Keep your fingers crossed for clear skies across Ireland tonight and tomorrow as Mother Nature is providing us with her own spectacular fireworks show.
Particles the size of a grain of sand will hit the Earth’s atmosphere at such speed tonight that they will send shooting stars through the night sky that can be viewed with just the naked eye. Traveling at 150,000mph, the particles are fragments that have pulled away from the Halley’s Comet, the most famous named comet known on Earth.
Halley’s Comet only enters into our section of the solar system once every 76 years, once it has made a complete orbit of our sun, and is not expected again until 2061, but the space dust breaking away as it travels on its orbit will treat us to an early light show this May 5 and May 6.
This part the meteor shower, known as Eta Aquarids, will enter the Earth’s atmosphere this evening and although clear skies will guarantee a view of the spectacle, you may want to set yourself up with a flask of coffee as peak viewing hours are set to be within 1am and 6am, just before dawn, on Friday morning.
Even without the help of a telescope, anybody who spends a time star-gazing tonight or tomorrow night will be ten times more likely to see a shooting star than on your average night. If eager sky-watchers are still struggling to catch a glimpse of the lightning streaks of light, then they are advised to cast their eyes in an easterly direction as this is where the largest percentage of debris is expected to fall.
Astronomy Ireland are also hoping that any members of the public who are lucky enough to witness a shooting star or two will keep a note of the details and submit the information to the organization for their records.
“It’s a free celestial fireworks display that can be seen all over Ireland and we are asking members of the public to count how many they see each quarter of an hour and email them for a nationwide count,” said head of Astronomy Ireland David Moore.
"The great thing is that you need no optical equipment, just the naked eye will do. Simply email how many you see to [email protected]"
This is not the only meteor shower Halley’s Comet will grace us with this year. On October 21 debris within the Orionid meteor shower will enter the atmosphere but because of a brighter moon at this time and a lower frequency of shooting stars it is expected not to be as visible as tonight's affair.
Although the Earth only comes into close quarters with Halley’s comet once every seven and a half decades,our planet does slip into the stream of dust it leaves in its wake twice a year, in May and in October. Halley’s is currently somewhere far away past the orbit of Uranus.
Now just to sort out our blankets, hot flasks and decide what we’ll wish for!