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The Perseid meteor shower is the ‘biggest show’ for stargazers



The Perseid Meteor shower is an amazing annual event

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EPA

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The Perseid Meteor shower is an amazing annual event

We are sitting among the pine forests in the dark, with eyes from the sky and fingers crossed tightly.

Throughout the afternoon, the cloud cover has been strong and unbroken, but, surprisingly, the latest satellite image is promising a clearer sky in the west.

And tonight that really matters.

Because high above us, on the edge of the atmosphere, nature is setting one of its greatest displays of light, the Perseid meteor shower, which reaches its peak and gives it its first view on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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Martin McKenna

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Comet Neowise was a vision in the skies over Northern Ireland

But now we can not see any of them. Welcome to the world of the night sky photographer.

Special year for stargazers

The weather this summer has been a bit cloudy. But for stargazers it has been a very special year.

Tonight, I am joined by two of the best in Northern Ireland, Alistair Hamill and Martin McKenna.

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Alistair Hamill

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The skies have produced some stunning scenes since the weekend

Already in 2020 they have observed the appearance of noctilucent clouds in the upper atmosphere and C / 2020 F3NEOWISE, the comet̵

7;s best sight in 30 years.

We are located at the OM Dark Skies Center and Discovery Center in Davagh, Tyrone County. Or rather we are based out of it.

The new observatory operated by Mid Ulster County Council is not yet open to the public.

Final touches are being made for indoor performances as work was delayed by the Covid-19 crisis. It is now scheduled to open in October.

But for now, the night is warm and the unfolding around the outside of the building is quite comfortable as we watch and wait for astronomical darkness and hope for a break in the clouds.

Clouds and comets

While the Perseid meteor shower is an annual event, the appearance of noctilucent clouds on display over Northern Ireland this summer has been very good.

These clouds of cosmic dust and frozen water vapor that form the edge of space, 82 miles[82 km]above the Earth, are a feature of short summer nights.

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Alistair Hamill

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The appearance of noctilucent clouds on display over Northern Ireland this summer has been very good

Ghost clouds in the upper part of the atmosphere reflect light from the sun which is already far away from the horizon.

“I love the romance of these clouds shining in the dark,” says Alistair Hamill.

“There is no improvement from the camera, what you see with the naked eye is exactly what you get.

“They live in the part of the atmosphere that we understand the least. Higher than weather balloons, but lower than satellites.

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PA Media

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A digital composite with 30 meteor shower photos taken over a 15 minute period in Yorkshire Dales National Park in 2017

“The condensation nuclei that allow clouds to form are made up of space dust from meteors like the ones we’re shooting tonight.

“Matthias who has circulated in space for billions of years outside, not with a whisper, but with a final, glorious show.”

We have lights. But not what we hoped for yet. A car is approaching the forest road.

The driver is Terry Moseley, a former president of the Irish Astronomical Society and my guest a few hours ago for the Evening Extra.

He is seduced by the dark sky and the prospect of clearing the clouds.

He says this summer has been significant for astronomy appraisal, especially Comet Neowise which was visible for two weeks in July.

“People were taking fantastic pictures that show a lot of detail, even with a smartphone,” he says.

“Some display essentially two different tails, the dust tail and the ion tail.”

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Roisin Laverty

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The finishing touches are being made to the exhibits inside the Davagh Observatory

Martin McKenna has more than just a smartphone. He is known as the night sky hunter and tonight he is on the hunt for meteors.

The skies are now clear over Davagh and as my eyes adjust, the number of visible stars increases by the minute. I have not yet seen any of the meteors.

But Martin has: “Five so far.”

His excitement is clear. And this is aided by the messages he is receiving from observers in other parts of Northern Ireland that are out of the cloud.

“Goodbye is not like that,” he says, a big fuss from ear to ear.

“We are lucky. But it is not just luck, it is perseverance. You have to set the hours to make opportunities.”

The night is getting dark. Martin and Alistair adjust the cameras.

The number of meteors is up to 13 and it is clear that even for these experienced astro-photographers it is turning into a very special night.


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