Keep your eyes on the skies this weekend as Northern Ireland is to be treated to the best display of shooting stars in years.
This year we’ll have the perfect conditions for viewing the Geminid meteor shower so Ireland will be one of the best places in the world to enjoy the celestial fireworks.
Observers viewing from a 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 Jupiter, which will be visible low in the southwesterly part of the sky during the early evening.
The Met Office is predicting dry weather and night frosts this weekend, but fog at night could still hamper visibility.
Meteors 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, giving the flash of light we call a meteor.
There are several major showers of meteors each year, when 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 direction of 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.
But this weekend Earth will be passing through the densest part of the stream of particles on Sunday night in Ireland, and there will be no moonlight, making for ideal viewing conditions.
According to Terry Moseley, spokesman for the Irish Astronomical Association, the shower will start to become visible above Ireland from about 7pm each evening as Gemini rises in the east, but you won’t see many meteors until after 9pm and the best rates will occur after midnight each night.
“If you are really keen, the best time of all will be about 5am on Monday morning,” he said.
“To find Gemini, follow the diagonal line across the ‘bowl' of the Plough or Big Dipper, ie. 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 meteors are unusual in that they appear to be associated with a ‘dead' comet, called Phaethon. They are slower than most meteors.”
Terry advises observing well away from artificial light, which will seriously affect the number of meteors spotted.
The slow speed of the Geminids makes them ideal for photographing and you can send your best photos to the IAA website at www.irishastro.org.