Page last updated at 09:27 GMT, Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Star gazers hoping for clear sky

A Leonid meteor over Alabama
The Leonid meteors enter the earth's atmosphere once a year

Star gazers should be in for a treat on Tuesday night as the Leonid meteor shower reaches its peak of activity.

It is predicted that up to 40 meteors per hour could soar through the skies over Northern Ireland.

Although the main meteor activity will happen in the skies above Asia, meteors travelling at 160,000 miles per hour should be visible as midnight approaches.

Meteors, or shooting stars, are the streaks of light produced when small, dust particles shed by comets orbiting the Sun, run into the Earth's atmosphere and vaporise in a few seconds at altitudes of about 100 km.

This year's activity results mainly from the Earth passing through trails of dust emitted by Comet Tempel-Tuttle in the years 1466 and 1533.

The comet swings around the sun once every 33 years, leaving a trail of dust. Each November, the Earth's orbit takes it through that slowly dissipating trail.

"It is the dust particles crashing into the earth, like gnats crashing onto your car windscreen," said Professor Mark Bailey from Armagh Observatory.

"They burn up in the upper atmosphere, creating this light display."

Weather forecast permitting, observers are advised to wrap up warmly and go to a site away from artificial light and scan the sky from the north-west to east.

The light show continues until 21 November.

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