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Friday, October 9, 1998 Published at 06:33 GMT 07:33 UK


Clouds ruin meteor night

The shooting stars come from debris thrown off a comet

The UK's damp autumn weather has spoilt the chances of many hoping for a glimpse of a spectacular shower of meteors falling to the sky.

Heavy cloud meant that most of the country missed out on the Draconids.

The meteors - also known as Giacobinids - produced two of the greatest night-time displays this century in 1933 and 1947.

Cambridge Professor of Astronomy, Simon Mitton, explains the phenomenon
They come from the comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, which circles the Sun every 6.6 years.

There was expected to be an impressive display on Thursday night as Earth ploughed through a swarm of Draconids.

But most people looking to the skies were disappointed with weather experts reporting cloud in most parts of the country.

Although the initial advice to see anything had been to simply face north, the first thing most people needed to do first was to go west.

Wales and western parts of England were the best places to see anything.

Amateur astronomer David Strange, from Swanage, Dorset, was among those who were disappointed.

"There has been thick cloud here," he said.

"There have been a few reports on the Internet - one man in Devon has been observing it for two hours and has seen two meteors. It has not been the activity people expected."

More to come

All is not lost for anyone hoping for an extra-terrestrial light show, with one of the century's most spectacular storms on its way in November,

The Draconids are dwarfed by the family of meteors due to fall to earth in November.

[ image: Due in November: The Leonid storm]
Due in November: The Leonid storm
If conditions are favourable, the Leonids are predicted to produce a full-scale meteor storm, creating a dazzling display across the sky.

The UK is likely to be on the wrong side of the Earth to experience the full effect of the Leonids. However, anywhere in the northern hemisphere might see at least some of the display.

The area of Asia between the Western Pacific and the Indian subcontinent will be particularly well-placed.

Scientists and amateur astronomers are making their way there in the hope of witnessing the spectacle.

In the right place an observer could expect to see a fiery display of nearly 2,000 meteors a minute.

Even in the UK the Leonids are expected to put on some kind of show on 17 and 18 November, with about one meteor a minute visible.

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