There’s nothing quite like curling up in a blanket on a soft lawn and simply gazing up at the stars. Sometimes, you might even be lucky enough to see a shooting star as you stare in awe at the expanse of space — but this year, on 11 August, you’ll be witnessing hundreds of meteors streak across the night sky.
Hook Lighthouse in Co Wexford is inviting visitors and stargazers alike to come to witness the spectacular Perseids Meteor Shower on Saturday, 11 August from 7 p.m. Each year, the Earth passes the tail of the massive comet Swift-Tuttle, a comet that takes 133 years to orbit the sun. With a diameter of 26 kilometres, this comet is the largest known object to repeatedly pass the Earth. The last time we saw this comet was in 1992, and we will not see it again until 2126. However, the debris kicked off this comet creates a magnificent show of shooting stars in Earth’s atmosphere every year.
When you lounge back in your chair or lay down on your blanket to watch these “stars” streak by, you’re actually seeing bits of the comet Swift-Tuttle flying into our Earth’s atmosphere. When these pieces enter the Earth’s atmosphere, reaching speeds of 60km per second, they instantly burn up in a brilliant flash of light, creating the image of a “shooting star.” When a bit of a comet floats in space it is considered a meteoroid; when it enters Earth’s atmosphere, it is considered a meteor; and if a meteor ever makes contact with the Earth’s surface, it is called a meteorite. But, fret not, the dust and debris from Swift-Tuttle is usually no larger than a grain of sand, so it will almost assuredly burn up before coming anywhere near the ground.
The dark skies at the very tip of the Hook Peninsula provide a perfect blanket of darkness to witness this unforgettable show, and Hook Lighthouse, the oldest operational lighthouse in the world, wants you to come and lounge on their remote land right along the sea to share in the spectacle. The Lighthouse will stay open later than normal in order to accommodate stargazers.
Hook Lighthouse has also invited special guest astronomer Carl O’Beirnes of Big Bear Planetariums, who will be joining the evening to advise visitors on what to look out for and how to identify the constellations in the night sky. O’Beirnes will also give visitors the opportunity to gaze at planets and other deep-space objects that will be visible during this shower through a telescope and teach stargazers how to properly photograph the night sky and the Milky Way Galaxy.
Visitors are advised to dress warmly and to bring their own chairs and blankets. This is a free event and those attending are invited to find a spot on the lighthouse lawns from 7 p.m. to witness this once-a-year spectacle. O’Beirnes also advises attendees to bring their telescopes and cameras, but, no equipment is necessary! Nasa advises gazers to “Let your eyes relax and don’t focus on any one specific part of the sky. Relaxed eyes will quickly zone in on any movement up above and you’ll be able to spot more meteors.”
The lighthouse will remain open until 11 p.m. offering hot chocolates and snacks at the café. For further details see www.hookheritage.ie.
By Bri Doherty
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