Keen stargazers will enjoy a view of a meteor shower caused by the tail end of Halley’s comet tonight – providing the skies stay clear enough for them to see the spectacle.
Although the comet itself only comes within visible distance of Earth every 75 years, our planet orbits through the matter it leaves behind every year.
The tiny particles of Halley’s tail are due to light up the night sky again tonight after making their first appearance in the early hours of this morning.
Dr Ken Rice, an astronomer and physicist at the University of Edinburgh, has offered his advice for stargazers eager to see the shooting stars tonight.
He said: “It’s a good idea to get your eyes adapted to the darkness, so it’s advisable to spend at least 20 minutes in the complete blackness first.
“Comets are composed of various rocks and chemicals that are usually trapped frozen inside the comet itself.
“However, solar winds heat up the comet and free little pebbles of material that fall off the comet like crumbs.
“They manifest themselves in the night sky as little pencil streaks of light as they burn up, and if you’re lucky some of the particularly big pebbles appear as big fireballs that explode briefly in the atmosphere.”
The shooting stars on show tonight are likely to be the remaining pieces of Halley’s comet that were ripped from it during its last trip past Earth on February 9 1986 – although some may be from even earlier visits.
Dr Rice continued: “Every 75 years Halley’s comet leaves a trail of material from its tail floating in the solar system. Even though we go through this tail every year, we still won’t manage to sweep up all the debris between visits.
“Sightings of shooting stars that come from comet tails always appear to come from a particular constellation, and in Halley’s comet’s case they come from Orion.
“These sightings, which are called Orionids after the constellation, appear to be coming directly from Orion’s shoulder holding the bow and arrow above his three-starred belt, however this is just an illusion and they are not literally coming from the stars themselves.
“It just so happens that Orion lies in the direction that Earth is travelling through space, which produces the effect of it coming from the constellation itself.
“Orion doesn’t rise until after midnight, so if you look towards the constellation, towards the south-east, after midnight at any time in the early hours of the morning, you will have a good chance of seeing the Orionids in the sky.
“It’s a very impressive sight to see.”
People from Aberdeen may be out of luck tonight due to thick cloud cover, but areas in northern Aberdeenshire and the central highlands c partial cloud coverage.