Shooting stars to be especially visible tonight in France

Stargazers, look up: Tonight and tomorrow (August 12 and 13) are set to be two of the best nights to see shooting stars clearly in France, as the Perseid meteor season continues in earnest.

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The Perseid meteor season began on July 17 and is set to continue until August 26 this year.

The good weather recently means that the sky should be clear as night falls, and if you have had storms in your region of late - as long as they have cleared by the evening, of course - this should make the skies clearer still.

Astronomers using high-end telescopes may be able to count up to 140 shooting stars per hour, but amateurs using only the naked eye may still be able to see as many as 40 in the same time.

Amateur astronomer David de Cuevas offered some tips to local newspaper France 3 on how to observe the best shooting stars.

He said: “First, you need to be ready between about midnight and 1am, and look up towards the North Star and Ursa Major (the Great Bear) [north-east]. If your skies are not cloudy, you should be able to see extraordinary shooting stars.”

If you are not sure how to find Ursa Major in the sky, there are many smartphone apps - both free and paid - that can help you identify it - along with all the other constellations and planets.

The “shooting stars” are actually debris burning in the Earth’s atmosphere, as it trails behind the Swift-Tuttle comet.

The comet, which is named after its discoverers, is 26 kilometres in diameter and sometimes known as the “parent of the Perseid meteor shower”, creates a stream of “shooting stars” behind it, which we see each year.

The comet has been observed from Earth since the 19th century.

Read more: The history of the annual ‘Nuits des Étoiles’ and the Swift-Tuttle comet

If you wish to capture the shooting stars for posterity, Mr de Cuevas had the following tips for budding photographers: "You need a basic reflex camera with a wide-angle lens, fixed to a tripod on a northeast-southwest axis. Leave it at full aperture or slightly less for about 30 seconds. Camera sensitivity set at ISO 800 or 1600."

The shooting stargazing reminder comes amid the annual Nuits des Étoiles event, which started on August 7.

Hundreds of events are taking place across France to encourage people to watch out for the Milky Way, shooting stars, the Perseids meteor shower over August 10-15; and the rising of the planet Mars from August 16-22.

Find out more - including a map of France showing all the scheduled events - and more on the Nuits des Étoiles and the history of the Swift-Tuttle comet here.

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