The Perseid meteor shower is sporadically active each year from around mid-July until it wraps up in the last week of August. During this period, Earth’s path around the Sun crosses the dusty orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle. The meteor shower builds in intensity throughout July until it erupts with shooting stars around the middle of August. This year, the meteor shower peaked last night (August 12) and carried through until the morning hours of today (August 13).
Meteor showers like the Perseids are best seen after midnight and just before dawn, with 2am local time singled out as sweet spot for viewing.
Because of this, the early morning hours might seem daunting for astronomy enthusiasts who would rather stay at home.
Another reason why someone might have missed the Perseids this year was the presence of a bright Waxing Gibbous Moon.
On Monday, the Moon was between 85 percent and 95 percent illuminated, which effectively decreased the number of visible meteors.
READ MORE: How many meteor showers are there this year?
Under clear conditions, the Perseids can produce anywhere up to 100 meteors an hour.
A meteor is when a meteoroid enters Earth’s atmosphere
Last night, however, space agency NASA predicted only 15 to 20 would streak across the night skies.
But the good news is you can relive the magic of the meteor shower live online, thanks to the robotic telescope service Slooh.
Starting at 2am BST (9pm EDT, 6pm PDT) Slooh astronomer Dr Paige Godfrey was joined by a live audience and guest experts to talk about the Perseids.
The Perseid live stream, hosted on YouTube and embedded above, ran for three hours with telescopes in North Africa, Europe and the Middle-East.
If you pay close attention to the stream, you will see individual flashes of light cutting across the dark sky – Perseid meteors.
Slooh said: “The Perseids is a favourite for many stargazers because it has more bright meteors than most showers, usually about 50 to 60 per hour.
“Like most showers, the Perseids are sand grain-sized debris shed from a comet, in this case, Comet Swift-Tuttle.
Perseids 2019: The annual meteor shower peaked August 12 to August 13 this year
“As the Earth passes through the comet’s debris trail every year, some particles enter our atmosphere and vaporise, generating bright streaks we call meteors.”
When the Perseids first arrive in our skies in mid-July, you will be lucky to see between three and four shooting stars an hour.
By the time of the shower’s peak, around 60 meteors on average will pass overhead.
Weather permitting, this year’s shower was best seen on Tuesday morning and after midnight last night.
During the Slooh livestream, Dr Godfrey explained the differences between meteors, comets and asteroids.
She said: “So we have a comet and we have an asteroid. A meteor is when a meteoroid enters Earth’s atmosphere.
“So, a meteoroid – if you’ve got comet, asteroid – a meteoroid is a piece of one of these that broke off.
“So it’s either a piece of an asteroid that’s broke off from a collision and other frictional force, or it’s the debris left over from the comet as it passed by the Sun.
“This meteoroid doesn’t orbit around the Sun. It’s bigger than a grain of sand, smaller than an asteroid.”
When the piece of orbital debris enters the atmosphere, the intense forces of friction and pressure cause it to burn up in a flash of streaking light.