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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Ben Birchall/PA A composite image of 726 photographs taken over three hours showing the rotation of the earth around the North Star in the night sky over Somerset, England.
Shooting Stars

Look out your window tonight - there's a special meteor shower due over Ireland

There will be more than double the usual fireball activity associated with the annual Perseid outburst, which begins around 11pm Irish time.

SKYGAZERS ARE IN for a special treat tonight with a rare ‘outburst’ of hundreds of shooting stars taking place over Ireland.

There will be more than double the usual fireball activity associated with the annual Perseid meteor shower, which should peak around 11pm Irish time and last an hour.

This year, it is going to be two to three times more spectacular than usual, with perhaps 30-50 times more shooting stars than normal, as long as it’s not marred by clouds and a bright moon.

Astronomy Ireland is organising a National Perseid Count, and is urging people to count as many shooting stars as they can in 15-minute chunks, starting on the hour or quarter past the hour.

“These simple counts will have real scientific value as no one is sure how much stronger the shower will be this year,” said David Moore of Astronomy Ireland, which counts 30,000 people as members.

Lot of activity

Shooting stars are really bits of dust from the comet Swift-Tuttle which enter the Earth’s atmosphere, giving a streak across the sky as they burn up, Moore added.

In August every year, Earth passes through this band of dust and 2016 sees us going through a particularly dense part – hence the expectation of a lot of activity.
You don’t need any equipment to enjoy the show – just bring out a chair and watch the sky, even a partially clear sky will do to see the Perseids.

The meteors may be seen anywhere in the sky but their trails will appear to point back to a point in the north-east in the constellation Perseus (for which they are named).

They pass in a second but the brightest ones may leave a glow called a ‘train’.

Perseid meteor shower PA Archive / Press Association Images A shooting star in the skies over Kielder Water, Northumberland, as the annual Perseids meteor shower peaked last year. PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images


The meteors are set to peak tonight, but there will be activity for several days, until 19 August.

“There will be 200 or maybe as many as 300 (shooting stars) per hour, observed from a very dark site,” astronomer Mark Bailey of the Armagh Observatory said.

This outburst, as we call it… doesn’t last that long. It might last an hour or a couple of hours.

Normally, the Perseids regale Earthlings with a show of about 100-120 shooting stars per hour. The event builds up over about two weeks, peaking in mid-August, Bailey added.

Some years are better than others… and then there are exceptional years like this year.

The Perseids happen when Earth hits a wide belt of debris left behind by the comet Tuttle-Swift on its elongated, 133-year orbit around the Sun.

Each meteor is a piece of broken-off comet, which explodes as it hits Earth’s atmosphere.

Within the broad belt of debris there are also denser dust ribbons created when the comet passes closest to the Sun in its orbit.

This year, Earth is on a collision course with three of the most heavily populated of these trails - created in the years 1862, 1737 and 1479.

Perseid meteor shower PA Archive / Press Association Images A meteor in the skies through the clouds near in Northumberland last night. PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

‘Kamikaze run’

“The meteors you’ll see this year are from comet flybys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago,” NASA meteoroid expert Bill Cooke said in a statement.

And they’ve travelled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth’s atmosphere.

However, there is no risk to our planet.

In fact, astronomers’ main concern is the weather, with cloud cover predicted for parts of Europe.

There is also the dimming impact of our own satellite — the moon — which will be in a bright phase, making it harder to observe the sharp but short-lived bursts of meteors exploding.

“It is unfortunate that it is in a waxing phase,” said Bailey. “So we should really be observing after moonset” – some 30 minutes into the outburst. He advised people to get as far away from clouds and electric light as possible in order to enjoy the show.

Tears of St Lawrence

No telescope or special equipment is needed, and take around 20 minutes to become accustomed to the dark, Bailey added.

Wrap up warm, be prepared to sit comfortably on a deck chair or whatever, a glass of wine in your hand maybe, and then allow time for your eyes to become accustomed to the dark.

The next mega-outburst of the Perseids is predicted to occur on 12 August 2028, and will feature the dust trail produced by the comet during its 1479 perihelion passage.

The yearly show got its name because the stars appear to fly out of the constellation Perseus, visible in the Northern Hemisphere.

It is also known as “tears of St Lawrence” in honour of a Christian saint tortured to death by the Romans in AD 258.

According to legend, Laurentius was martyred on a iron grill over a fire, during which ordeal he is said to have quipped to his persecutors:

Turn me over. I’m done on this side!

He is now a patron saint of cooks.

With reporting from AFP.

Read: Look up – Jupiter is visible beside the moon tonight

Read: Hundreds of shooting stars will be visible over Ireland tonight

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