August 11, 2009

Stargazers Prepare For Spectacular Meteor Shower

British stargazers keen to catch the best of an annual shooting star spectacle are being urged to head to remote spots for the clearest views of the night sky. The Perseids meteors will peak on Wednesday with up to 60 visible an hour across British skies. The phenomenon was named after the constellation Perseus as they appear to dart from a point within this group of stars.

The showers have been observed from Earth for around 2,000 years. Since mid-July our planet has been moving through the meteor stream, known as the Perseid cloud, made up of dust left behind in the orbit of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. Some of this dust is 1,000 years old. Unfortunately a swathe of cloud is expected this evening across the West of England, although the home counties should see clearer skies.

Jonathan Shanklin, from the British Astronomical Association said: 'Seeing a bright fireball blazing across the heavens is an awe-inspiring sight and can trigger a life-long interest in astronomy. 'These shooting stars are tiny fragments of comets, which are themselves remnants from the birth of our solar system.

'The best views are from the darkest sites.'

Newbury Astronomical Society is organising a 'meteor star party' on Twitter to mark the event. Thousands of guests from all over the world will send live images of the Perseids along with other celestial objects through the night. The National Trust has published online guides to its seven top sites for seeing the stars, ahead of the best night for the annual Perseids meteor shower on Wednesday, including coastal spots, nature reserves and national parks. The National Trust guides include information on constellations which can be seen, the phases of the moon, star maps, and how to reach the sites.

They also list the kinds of wildlife - from tawny owls at Friar's Crag in Cumbria to glow worms at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire - that night visitors to the countryside might glimpse. And the Trust's Castle Drogo, in Devon, is keeping its gates open until midnight on Wednesday to allow people to watch the stars. Jo Burgon, head of access and recreation at the National Trust, said: 'Light pollution from our towns and cities has increased so much in recent years but head out to the countryside for the perfect place to explore the beauty of the night sky, away from the intrusive glow.'

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