STARGAZERS could see up to 200 shooting stars per hour when the annual Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak tonight.

The Perseid meteor shower is one of the year's best known showers.

The annual spectacular officially started on July 17 and runs until August 24, but is set to reach its climax between Thursday and Saturday.

A potential Perseid "outburst" means there could twice as many meteors as usual, with 150 to 200 shooting stars predicted per hour between Thursday and Friday.

NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke said: "This year, instead of seeing about 80 Perseids per hour, the rate could top 150 and even approach 200 meteors per hour."

What's up for August? See five planets after sunset and the annual Perseid meteor shower

— NASA Solar System (@NASASolarSystem) August 1, 2016

Current weather forecasts suggest conditions will be perfect for stargazing, with partly clear skies predicted for 10pm with clouds set to disappear from 1am onwards.

The meteor shower is named after Perseus, the point within the constellation from which it appears to originate.

The best time to spot the display is between 1am and before the onset of dawn.

You won’t need a telescope or binoculars, as the display will be visible to the naked eye but you should allow around 20 minutes for your eyes to become accustomed to the dark.

The Perseids are one of the most prolific and best-known of the meteor showers.

They were the first to be connected with a comet when astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli noted the relationship between their orbit and that of Comet Swift-Tuttle in 1862.

Meteors, commonly known as shooting stars, are the result of small particles entering the Earth's atmosphere at high speed.

These heat the air around them, causing the characteristic streak of light seen from the ground.

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

And stargazers could also be in for another treat, with a planetary dance also taking place on August 11.

Posting on NASA's blog, Jane Houston Jones from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said: "Look in the south-southwest sky for a second planetary dance.

"Mars and Saturn are high and easy to see and are joined by the moon on August 11th."

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