SKY FIRE: How to watch this week's Perseids, which can storm down at a meteor per minute

Classic Perseid. Picture: Getty Images

“Shooting stars” are one of the great spectacles in the skies above us, but they’re hard enough to catch even when a shower of them comes around.

They are actually debris from comet tails which hit the Earth’s atmosphere, then burn up, producing the spectacular tail-blaze of light.

On any night, you might get to see a random flare, but the best way to catch one is to wait for a shower, which can deliver up to 100 meteors an hour.

They’re predictable, so stargazers know exactly which nights – or mornings, as is often the case – to rug up and keep their eyes on the sky.

Astroblogger Dave Reneke has some great tips on his site about how to watch a meteor shower and how to track them on your iPhone.

He’s helped us compile a list of the major showers in our night skies coming this year. The next big date in Australia is this weekend, August 12, when the Perseids come around.

Even casual skywatchers know about the Perseid meteor shower, because it can deliver at least one meteor per minute under pleasant summer skies. These meteors are bits of debris shed by comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.

They’ll run for a couple of nights. Then we’ll see roughly one shower a month through to the end of the year.

Here are all the important dates:

Geminid. Picture: Getty Images

October 21: The Orionids

Here’s another modest shower due to Halley’s Comet. This year light from a waning gibbous Moon will be a nuisance. You might glimpse a few extra meteors per hour from a dark site in the hours before dawn.

November 5: The Southern Taurids

Lasting from mid-September to mid-November, this broad, weak display typically produces at most a dozen meteors per hour at its peak.

November 17: The Leonids

The Leonid shower’s parent comet, 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, tends to create narrow concentrated streams of debris that produced prodigious displays in the late 1990s, when it last swung close to the Sun.

December 14: The Geminids

This end-of-the-calendar shower is usually the year’s best, with upward of 100 meteors per hour radiating from a spot near the bright star Castor.

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