Shooting stars are relatively rare, but meteor showers take place every year and the next major shower, the Draconid, will grace the skies next month, reaching its peak on October 8 and 9
For centuries, humans have been fascinated by shooting stars and the astronomical wonders have inspired many omens, both good and bad.
Some have linked their appearance to the souls of babies arriving on Earth while others have seen them as warnings of war.
But these days, people tend to wish on a shooting star – even though they are not actually stars but high-speed meteors burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Shooting stars are relatively rare, but meteor showers take place every year and can be visible from anywhere – including from your own back garden. But how many of us have been lucky enough to actually see a shooting star?
To increase your chances, you’ll need to do a bit of planning and ideally find a clear, dark place with little artificial light or buildings to block your view.
The start of lockdown last year created ideal stargazing conditions because the reduction of air pollution meant the skies were the clearest they had been for years.
Astronomer and The Sky at Night presenter Chris Lintott said: “Everyone should spend some time under the night sky. Meteor showers are lots of fun to watch. But remember to wrap up warm – and I’d recommend bringing a hot flask of coffee or maybe something stronger, too.
“Exmoor and Kielder in Northumberland are among my favourite spots to see them and there are a number of great places in Scotland, too.”
A recent study by motorhome rental company Camptoo looked at the best places to see shooting stars in the UK.
Here, we list the top locations ahead of the next major meteor shower Draconid, which will reach its peak on October 8 and 9.
Brecon Beacons – South Wales
You will struggle to find a more perfect place to watch the stars. The area even has a holiday cottage with its own observatory called The Stargazer’s Retreat.
The best spots to set up a telescope are Usk Reservoir, the ruins of Llanthony Priory, Carreg Cennen Castle and the national park visitor centre.
This month, the Brecon Beacons enjoyed just over two hours of perfect stargazing conditions each night.
Chris said: “You might need to stay up late, but parents should definitely consider including their children when they
“I got to see a couple of spectacular meteor showers when I was growing up and it got me hooked on astronomy.”
Galloway Forest – Dumfries in Scotland
Britain’s largest forest park, just west of Dumfries in Scotland, attracts 800,000 visitors every year.
Known as the Highlands of the Lowlands because of its mountain range, Galloway Forest Park was the first area in the UK to be recognised as a Dark Sky Park.
Efforts to combat light pollution in this dramatic ancient woodland mean that an incredible 7,000 stars are visible to the naked eye.
Chris said: “Stargazers are definitely spoilt for choice in Scotland and this is a fantastic option.”
North York Moors – Yorkshire
Internationally recognised for its incredible blanket of stars, the North York Moors became a Dark Sky Reserve in December 2020, meaning it has been protected for public enjoyment.
The park has three dark sky discovery sites – Danby, Sutton Bank and the observatories in Dalby Forest, where the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye.
The clifftops on the stretch of coast between Saltburn and Scarborough also provide panoramic views of the 2,000 stars on a clear night. Chris said of the spot: “This is another favourite of mine.”
Snowdonia National Park – North Wales
The sky above Wales’ largest mountain is a great place to experience near-perfect darkness and keep an eye on the skies.
The North Wales Astronomy Society organises monthly observing nights at this popular tourist destination – and they will be out in force to witness the Orionid meteor shower from October 21-22.
This occurs when the Earth passes through debris left by Halley’s Comet, which is only visible from Earth every 75 years and arguably the most famous of these cosmic snowballs of frozen rock, debris and gases.
Astronomer Chris said: “While this is not the most visible of the showers, if you get lucky, you could see as many as 20 meteors an hour.”