Tonight’s Perseid meteor shower could be the most spectacular in years. Here’s what to expect

Up to 200 shooting stars are predicted to streak across the sky every hour

perseid

The annual Perseid meteor shower is seen near Tuzla, Bosnia, in August 2015 | Photo: PA Images

A supercharged meteor shower will reach its peak overnight as up to 200 shooting stars streak across the sky every hour.

The annual Perseid shower will be at its most spectacular from around 10.30pm to 4am Irish time, when it’s expected to shoot out double its usual rate of meteors.

Perseids are pieces of space debris that enter the Earth’s atmosphere at 59 kilometres a second. They come from the ancient comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years.

The comet leaves trillions of small particles in its wake as it approaches the sun. These disintegrate into flashes of light when we pass through, causing a meteor shower.

Earth typically only grazes the edge of the comet trail every August. This year, though, it's expected to plow through closer to the middle, where there’s more material.

Night owls don’t need any equipment to get involved: the stars should be visible even from urban areas.

The clouds forecast for tonight might block the view, but those who miss the shower can tune into a live Nasa broadcast from 3am Irish time. 

Spectators are being advised to find as dark a spot as possible, away from tall buildings, and lie down on their backs. 

"People in backyards, suburbs and towns will get a great view as well,” David Moore of Astronomy Ireland told Newstalk.

"This shower’s known for producing fireballs, which are extremely bright meteors. Some of them I’ve seen in the past light up the whole landscape, so it really is a natural spectacle."

Astronomy Ireland is encouraging people to get involved in its National Perseid Count by taking note of the number of shooting stars they see in 15-minute periods, starting on the hour or quarter past the hour.

"These simple counts will have real scientific value as no one is sure how much stronger the shower will be this year,” Mr Moore said.

The results will be published in the Astronomy Ireland magazine.