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Page last updated at 15:06 GMT, Monday, 13 December 2010
Newbury astronomer says Monday is best meteor night
By Emma Midgley
BBC Berkshire Reporter

The Geminid meteorshower will take place on Monday night

A Hungerford astronomer is urging people in Berkshire to go into their back gardens tonight to spot hundreds of meteors.

The Geminids shower should be most spectacular before dawn when up to 120 meteors per hour could be counted under ideal skies.

Astronomer Adrian West plans to watch the shooting star display from his "astrobunker" in West Berkshire.

He will also be taking part in a virtual star spotting party online.

Mr West will encourage others to share their experiences of the Geminids using the hash tag meteorwatch on social networking site Twitter.

Star gazers

He is hoping to reach out to thousands of other star gazers across the world tonight.

"If it's clear, you should expect to see up to 100 meteors an hour streaking across the sky.

"It doesn't matter where you look, as long as you're looking up, you should be able to see them every couple of minutes," he said.

Meteors are pieces of dust or rock that collide with our atmosphere. They are usually from debris trails of comets (meteor showers) or from random pieces of space rock, debris or dust.
Large meteors which hit the ground are called meteorites
Asteroids are large chunks of rock and metal and are debris from collisions, or leftovers from the birth of the solar system
Comets are giant balls of rock and ice and produce a tail when close to the sun

Adrian explained how meteor showers were created.

"Usually we have comets all orbiting the sun at different times. When they get close to the sun they form a tail, which is a trail of debris, dust and ice," he said.

"As the comet goes round the sun, the debris is left behind.

"When the earth encounters this debris trail, these particles of dust and debris enter our atmosphere and burn up to create meteors."

Mr West said that the Geminids were even more spectacular than most shooting stars, as they did not originate from meteors.

"What's nice about the Geminids is is they come from an asteroid, so they are chunkier bits of debris, which creates nice bright fire-balls," he said.

A meteor shower
Meteor showers, like this one in 2009, are eagerly sought out by stargazers

"You will see a bright flash, they will streak across the sky and some of them will have multi-coloured tails as well."

So when is the best time to see the meteor shower, according to the astronomy expert?

"Any time after dark, going through the evening and to the early hours of the morning is the best time to see it," said Mr West.

Mr West said that the reason the meteor shower will be so visible on Monday night is because there will a moonless night.

"We haven't got a moon, it's a nice dark time of year, so we've got lots of darkness when we do encounter meteors we see them very well," he said.

"This will be the best meteor shower for the next 18 months."

Adrian was formerly associated with Newbury Astronomical Society (NAS) society, which achieved worldwide fame in August 2009 with a previous meteorwatch event.

Working from a garden shed, the society attracted thousands of followers by using the social networking site Twitter.

Hundreds of thousands of people joined in their virtual "star party" and their website received thousands of hits during the Perseids meteor shower last year.

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