A night of shooting stars – everything you need to know
Get set for a night of shooting stars on 12 August. Make the most of this rare natural phenomenon by packing a picnic, a blanket and a handful of wishes! Then head outdoors and enjoy one of nature’s most spectacular shows.
Clear skies are essential for spotting shooting stars so cross your fingers for good weather. The light pollution in cities makes viewing difficult so head for the countryside and find a quiet spot that faces north. The sun sets at around 2030h and the moon rises at about 2300h so this two and a half hour window is your best bet for star gazing.
Even in summer, temperatures can cool off dramatically at night so take a wool blanket to wrap up in and a foam mat to keep out the first dew. Then lay back on the grass or beach and concentrate on the skies above. Don’t forget some insect repellent too!
Star gazing around a campfire
Considering a campfire for a little added warmth? Former scouts will know how important barbecue lights and dry paper are to get a fire going. Remember to find out whether fires are permitted in the area you’ve chosen and follow instructions to prevent forest fires. Never light a fire if there are strong winds. Fire baskets and barbecues work well as they provide the flames with ample oxygen for a steady burn.
What is a shooting star?
The shooting stars we refer to are actually part of the Perseid meteor shower named after the Perseus constellation. Every August the Earth passes through the trail left by the quirkily named 109P/Swift-Tuttle. Its orbit passes so close to the Earth that the meteor shower burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere, creating the burning lights we know as shooting stars.
And for the Sheldon Coopers among you: meteors are not the same as meteorites. Meteorites are larger meteors that survive the fall through the atmosphere and create craters on the Earth’s surface when they land. Meteors are much smaller, like pebbles or grains of sand. At speeds of around 70 km per second, meaning they burn up immediately when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. The same happens to space debris when it re-enters the atmosphere. However, there’s no way of telling whether a meteor or space junk is responsible for the shooting star we see from below so don’t forget to make a wish!
And don’t be disappointed if the weather takes a turn for the worse this weekend. There are meteor showers all year round made by other comets. It’s all about the timing. Good luck!