Stargazers are in for a treat as a powerful meteor shower heads our way

The Perseid meteor shower is expected to reach its peak towards the end of the week from the 11th-12th of August

Stargazers are in for a treat as a powerful meteor shower heads our way

Picture by: Kevin Clifford / AP/Press Association Images

The world’s most widely observed and dependable annual meteor display, the Perseid meteor shower, is visible in the skies this week and it is set to be one of the best displays in recent years.

In a typical year, observers of the annual shower can expect to see up to 100 meteors per hour but astronomers think we may be in for an even better show this year. 

If predictions hold true, we could see up to 150 meteors per hour the night at the height of the display. The shower is expected to be much strong this year due to the effect Jupiter's powerful gravitational field had on the comet particles, which recently nudged them about 1.5 million km closer to Earth.

This boost from Jupiter generally results in a brighter and stronger Perseid display, producing more than the usual amount of meteors.  

Picture by: Petros Giannakouris / AP/Press Association Images

The Perseids begin as small specks of dust that rapidly hit Earth’s atmosphere, vaporising from friction with the air and leaving behind the streaks of light we call meteors.

These dust particles were born in a periodic comet known as Swift-Tuttle, which last returned to the inner solar system in 1992.

Bill Cooke, who leads NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Alabama, explained why this shower is so fascinating:

"Here's something to think about: The meteors you'll see this year are from comet flybys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago and they've traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth's atmosphere."

According to NASA, the best way to see the Perseids is to go outside between midnight and dawn on Friday morning.

"Allow about 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Lie on your back and look straight up."

For stargazers experiencing cloudy or light-polluted skies, a live broadcast of the Perseid meteor shower will be available via Ustream overnight.

The meteor display at its best can be seen in late on Thursday night and in the early hours of Friday morning. A dark, clear sky is essential for a good view of the shower. Light pollution maps can be used to locate the best area to watch the Perseids.