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'Best meteor shower of the year' set to light up night skies

A display of celestial fireworks is set to peak late tonight as the Earth flies through a cloud of cometary dust.

If skies are clear, the Perseid meteor shower should be visible across the country from around midnight until 5.30am.

The event is one of the highpoints in the celestial calendar, occurring each year as the Earth ploughs through dusty debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle.

The meteors, mostly no bigger than a grain of sand, burn up as they hit the atmosphere at 58 kilometres (36 miles) per second to produce a shooting stream of light in the sky.

Peak temperatures can reach anywhere from 1,648 to 5,537 C (3,000 to 10,000 Fahrenheit) as they speed across the sky.

The meteors are called Perseids because they seem to dart out of the constellation Perseus.

Astronomy Ireland, who described tonight's display as "the best meteor shower of the year", is asking everyone in Ireland to help count the Perseids.

Details are on the society's website astronomy.ie but all you need do is to count how many you see every 15 minutes and send them to the address given on the website.

David Moore, Editor of Astronomy Ireland magazine, said: "This has real scientific value as we only know how these meteor showers develop by members of the public counting them while they view the beautiful spectacle of nature that is a meteor shower."

"You do not need any telescopes or binoculars, just normal human eyesight, oh, and a clear sky, but a few clouds won't spoil the view especially as you have all the hours of darkness to see them and this shower is known for producing some brilliant fireballs.

"I remember seeing one that lit up the whole countryside like daylight for a few seconds."