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Prepare for celestial shower

PUBLISHED: 14:32 12 August 2010 | UPDATED: 11:56 16 September 2010

Shooting stars are set to create a dazzling display over the skies of Norfolk tonight - but sky-watchers will be hoping the weather does not cloud their view of the celestial fireworks.

Shooting stars are set to create a dazzling display over the skies of Norfolk tonight - but sky-watchers will be hoping the weather does not cloud their view of the celestial fireworks.

The Perseid meteor shower happens every August, but tonight the display promises to be the most spectacular in years because the new moon means the skies should be very dark.

Families should be able to see hundreds of shooting stars over the course of the night, without having to use a telescope or binoculars.

But forecasters warned cloudy weather over Norfolk meant there was a risk people in the county might miss out on the true beauty of the sky show.

Dave Balcombe, secretary of Norwich Astronomical Society, which meets at Seething Observatory, said the shooting stars were actually meteors.

He said they were tiny particles, each no bigger than a grain of sand, left by a passing comet called Swift-Tuttle.

When they pass through the atmosphere, they burn up and produce trails of light which shoot across the sky.

Mr Balcombe said: “The ideal way to observe it is just to put out a sunbed, wrap up warm, lie back and watch the sky.

“You don't need a telescope or binoculars - just start watching at about 11pm.

“There should be about 40 to 60 of them an hour.

“The big advantage we have tonight is that it is a new moon, so the skies should be very dark.”

He said people outside of Norwich, which has a lot of light pollution, would get a better view and escaping the city lights to head for the coast or parks in more rural areas could be prime viewing spots.

He said the meteors would be all over the sky, but people keen to spot the focus of them should gaze towards the constellation of Cassiopeia - which looks like a W - and then look for a double cluster of stars in the nearby constellation of Perseus.

But Phil Garner, from University of East Anglia-based forecasters Weatherquest, warned people in Norfolk could miss out on some of the show.

He said: “It's a bit of a mixed picture for Norfolk. There are showers coming down from the north.

“But there will be some gaps in the cloud, so at some point people should be able to see the meteors.”

The meteor shower is expected to start at around 10.30pm and will then continue through the night.

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