A guide to watching the spectacular meteor showers

Annual celestial extravaganza will reach its peak after midnight

The annual Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak, according to NASA. Video: UK Meteor Observation Network/Phil K/Reuters. Music: Puddle of Infinity

 

Throughout different parts of the year, Earth ploughs its way through the tail of the many comets which like itself are orbiting the Sun.

This is how we get meteor showers and the greatest show not on Earth will reach its climax.

The spectacle will be on view any time after dark and although it reached its peak after midnight on Thursday it will be visible again on Thursday night and Friday night.

The annual Perseid shower originates from the Earth crossing the trail of the comet Swift-Tuttle which takes a stately 133 years to orbit the sun. The Perseids will be particularly bright this year.

Firstly, for once, there might be a clear night in some parts of the country and the moon is in astronomer’s parlance “out of the way”. It is a new moon so the sky will be more dark than usual.

The Perseids are named after the constellation of Perseus. The end of the handle of the Plough points the way to Perseus. It is also directly beneath Cassiopeia, the distinctly zig-zag shaped constellation.

It is in short due east. Ireland’s most successful amateur astronomer David Grennan has advised to head out after midnight for the best displays.

He counsels that the headline figure of 100 meteors per hour is somewhat misleading. Some are too faint to be seen in anything but the darkest of skies and nobody has a 360 degree panoramic view.

He recommends:

- Go somewhere as dark as possible away from artificial lights.

- Allow at least 15 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark.

- Dress up warmly. Even on a mild night, sitting around can be cold after a while.

- There is no need for any optical aids. The naked eye is enough to see the meteor showers.

- Don’t expect miracles . “Expect to see a nice meteorite every couple of minutes. The Perseids are particularly known because they produce a lot of bright meteorites and fireballs. A lot of them are bright enough to cut through the light pollution. Give it a good hour and you have a good chance to see at least one good fireball.”