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Massive Perseid meteor shower thrills stargazers

Stargazers were given a treat on Saturday night and in the early hours of Sunday as the Perseid meteor shower dazzled the sky.

Meteors are small fragments of interplanetary debris and dust that enter the Earth’s atmosphere at such a high speed that they usually burn up, producing the shooting stream of light.

The Perseid meteor shower, one of the best-known of the meteor showers, is active from mid July until 24 August but its peak was expected to be this weekend, particularly Saturday night and in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday.

One of those who stayed up was Twitter user John-GM7PBB who lives on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland.

He told Sky News that he had set his camera up at about 11pm on Saturday and was rewarded with two beautiful images of a meteor above the horizon.

His window of opportunity was short, however, as just a few hours later he said the stars had been “clouded out”.

One of the meteors, as seen by Isle of Lewis resident John. Pic: @John-GM7PBB
Image:One of the meteors seen over the Isle of Lewis. Pic: @John-GM7PBB

Twitter astronomer @VirtualAstro said that reports of meteor viewings had come thick and fast as soon as the clouds had cleared after dark.

He told Sky News: “This is very rare as there is usually a build up, but the shower started with a bang.

“You could feel the excitement build as many people from across the UK started to see bright meteors and fireballs early on in the evening.”

Even in London, which usually loses out due to high levels of light pollution, there was still a good number of meteors to be seen.

This picture taken on August 12, 2017 shows a Perseid meteor along the Milky Way illuminating the dark sky near Comillas, Cantabria community, northern Spain, during the 'Perseids' meteor shower
Image:There were also meteor sightings in Spain, near Comillas, Cantabria

VirtualAstro said that, within a few hours of darkness, thousands of people from across the British Isles were watching the meteor shower, with many seeing “several incredibly bright meteors per hour, along with tens of smaller fainter meteors”.

“Usually in the UK we are either clouded out or suffer the ill effects of the Moon on meteor showers, and they usually end in disappointment,” he said.

“The Perseids in 2017 have been the opposite: performing as soon as it got dark and giving many their first glimpse of a meteor with ease.

“People were so pleased and excited, the mentions in my Twitter feed became unreadable due to the sheer volume of tweets coming in from very happy stargazers.”

A meteor streaks past stars in the night sky above the Jill Windmill, during the Perseid meteor shower in Brighton, southern Britain, August 12, 2017
Image:A meteor streaks past stars above the Jill Windmill in Brighton

Robin Scagell, vice president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said: “The Perseids can be very bright and often quite spectacular.

“Some meteor showers are slow, but we are moving into the Perseid stream so they are coming at us quite swiftly.

“You could see none at all for a few minutes and then two or three.

“You might be lucky or unlucky; that’s the way with meteors.”

If you missed out on the meteor-spotting fun, there is still a chance over the next few nights, or there is the next noteworthy meteor shower in December – the Geminid Meteor Shower.

In the US, the meteor shower is being seen as an opening act for the first solar eclipse to cross that country in 99 years, which is expected on 21 August.

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