NZ skies ready for celestial show of up to ’20 meteors per hour’

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Three meteor showers that combine to form a celestial fireworks display are expected throughout the night.

File photo.
Photo: 123rf

The director and astronomer of the Otago Museum, Ian Griffin, said tonight’s show would be wonderful.

“These showers have been observed in some cases by astronomers over the past ten years or more. They appear regularly at this time of year and this year they are near perfect conditions because the moon is new today and that means the sky is very dark. “

He told Morning report anyone with a place far away from light could enjoy the show.

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Any time of night was fine, he said, but “the meteors will be easier to see and brighter after midnight.”

“As long as the sky is clear and you don’t have clouds, you should see between … it could be as much as 20 meteors per hour and maybe a few more. Some will move fast, and some will be slow and bright.

“So if you sit down over the course of an hour or so, you should see quite a few and it should be an interesting display.”

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He explained that as the Earth revolved around the sun, it crossed the path of ancient comets.

“And like a comet goes around the sun and material is blown away and it leaves behind it like a trail. And this time of year the Earth goes through three trails from three different comets, and those trails are full of little bits of dust.

“When you see a meteor or shooting star in the sky, it’s these little grains of cometary dust that burn up high in the Earth’s atmosphere. And they burn because they’re moving really fast. Some at a speed of 20 kilometers per second and while they’re moving through the atmosphere, they collide with the atoms in the atmosphere, they glow, and then disappear.

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“So when you look at these shooting stars in the sky over the weekend, you see the dying embers of comets that passed through Earth’s orbit many years ago.”

He said that even people without telescopes could easily see.