Northern Ireland

Perseid shower: Stargazers predict 'rare meteor outburst'

Perseid meteor shower in August 2013 Image copyright PA
Image caption A Perseid meteor shower photographed from Gloucestershire in August 2013

Stargazers turn their eyes to the skies this time every August for the annual Perseid meteor shower, but this year it could be more spectacular than usual.

Perseids are shooting stars or space debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet.

Every year, the Earth passes through this field of debris and it is possible to see about 100 meteors or shooting stars per hour during the peak.

This year, that could double as experts predict a rare meteor "outburst", according to Armagh Observatory.

The Swift-Tuttle comet revolves around the Sun once every 130 years on average, leaving a trail of dust in its wake.

A meteor outburst is produced "when the Earth passes close to or through one or more of the dense dust trails produced during a previous revolution of the comet around the Sun," according to the observatory.

It is opening its doors to the public for a free event on Thursday evening, in the hope that star-spotters will be able to enjoy the celestial show.

Image caption Armagh Observatory is inviting the public to view the star show for free on its premises

As always, however, the view is weather-dependent and BBC Northern Ireland's forecasters have warned that cloudy skies could obscure visibility during the peak of the shower at around midnight.

Ideal conditions for a shooting star show include cloudless skies with little or no moonlight or light pollution and this year, a waxing moon could also steal some of the limelight.

"If possible, look away from any nearby light pollution and always allow time for your eyes to become accustomed to the dark," Armagh Observatory advised stargazers.

"This means you may have to wait up to 20 or 30 minutes before seeing your first meteor."

The observatory added that this year's view "includes the planets Venus, Mercury and Jupiter setting low in the west soon after sunset, and then Saturn and Mars low in the south-southwest after dark".

Elsewhere, Astronomy Ireland is organising a "national Perseid count" via its website, where members of the public can record how many shooting stars they spot with the naked eye from the island of Ireland.

"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, editor of Astronomy Ireland magazine.

The organisation is predicting the 2016 shooting star show "is going to be two-to-three times more spectacular than usual".

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