Stargazers delight this weekend

A meteor burns up in the atmosphere over the Spell Bore Yards on Newcastle Waters Station in the NT's Barkly region Photo: Glenn Campbell

A meteor burns up in the atmosphere over the Spell Bore Yards on Newcastle Waters Station in the NT's Barkly region Photo: Glenn Campbell

If you are seeing stars when leaving the Katherine races on Saturday night it is not just the champagne, it’s a meteor shower. 

The dark clear sky and sparse landscape makes outback NT one of the most popular places to see a celestial show.

The peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower will strike at about 5 on Sunday morning. 

Typical rates are about 80 meteors an hour, but last year the rate was about 200 meteors an hour.

What causes the Perseids?

Comet Swift-Tuttle is the largest object known to repeatedly pass by Earth and has a nucleus about 26 kilometres.

It last passed nearby Earth during its orbit around the sun in 1992, and the next time will be in 2126. In the meantime Earth passes through the dust and debris it leaves behind every year, creating the annual Perseid meteor shower.

When crane your neck to watch the shower, you are actually seeing pieces of comet debris heat up as they enter the atmosphere and burn up in a bright burst of light, travelling at 59 km per second.

What you need to see them

The key to seeing a meteor shower is to take in as much sky as possible.

Go to a dark area and prepare to sit outside for a while.

It takes about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark, and the longer you wait outside, the more you'll see.

Historical theories

Some Catholics refer to the Perseids as the "tears of Saint Lawrence", suspended in the sky but returning to earth once a year on August 10, the canonical date of that saint's martyrdom in 258 AD.

In 1835, Adolphe Quetelet identified the shower as emanating from the constellation Perseus.

In 1862, the Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli discovered the link between meteor showers and comets. 

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