Irish people hoping to get a good view of the annual Perseid meteor shower could be in luck as Met Éireann are forecasting clear weather tonight.
The Perseids are among the year’s biggest meteor showers and will reach their peak tonight.
If Met Éireann are right about the weather conditions it could be a spectacular sight because the shower coincides with a new moon for the first time since 2007.
They are called the Perseid because from the ground they will appear to originate in the constellation Perseus.
Director of Armagh Observatory Prof Mark Bailey said the Perseids were “one of the best and most reliable meteor showers of the year”.
The meteors are pieces from the comet Swift-Tuttle. They are no longer part of Swift-Tuttle but form a ‘river of rubble’ following the comet in its orbit around the sun. Earth passes through the cloud of debris from the comet every August.
The meteors are only tiny – ranging from between the size of a grain of sand to a pea.
When they cross paths with Earth they hit our atmosphere at a speed of 60km/s (37 miles/s). This causes the air around them to heat up, which in turn causes the streaks of light that we can see from the ground.
The peak will come at around 11pm when around 100 meteors per hour could possibly be seen. At this time, the shower’s ‘radiant’ is at its highest point in the sky. The higher the radiant, the more meteors are visible in the sky.
The meteors will continue to be visible until Friday when there will be five times as many ‘shooting stars’ as there are on a normal night.
However, the peak will be tonight as the number of meteors will be 20 times the amount you would usually see. It is hard to predict how many meteors you will be able to see but experts predict that at least one every few minutes will be visible.
David Moore, editor of Astronomy Ireland’s magazine wants people to count the number of meteors they see every 15 minutes and report their results to his organisation.
He said: “This will help us tell if the shower is getting weaker or stronger as the years pass. This year is particularly good for getting high numbers as the Moon will not brighten the sky.”