The annual celestial fireworks show provided by Comet Swift-Tuttle is now under way - better known as the Perseid Meteor Shower. There will be a gradual build up of activity over the next week, and then meteor rates will rise quite noticeably until the night of maximum on 12/13 (Sun-Mon) August, with the actual time of maximum about 03.00 BST on the 13th. In excellent sky conditions an experienced observer should be able to see about 70-80 meteors per hour just before dawn when the radiant is highest.
Observers in Ireland are slightly better favoured than those in GB, as the dawn occurs later here, giving up to about 30 minutes of extra observing time close to the time of maximum activity.
Perseid meteors are quite fast, with a fairly high proportion of bright meteors, some of which leave persistent 'trains' or trails. As the name implies they appear to come from the constellation of Perseus, not far from the famous 'Double Cluster', which lies about halfway between Perseus and Cassiopeia. For your non-astronomical friends, just say that they appear to come from the North East part of the sky in the late evening, and a bit higher up in the East as the night progresses into Monday morning.
The Moon will not interfere at all this year, giving excellent observing conditions, - in clear skies, of course!
The Irish Astronomical Association will be having a "BBQ + Perseid Party" at Delamont Country Park, on the A22, between Killyleagh and Downpatrick, on Sunday evening, 12 August, commencing at 8 p.m. We will finish the cooking & eating by about 9.30, allowing time to clear away, & set up loungers & telescopes & do some twilight observing of Jupiter before the sky gets dark enough for meteor observing.
If you intend to come you MUST be there no later than 9 p.m., as the gates will be closed for access from then on. You can get out OK at any time, as the gates open automatically on exit. We will be observing from the car park area beside the picnic tables, on your right shortly after you enter the park from the main road.
Usual IAA BBQ rules apply - Free, but bring your own food, drinks, plates, cutlery, cups, glasses, chair etc if you wish: we will provide the cooking facilities only.
For observing, bring a lounger if you have one, and plenty of warm clothes, and a RED, not a white, torch! And if you have to leave while others are still observing, drive on sidelights only until you are out of the park. Also, park your car so that you are facing in the direction in which you will leave, with the gears in neutral or forward, so that you don't have to reverse, with your bright reversing light coming on automatically.
If you are observing from nearer home, choose as dark a location as possible: a really dark site will more than double the number of meteors you will see!
If you get any good photos, send them in to our website: www.irishastro.org.