independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Thousands turn out for ‘breathtaking natural firework display’

A general view of Stonehenge during the annual Perseid meteor shower in the night sky in Salisbury Plain, southern England

THOUSANDS of stargazers cast their eyes to the heavens as they kept watch for the "natural firework display" of the Perseids meteor shower.

Across Ireland and the UK people turned into amateur astronomers as they looked out for the "shooting stars", a result of the material falling from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle.

While the Perseids meteor shower is an annual event between mid-July and mid-August, the best views this year were expected to be last night, with as many as 60 meteors an hour visible to the naked eye.

Hundreds of people posted photos and comments about their stargazing experiences from across the Northern Hemisphere on Twitter.

@VickiMcMuffin wrote: "Lost count of the amount of meteors & fireballs I've seen. It's been one of the best showers in years. Weather perfect too", while Alexandra Starr tweeted: "so far about 60 over wisbech, lovely show tonight".

Others had difficulty spotting nature's shooting stars and man-made ones. @NuttyTabatha tweeted: "Number of meteors: None. Number of planes mistaken for meteors: Three!!!!"

The Moon was in a waxing crescent, meaning its light did not significantly interfere with the view, the Royal Astronomical Society said.

The weather also helped, with clear skies over large swathes of Ireland.

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.

Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed near the Earth in 1992, and will not visit again until the year 2125.

Astronomer and science writer Dr David Whitehouse told the BBC the spectacle was breathtaking.

He said: "The light from a shooting star is like no other type of light in the sky. It's not starlight, it's not moonlight, it's not sunlight. It has a ghostly sliver and a sleeting brilliance all of its own."

Press Association

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