Sunday 17 December 2017

Perseid meteor shower: What time to look and everything you need to know

Hundreds of shooting stars will be visible from across Ireland on Thursday evening as the annual Perseid meteor shower peaks
Hundreds of shooting stars will be visible from across Ireland on Thursday evening as the annual Perseid meteor shower peaks

Meadhbh McGrath

Start making plans now to stay up late - Irish skies are set to sparkle tonight as the annual Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak.

Sky-watchers will be treated to a stunning spectacle for what NASA predicts will be one of the largest celestial fireworks displays in years with double or triple the rates of 'shooting stars'.

What is a meteor shower?

A meteor shower occurs when Earth passes through the debris field left behind by a comet – in this instance, the comet Swift-Tuttle.

The particles, usually no bigger than a grain of send, enter Earth’s atmosphere at 37 miles per second and burn up as a fiery streak.

The Perseid is active from mid-July through the third week of August, and while we can catch sight of the shooting stars throughout this period, it reaches its peak on August 11 and 12.

This year’s shower is expected to be two or three times stronger than normal as Earth passes through a particularly dense debris stream.

When is the best time to look?

Tom Ray, a professor of cosmic physics at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, says the optimum time for the shower will be after 12am.

“Wait until around midnight or so until the moon is set, because the moon lights up the sky and they don’t agree,” he told

He added that the estimate is higher this year than in previous years, as peak rates of up to 150 meteors per hour are predicted for 2016.

We can expect to see at least one per minute until dawn, at around 4am, on Friday and Saturday mornings.

Where are the best views?

“The best place to go is somewhere very, very dark and look to the north east,” Mr Ray said, explaining that the meteors will radiate from the north east.

While you might get a glimpse of the dazzling display in cities and towns, he urged keen star-gazers to make their way to rural areas for the most impressive views.

“Try to get away from the glaring street lights, because the less dark the sky is, the less you’ll see – some of them are rather fainter than others.”

He also warned that it may take a few minutes for your eyes to become accustomed to the night sky.

“Allow your eyes to adjust, because that can take 15 minutes in dark conditions. You should gradually see more and more stars as your eyes get used to the darkness and switch into night vision mode,” he said.

What will the weather be like?

After a cloudy Thursday night, Met Éireann has said Friday night will be clear and dry.

Forecaster Siobhan Ryan told that those in south Munster and south Leinster will enjoy the best weather.

It may become foggy as the dawn twilight approaches, but there will be otherwise perfect conditions for taking in the view.

What if I miss out on Thursday night?

Some of us may need to head to bed early for work the next day, or might be put off by the clouds.

However, Mr Ray says not to worry, as the meteor shower will still be visible on Friday and the sky may shimmer even more.

“I would look both nights. Tomorrow there will be more of a clearance coming in, and you obviously have to wait until there’s a clear sky before you can see them,” he said.

“Hopefully people will have plenty of stars to wish on!”

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