Page last updated at 10:12 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 11:12 UK

Meteors cause flare alert calls

Meteor - file photo
Coastguards said three meteor showers had been forecast

Reports of strange lights in the sky and distress flares being fired in the English Channel actually turned out to be a meteor shower, coastguards say.

Calls were made to coastguards across England's south coast, including Cornwall, Devon and Hampshire, reporting white and green flares.

Reports were also made to coastguards in Jersey and France for about 30 minutes from about 2130 BST on Monday.

Solent coastguards said three such showers had been forecast.

Meteor showers are caused by debris from a comet burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.

This can produce shooting stars across the night sky, particularly visible on clear nights, which was the case over southern England on Monday night.

Such showers can be forecast because the earth follows the same path around the Sun every year.

'Real treat'

This means it always crosses a comet trail at the same point in its orbit and meteor showers can be seen at the same time every year.

A Solent Coastguard spokesman said: "There were reports of flares all down the coast which went on for about half an hour but there was a forecast for a meteor shower."

The spokesman said it could have been one of three showers forecast: the June Lyrids, the Ophruchids or the Zeta Perseids.

Round-the-world yachtswoman Dee Caffari and her all-women crew were setting sail off the Isle of Wight at the time of the shower on an attempt to break the round-Britain and Ireland record.

She said the display was "a real treat".

She said: "For a minute there last night I thought we had made such good progress that we were seeing the Northern Lights.

"We later learned that the pyrotechnic display was actually a meteor shower, which was an amazing sight."

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