BBC News

'Spectacular fireballs' accompany annual meteor show

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

image copyrightNeil Gratton
image captionA spectacular time-lapse photo of meteors taken at Hound Tor, Dartmoor by Neil Gratton

Observers say the annual Perseid meteor shower was more active than usual across the UK in the early hours of Friday.

The Perseid shower occurs every August but this year scientists say a gravitational nudge by Jupiter made it more intense.

Some researchers were predicting up to 200 meteors per hour in the night sky at the shower's peak.

While Friday was the peak, meteors can be seen for several nights to come.

image copyrightKris Williams
image captionA Perseid meteor shot a few days ago with the Milky Way over Porth Cwyfan, Wales

The Perseid meteor shower is caused by a trail of debris from a comet called Swift-Tuttle which orbits the Sun.

Every year between July and August, the Earth drifts into the belt of material left by Swift-Tuttle and is peppered with meteors, which burn up as they hit the atmosphere creating streaks of light.

These meteors are called the Perseids, because they appear to be coming from the constellation Perseus.

image copyrightAntonio Behan
image captionThis one was captured in Cork, Ireland, by Antonio Behan

But this year is unusual according to astronomers, as the Earth moved through a particularly distinct bit of debris a day earlier than normal. This clump of material has been nudged into the Earth's path by Jupiter's gravity.

Those who were out early on Friday morning enjoyed a wonderful display.

"It's hard to tell with the naked eye, but I did certainly notice quite a lot of spectacular bright fireballs," said Dr Sam Lindsay from the Royal Astronomical Society.

"I'm not sure I would have seen so many of in previous years."

image copyrightSam Lindsay
image captionThe change in colour is due to the different materials that make up the meteor

Normally people viewing from a dark area, away from lights, can see between 60 to 100 meteors an hour at the shower's peak.

The US space agency Nasa suggested that could double this year.

media captionHow to watch the Perseid meteor shower

"Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of August 11-12," said Bill Cooke from Nasa's meteoroid environments office.

"Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour."

Several of the pictures sent in from across the UK and Ireland seemed to feature multi-coloured streaks as the fireballs burnt up in the atmosphere.

"The interesting thing is seeing the colour change from green at first, then to red, as the outer material of the dust particles is apparently a different composition to the centre, creating a different coloured flame," said Dr Lindsay.

media captionAlex Deakin looks at the best places for viewing the meteor shower

While Friday morning was the peak of the event, the meteor shower is likely to continue for several days with good viewing opportunities likely over the weekend.

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image copyrightAP

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Related Topics

  • Comets
  • Jupiter

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