The stunning Perseids meteor shower reaches its peak over Ireland this week

Ready for a show?

The stunning Perseids meteor shower reaches its peak over Ireland this week

Any other night, if you were standing in a dark field in the middle of nowhere in Ireland, you’d see one meteor every ten minutes or so - though this varies greatly. During the Perseid time, that can increase to one a minute or more.

The activity peaks on Wednesday night, when Astronomy Ireland predicts 20 times more meteors then normal. Before that, we can expect five times as much activity on Monday, ten times as much Tuesday. After Wednesday, it will start to drop again.

Activity has already been visible for some time - in the Netherlands, photographer Albert Dros captured the meteors, the International Space Station, and the Milky Way all in one beautiful shot.

What are the Perseids?

Want to skip the science? Info on how to see them is further down.

Regular meteors are tiny rocks - so tiny they’re often just grains of sand or dust - that hit earth. Since our little planet is careening through space at well over 100,000 kph, and we have an atmospheric shield, anything hitting us is going to get the rough end of that deal. And since our own gravity will pull those particles into us at 70kph - it’s a lot of energy to flare up.

So those particles burn up as they enter our atmosphere - creating meteors, sometimes called "shooting stars".

As we covered above, during the Perseids, we can expect up to 20 times the normal number - but why?

Well, it’s all down to the Perseid cloud- a long stream of debris trailing behind the Swift-Tuttle comet. That comet only comes around once every 133 years, but it leaves the stream behind it the whole way. And so, once a year, as our own planet spins though space, we crash through that trail of comet dust - creating the light show in the sky.

Humans have been appreciating this display for a long, long time - its first mention goes all the way back to 36 AD.

Ok. How do I see them?

The Perseids are mostly visible in the Northern Hemisphere, which is great news for skywatchers in Ireland. The bad news is that, well, it’s Ireland.

"Since the weather in Ireland can be summed up in two words ’mostly cloudy’ it is very important that Irish people ignore what they hear from other parts of the world about the night of maximum, and remember that there should be excellent displays ALL THIS WEEK," warned Astronomy Ireland’s David Moore.

"If you only watch on the night of maximum there is a chance you will see nothing this year if it is cloudy, whereas, if you go out every night this week and weekend you will almost certainly see some Perseids and beat the weather statistics."

"This is our biggest tip for this major annual event," he said.

While it may be too much to ask for the casual observer to head into the wilderness every night, the key point rings true - the main thing that will stop you seeing the show is cloud cover.

Tuesday night’s forecast is to be partly cloudy, with sunset due at 9.02pm. It’s expected that the best show could be after midnight, but it should be visible from about 10.30pm to 4.40am.

On Wednesday - the peak time for the celestial lightshow - a fine day is expected over much of the country, and we can only hope it lasts into the night.

In general: check the forecast, and look up.

Oh, and as a bonus, the International Space Station is due over Irish skies at exactly the same time - just as in Albert Dros’ beautiful photo. Astronomy Ireland posts predictions on the ISS’ path to let you know what time it will cross sky, which are available in their website from 8pm each evening.

Astronomy Ireland wants a hand, too

If you are checking out the meteor shower, spare a thought for the folks at Astronomy Ireland - they’re trying to measure the intensity of the activity. And they want your help.

They’re counting the number of meteors seen every 15 minutes, and are asking people to submit their observations on - telling them how many meteors you were able to count from, say, 10pm to 10.15pm and so on.

So, while marvelling at the pretty lights, why not do your part for the experts?


More in this section


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox