Northern Ireland

Perseid meteor shower makes astronomers look to the skies

Sperrin Mountains above Draperstown Image copyright MICHEAL REGAN
Image caption The sky above the Sperrin Mountains near Draperstown on Thursday night

It's that time of year again when budding astronomers stay up to the early hours of the morning and look to the skies.

The Perseid meteor shower has been on display, as debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet hit Earth's atmosphere.

Shooting stars were caught on camera on Thursday night across the region, and Friday offers another opportunity.

Armagh Observatory's Dr David Asher said the trick was to get outside somewhere clear and dark, and look up.

Image copyright PAUL LOANE
Image caption A meteor captured over County Down

"You're better without a telescope because they can appear anywhere in the sky," he said.

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 opened its doors to the public for a free event on Thursday evening, allowing star-spotters to enjoy the celestial show.

"In perfect conditions we see a hundred an hour," said Dr Asher.

"Nothing in life is perfect, so you could still see a meteor every minute or two if it's clear."

Dr Asher also advised star-spotters to wait until the moon has set, a little after midnight.

The meteor shower occurs when the earth runs through the debris stream of the comet,

"You get lots of theses little solid grains hitting the atmosphere at high speed and vaporising," said David Asher.

Image copyright Leah Burgess
Image caption Leah Burgess managed to see three in a row in the sky over Waterford

"So you get these streaks of light, these meteors or shooting stars in the sky."

But is there any chance one could fall to Earth?

Dr Asher said it's not very likely.

"I don't think any will reach the Earth," he said.

"It's a risk that the satellite industry takes seriously, they ask space agencies to warn them when there's a particularly intense meteor shower.

"These tiny grains even though they're very small they can cause electrical problems."

As always, however, the view is weather-dependent and BBC Northern Ireland's forecasters have warned that cloudy skies could obscure visibility throughout the weekend, but there could be the odd break so keep your eyes peeled.

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