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Meteor shower will ignite the skies

A shooting star streaking over Grape Bay (Photograph supplied by Chris Burville.)

The skies over Bermuda are expected to burn brightly tonight: the annual Perseid meteor shower should yield a richer than usual showing of shooting stars.

The island enjoys good visibility courtesy of its distance from big cities, which obscure the heavens with light pollution.

The present fair weather, from a body of high pressure to the island’s north, will help with the fireworks.

August is always a good month for celestial pyrotechnics, courtesy of the Perseid “cloud” of debris left by the Swift-Tuttle comet.

However, this year’s pyrotechnics got an extra boost from the planet Jupiter, whose powerful gravitational pull has drawn more meteors into Earth’s path.

Most of the particles streaking through the atmosphere will be speck-sized, but larger pieces can generate spectacular fireballs.

The fragments are chips of dusty ice discarded by the comet, which passes the sun every 133 years.

The earlier meteors coming in at a low angle will leave bright trails.

However, the best displays generally come late — from midnight until predawn, particularly once the moon has set.

Bermuda’s last bumper crop of Perseids came in 2009. At their peak rate, the shooting stars come in at about one a minute.

Photographer and amateur astronomer Chris Burville, who expects to be out doing some shooting of his own, said stargazers should expect to put in some time watching.

“It’s an unpredictable phenomenon; it’s not something where you can expect to go out and get something spectacular in 20 minutes,” he said.

“If you’re outdoors viewing the sky, you might see a good one every five to ten minutes.”

The meteor shower will continue for another couple of weeks, he added, giving people plenty of opportunity to get out.