever they are in the northern hemisphere (folks south of the equator can still see some shooting stars, but nowhere near as many).
Here's how to see, and photograph, one of the highlights of the stargazing calendar.
When is the Perseid meteor shower?
The short answer is to go outside right now and simply look at the sky. The Perseid meteor shower started on Wednesday night, August 12 at about midnight and ends on Thursday morning, August 13.
This major star shower show will peak in the very early hours of Thursday morning, but some shooting stars will be visible for the entire week.
That means, if there are clear skies on Monday or Tuesday night, it's worth venturing outside, again at about midnight, especially if rain or cloud is predicted for Wednesday or Thursday nights.
Where are the Perseid shooting stars?
To see shooting stars you need three things: complete darkness (so turn off all the lights in the back of your house), clear skies, and the patience to look at the sky for about 20 minutes unrewarded.
If you can manage that last one, congratulate yourself for being in the 1% of humans who possess such a skill: you will then be rewarded with up to 100 shooting stars in the next hour.
You could see shooting stars anywhere in the night sky, though as the name suggests they will appear to radiate from the constellation of Perseus, which will be in the northeastern sky.
What am I looking for?
Most shooting stars will be visible for just a fraction of a second from the corner of your eyes, but every now and then you'll also see big, bright, sparkling "earth-grazer" fireballs that often appear to leave a trail behind them, and last a full second or so.
What is the Perseid meteor shower?
The Perseids are the result of earth's orbit of the Sun hurtling through a stack of debris left over from a comet called Comet Swift-Tuttle, which passed through the solar system most recently in 1992 on its 133-year orbit of the Sun. It's called the Tears of St Lawrence by Catholics because it coincides with that saint's day.
How do I find Perseus?
If you're unfamiliar with the night sky at this time of year, there are a plethora of planetarium apps for phones and tablets. Use them sparingly (otherwise they may prevent you seeing shooting stars, see below), but apps including Star Walk and Night Sky (the latter of which is also available for Apple Watch) will all easily find you the constellation of Perseus, which is just below the W-shaped constellation of Cassiopeia.
Fix your gaze on this patch of sky, and above, but don't get dogmatic about it: a meteor might just as easily start above your head and whizz south. However, to look low to the southern horizon would be a mistake. You'll probably notice the massive Summer Triangle nearby in the eastern sky – three very bright stars that sits across the Milky Way. Stay outside long enough looking for meteors and your eyes may get sensitive enough to glimpse this wonderful sight.
How to live stream the Perseid meteor shower?
Multiple news channels are live streaming the Perseid meteor shower tonight on their website with raw footage, but the best source with context is the NASA live stream powered by Ustream.
The US space agency is streaming the shooting star show all night long online, complete with experts talking about the best way to find those bigger fireballs and upcoming space wonders to see.