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UAE gets a glimpse of astral fireworks

posted on 14/08/2013: 1799 views



High heat and humidity clouded what would have been an otherwise-perfect viewing night to catch a glimpse of astral fireworks in the country.

However, the annual Perseid meteor shower, which rains down pieces of millennia-old space junk into the earth's atmosphere, still offered views of about 35 meteors to those with the patience to handle the early morning viewing peak — including a blazing ‘fireball' at 1.30am, according to the Dubai Astronomy Group CEO Hasan Ahmad Al Hariri.

Fireball meteors, the brightest of all the burning debris that enters our atmosphere, are defined as meteors that are brighter than any of the planets.

"It was a big fire ball, it was so big it exploded in the sky, leaving behind a trail of smoke. It was amazing. People who saw it were shouting,” Al Hariri said.

About 400 people made the trek out to Dubai Astronomy Group's Zubair Camp, in Ajman, past Sharjah Airport. The event, which began about 9pm and ended at 4am, did not heat up until after midnight when clouds started to dissipate, Al Hariri said.

"Things were very dull till about 12am, and it was only at about 12.30am when things started to clear up. You heard voices (saying) ‘ooh'. Some three or four meteors hit, and people started to think ‘This is worth it'.”

However, the Emirati IT consultant-turned-fulltime-astronomer said this was the 15th year the group had hosted an event during the peak of the month-long Perseid meteor shower and the quality did not rival other years.

"The show was less than we anticipated. The reason was mainly because the weather was not favourable. It was very hot, very humid and cloudy. The day before yesterday we had a test session, and the weather was much better. We saw in two hours' time something like 15 meteors.”

A shame, given this year the UAE's location in relation to the meteor shower — a conglomeration of debris melted by the sun from the mass of the 27-kilometre comet Swift-Tuttle — was optimal.

"There are some front seats and some back seats. (The UAE was) almost in the middle of it this year.

"If the weather was good we definitely would have had a much better display.”

Al Hariri said the people that made the journey to Camp Zubair, where the group first put on a meteor documentary, gave a talk about astronomy, and provided reclining chairs and telescopes, were from all ages and nationalities.

For the first time, people were encouraged to download a meteor counter app on to smartphones from the NASA website, so the US space agency could then put together a picture of what viewings were like around the globe.

"We didn't expect people to be so interactive, but they all enjoyed being part of the science.” The meteor shower, which has been observed for at least 2,000 years, always peaks on August 12, and runs from the end of July to the end of August.

Each meteor was no bigger than the size of a baseball and burned up entirely in the earth's second outer-most layer of atmosphere, the stratosphere — never making it to the lower atmosphere, Al Hariri said.

"They've never fallen in big chunks or created any problems.”

There would still be several decent nights of meteor sightings and anyone who wanted to get a good viewing should choose a clear night - and be patient.

"These days the weather is changing rapidly, and because of the humidity and heat, clouds form on the upper layers and that continues until the temperature drops.”

The best viewing time was between 2.30am and 4am when the earth directly entered the path of the falling meteors - by which time the cloud would have dispersed.

To keep up to date with Dubai Astronomy Group's events, visit www.dubaiastronomy.com. – Khaleej Times

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