Shooting stars set to light up Ireland's skies this weekend 1 month ago

Shooting stars set to light up Ireland's skies this weekend

The Perseid meteor shower will peak tonight, offering "celestial fireworks".

After Thursday evening's supermoon, Friday (12 August) is set to be another exciting night for astronomers and stargazers.

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The Perseids, renowned as one of the best meteor showers, will peak today with a "spectacular" 20 times more shooting stars expected than normal.

"The cause is a comet called Swift-Tuttle that goes around the sun every 120-130 years and it was last near the sun in 1992," Editor of Astronomy Ireland Magazine David Moore told JOE.

"But it's been around the sun probably thousands of times so it [has] left a dust trail all around its orbit.

"Usually on 12-13 August, we pass through the deepest part of that dust... and then we collide with the particles.

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"They're going around the sun in one direction and we're going around the sun in the opposite direction.

"So, it's like two trucks hurtling down a motorway and colliding head-on with each other.

"They're some of the fastest shooting stars you get and that makes them very bright.

"And [the meteors] will only die away slowly over several nights, roughly half as much each night.

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"Even tomorrow night (Saturday), there will be 10 times more shooting stars than normal.

"So, it's well worth watching not just one night but several nights if you can."

In terms of the volume of shooting stars people can expect to see tonight, Moore says it is "hard to predict exactly".

"100 is a good working figure. The only problem tonight is that there is the supermoon and that will brighten the sky so the faint [meteors] will be very hard to see.

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"Maybe, you'd see one every minute or one every five minutes. We don't know. But, on a normal night, you'd only expect to see one meteor every 10 minutes or so.

"So, if it can get up to 20 times that much, we could be looking at two a minute.

"One thing to know about this meteor shower is it's a very slow-moving event. It won't just peak for one or two hours. It peaks all night long.

"As soon as it gets dark, you'll start seeing them and you'll see them until the sun starts to brighten the sky in the morning. It's an all-night-long event.

"There is one thing though, you do tend to see more after midnight."

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In terms of preparing for the shower, Moore advises people to wait outside at night and give their eyes about 15 minutes to grow accustomed to the darkness.

Then, what Astronomy Ireland - which is hosting Ireland's biggest telescope festival later this month - is asking people to do is count how many shooting stars they see every 15 minutes.

"That piece of information has got great scientific value. That's how we know that this is one of the best shooting star showers every year," the editor says.

"If you want a little fun project while you're out watching them, do count them and if you go to our website, you can see where to send in your counts and we'll publish those in due course."

Moore also states that to view meteor showers, you do not need equipment like binoculars or telescopes.

"The human eye is the best tool because it can see a huge chunk of the sky at the same time and that's what you want. The meteor can appear anywhere in the sky," he adds.

"Normally, the best place to view it is where the skies are darkest.

"You shouldn't look at the moon, because that will desensitse your eyes. So, it's probably best to stand or lie with the moon behind you and look in the darkest part of the sky.

"If you want to do a really good watch... put a blanket on the ground or get one of those sun loungers, a reclining chair that can lean back... and just sit there dressed warmly if it's a chilly night, you can just put a blanket over you, have a hot water bottle.... and just enjoy the natural celestial fireworks which light overhead.

"The really bright ones are rare but they are incredibly spectacular."

Meanwhile, though the supermoon was technically at its strongest on Thursday, it will be nearly as good tonight (Friday), so be sure to keep an eye out for it as it rises from around 9.55pm onwards.