Perseid meteors set to dazzle at 12-year high point
Sky watchers can expect an extra dazzling display from the Perseid meteors this week as the Earth ploughs through a dense cloud of comet debris.
The shooting stars are due to peak on Friday, with 80 or more of the meteors streaking across the sky every hour. Some experts predict the frequency could be double that figure.
This year's spectacle will be more dramatic than usual as the Perseids reach the high point in their 12-year activity cycle.
The meteors consist of particles, most no bigger than a grain of sand, shed by Comet Swift-Tuttle that enter the Earth's atmosphere at 37 miles per second and burn up.
Planet Jupiter has shifted the debris stream so that more of it lies in the Earth's path, boosting the meteor count.
Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said: "They're not going to be falling out of the sky like snowflakes, but it will be worth going out and having a look.
"Every 12 years the Perseids are slightly stronger and this year you could expect to see about 80 an hour under the best conditions, or more probably one a minute.
"Usually the Perseids are fairly dependable. There might be some long gaps and then you'll see two or three at once.
"They're fairly swift and dash across the sky quite quickly leaving trains behind them."
Seen from the UK, the meteors are due to reach their maximum level at around lunchtime on Friday. The best times to see them are during the hours of darkness between Thursday and Saturday, said Mr Scagell.
They appear to emerge from a "radiant" point in the vicinity of the constellation Perseus in the north east but it is best to look away from that direction or they will vanish overhead too fast.
Quoted on the website Space.com, Nasa meteor expert Bill Cooke said a Perseid "outburst" this year could result in 150 to 200 of the shooting stars per hour.
This is over-optimistic, according to Mr Scagell, who said 80 per hour would be a good tally.