The most magical of summer night shows

Escape the urban lights and sit back to enjoy the Perseids meteor shower, also known as the Tears of St Lawrence

Jennie Rhodes
JENNIE RHODES

The astronomical "show" known as the Perseids starts around 17 July and finishes around 20 August, with 10 to 12 August being the nights when the highest number of meteors are expected to fall. Their other name, the Tears St Lawrence, is due to their peak coinciding with the saint's feast day, 10 August. Astronomers are warning this year, however, that the biggest shower is going to coincide with a full moon and as such it may be more difficult to see. That doesn't mean that it will be impossible to see completely and they can be seen for almost an entire month, it's just that you can normally expect to experience more during the peak time.

You don't need equipment such as a telescope or binoculars to see them, but the best chance of a good sighting will be in places with minimum light pollution. Experts recommend getting away from towns and cities and most coastal areas along the Costa del Sol. El Torcal in Antequera is definitely a good bet and the Observatorio Astronómico del Torcal de Antequera organises special events to see the Perseids, although it's important to reserve a place in advance as they warn that places go very quickly (inscripciones@astrotorcal.es or www.astrotorcal.es)

María Rus, president of SIRIO, the 'Agrupación Astronómica de Málaga' recommends "getting away from areas of light pollution" and adds, "That includes your mobile phone." She says that some of the best places in Malaga are near to the villages of Alfarnate, Alfarnatejo and Comares and Canillas de Albaida and La Viñuela reservoir in the Axarquía. She also suggests the Serranía de Ronda, Yunquera and El Burgo as good places to see the "show" and in fact the town hall organises special events (www.i-sierradelasnieves.com).

It's a good idea to take "something to lie on like a yoga mat, some food, something to drink and good company," she advises. She adds that while organised events to see the Perseids allow you to learn more about them, it isn't essential to sign up to one.

Brazilian couple Stéphane and Fabia opened Sky Andaluz in Alhama de Granada at the end of January. They organise visits that include a trip to their planetarium and then heading outside to see the stars. The couple will be organising an event especially to see the Perseids on Sunday 14 August, which they say is likely to be the best opportunity to see them this year, when the moon is starting to wane and there'll be less light. They are planning an event which will be open to the public and for more information and to book, visit: www.skyandaluz.com

When comets move around the Sun, the dust they emit gradually spreads into a trail around their orbits. Every year the Earth passes through these trails of debris and when the dust collides with our atmosphere, it causes the particles to disintegrate, creating fiery and colourful streaks in the sky.

The Perseids are essentially the particles left over from comets that have passed through the earth's atmosphere. As the earth spins on its axis, it travels through a number of meteorite showers at different times of year.

Some are more spectacular than others with more activity being seen per hour than others. For example at its height, you can expect to see up to 100 meteorites per hour during the Perseids, while the Delta Aquarids shower, which can be seen in Spain from 29 to 30 July, will only amount to around 25 per hour. That would explain why, despite there being two such phenomena in summer, the Perseids are better known than the Delta Aquarids.

The Perseids are fragments of the Swift-Tuttle comet, which orbits the sun and Pluto once every 133 years. It last did so in 1992 and will return again in 2125. Once a year, from the middle of July to the middle of August, the earth passes near to the comet's path and the particles from the tail appear like little rays of light that come from the Perseus constellation, named after the Greek mythological hero, and lies just north of Aries and Taurus.

In fact, as well as the Perseids, the earth also passes through fragments left over by Halley's comet, which last appeared in our solar system in 1986 (it will next be seen in 2061). These are Eta Aquarids which can be seen in early May and Orionids which can be seen in mid-November. However, they produce far fewer meteors per hour (around 50 and 20 respectively).

The persistent heat during the day makes it difficult to do much during daylight hours, so it's the evening when Malaga comes alive in summer and the night sky really lights up during the Perseids, but don't forget to look out for the Delta Aquarids at the end of July too.