1. ITV Report

Where and how to watch the Perseids meteor shower tonight

Perseid meteors streak through the skies in 2010. Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Centre

South Wales is perhaps the best place in the UK to watch the Perseids meteor shower tonight.

Clear skies are expected across southern and eastern parts overnight, and the Brecon Beacons is one of just five places around the world recognised as an International Dark Sky Reserve, because of minimal light pollution.

The Perseids meteor shower is an annual event, but the Royal Astronomical Society says prospects for this year's showing are "particularly good", and could mean up to 60 shooting stars per hour here tonight.

A shooting star illuminates the night sky near Sieversdorf, Germany, yesterday. Credit: PA

The skies are expected to shimmer with a "natural firework display" as the meteor shower crosses into the earth's atmosphere. It is a result of material falling from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed near the earth in 1992.

Comet Swift-Tuttle won't be visiting our neck of the woods again until the year 2125, but every year we get this beautiful reminder as the earth ploughs through the debris it leaves in its orbit.

Every meteor is a speck of comet dust vaporising as it enters our atmosphere at 36 miles per second. What a glorious way to go.

– Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, Queen's University Belfast

The display will last from late this evening, through to early tomorrow morning. Around midnight is likely to be the best time to watch.

A meteor from the Perseids shower photographed over Georgia, USA. Credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Meteors - popularly known as shooting stars - are the result of small particles entering the earth's atmosphere at high speed. They heat the air around them, causing a streak of light seen from the ground.

They mostly appear as fleeting streaks of light, lasting less than a second, but the brightest ones leaves behind trials of vaporised gases and glowing air molecules that may take a few seconds to fade.

The shower is active from around 17 July to 24 August each year, although for most of that time only a few meteors per hour will be visible.Tonight, many more may be seen.

The number of visible meteors is hard to predict, but you can expect to see one at least every few minutes.

The Royal Astronomical Society says the best equipment is simply your own eyes - unlike many other stargazing events.

It advises you to wrap up well, and set up a reclining chair to allow you to look up at the sky in comfort. It also helps to be in a dark site away from artificial light, and have an unobstructed view of the sky.

A Perseid meteor seen in August 2010 above the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope at Paranal, Chile. Credit: ESO / S. Guisard

There may also be a glimpse of larger 'fireballs', according to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. The earth will pass through the comet's trail like a snowplough, with material of different sizes being trapped by the planet's gravity. The larger material may fall to earth as meteorites.

If people are extremely lucky, we can see some fireballs, which are large chunks that burn up but don't completely burn up.

Sometimes it ends up with meteorites. There is a possibility of meteorite impact but it is very small.

They also come in different colours, depending on which elements are in the meteors.

– Brendan Owens, Astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich

NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office explains why the Perseids have been identified as the 'fireball champion' of annual meteor showers.