Irish Astronomical Association: Press Release
AMAZING FREE CELESTIAL FIREWORKS DISPLAY THIS WEEKEND!
This weekend Ireland (and to a lesser extent the rest of W Europe) will have the best display of meteors, or 'shooting stars' for many years.
The GEMINID METEOR SHOWER will be at its best on Saturday and Sunday nights, and this year provides excellent conditions to see it, and Ireland is one of the best places on Earth to view it! So let's hope for clear skies!
Meteors, often popularly known as 'shooting stars', are tiny bits of comets (or sometimes bits of minor planets or asteroids) which collide with the Earth's upper atmosphere at high speed and get burned away, usually in a second or less, giving the flash of light we call a meteor.
There are several major 'showers' of meteors each year, when the Earth passes through a particular stream of such particles. The best of these occurs in mid-December, and is called the GEMINIDS, because the meteors appear to come from the constellation Gemini.
While this shower occurs every year, sometimes the maximum occurs during daylight in Ireland, or there is a bright moon to spoil the show.
This weekend the Earth will be passing through the densest part of the stream of particles late on Sunday night in Ireland, and there will be no moonlight at all, making for ideal viewing conditions here.
So observers viewing from a really dark site could see up to 120 meteors per hour, or an average of about two per minute! Some of them will be quite faint, but others will be brighter than the brightest stars, and some will even be brighter than the brilliant planet Jupiter, which will be visible low in the SW part of the sky during the early evening.
AVOID ARTIFICIAL LIGHT.
It is important to observe well away from artificial lights and the glow of the light pollution from our cities and bigger towns, which will seriously affect the number of meteors seen. Also, allow plenty of time for your eyes to become dark adapted - you probably won't see any if you walk straight out from a brightly lit room! Allow at least 10 minutes to have a good chance of seeing some. And wrap up really warm, from head to toe!
Although a few other random meteors may be seen, most will appear to come from the direction of the constellation Gemini. However, they can be seen in any part of the sky! But if you trace their paths backwards, they should lead to Gemini, with its two fairly bright stars, Castor and Pollux. The radiant, or point from which they appear to come, will be just above and right of Castor, the uppermost of these two stars.
While the peak occurs late on Sunday night, lots of meteors can also be seen in the nights leading up to Sunday, and for a day or two afterwards; and Saturday night in particular should also provide plenty of meteors.
The shower will start to become visible from Ireland from about 7 p.m. each evening as Gemini rises in the East, but you won't see many meteors until after about 9 p.m., and best rates will occur after midnight each night. And if you are REALLY keen, the best time of all will be about 5 a.m. on Monday morning!
(To find Gemini, follow the diagonal line across the 'bowl' of the Plough or Big Dipper, i.e. from the top left star in the bowl to the bottom right star, and continue this line until you come to a pair of brightish stars, Castor and Pollux, the Heavenly Twins.)
The Geminid meters are unusual in that they appear to be associated with a 'dead' comet, called Phaethon. They are slower than most meteors, and so can often be seen for a full second or so.
CAPTURE THEM ON CAMERA:
Their relatively slow speed also makes them an ideal target for astrophotographers. Just put your camera on a tripod, switch off the flash, point the camera fairly high up in the sky, and give as long exposures as you can until the image gets too bright from the background light. Experiment - try exposures from about 20 seconds to a few minutes if your camera will allow. If you see a bright meteor flash through the field of view of the camera, stop the exposure and check it. Or if you like, keep exposing and hope for another one!
Send your best photos, or even just your notes of how many you saw, to the IAA website: www.irishastro.org.