Friday 27 April 2018

Perseid meteor shower to offer stargazers a cosmic treat

The Perseid meteor shower as seen in 2009. Photo: PA
The Perseid meteor shower as seen in 2009. Photo: PA

Linda Stewart

Stargazers are advised to take a good spot away from city lights to enjoy the celestial delights during the Perseid meteor shower over Ireland tonight.

A shower of shooting stars is set to descend on the country tonight as the Earth sweeps through a cloud of shining space particles.

Experts say tonight should offer almost ideal conditions to watch the Perseid meteor shower as a moonless night combines with the possibility of favourable weather conditions.

Watchers who take up position in a good spot, well away from city lights, may be able to spot as many as 80 meteors per hour if the night sky is dark and clear — averaging more than one a minute.

The shower will be at its height at 10pm, according to the Irish Astronomical Association (IAA).

At this time every year the Earth sweeps through a storm of tiny dust particles originating from Comet Swift-Tuttle which rush into our atmosphere at speeds of about 100km per second before they are burned away in the flash of light that we see as a meteor.

This shower is known as the Perseids because the meteors appear to come from the constellation of Perseus, which is rising in the north-easterly part of the sky when it gets dark every evening.

The Perseid cloud consists of particles ejected by the comet as it travels on its 130-year orbit — many of them around a thousand years old.

The Perseids are sometimes known as the tears of St Lawrence, since August 10 is the date of the saint’s martyrdom.

Experts says Perseids can be seen from early August until around the 17th, but most will be visible from August 11-13, with the peak tonight.

Philip Baxter, president of the IAA, said: “If you look to the north-east and look overhead you’ll see the shooting stars which are small grains of sand entering the atmosphere, creating a streak of light as they go across.

“If it’s nice and clear and dark, you should be able to see maybe up to 80 in an hour.

“They go very fast so you never know where they are going to appear.

“If you’re looking down railway tracks, they appear to meet at a point — it’s the same with meteors. They appear to originate at one point in the sky and diverge to different parts of the sky.”

The best way to see meteors is to go somewhere well away from the light pollution of roads, towns and cities and allow half-an-hour for your eyes to dark-adapt.

Best places to view the Perseids:

- Beaches offer a great expanse of unpolluted night sky.

- Astronomers suggest a forest clearing would be ideal to block out light from nearby settlements.

- A big expanse of darkness without too much light pollution such as a lake shore.

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