We were sitting in the middle of a pine forest in the dark, looking up into the sky and our fingers crossed firmly.
All afternoon, the cloud cover remained firm and unbroken, but ironically, the latest satellite imagery is promising clearer skies in the west.
And tonight that̵7;s really important.
Because up high, at the edge of the atmosphere, nature is giving out one of its greatest light displays, the Perseid meteor shower, which culminates in its main observation. on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
But right now we can’t see any of it. Welcome to the world of night sky photographer.
A special year for stargazing
The weather is quite humid this summer. But for stargazers, it has been a very special year.
Tonight, I am joined by two of the best in Northern Ireland, Alistair Hamill and Martin McKenna.
In 2020, they observed noctilucent clouds in the upper atmosphere and C / 2020 F3NEOWISE, the best comet sight in 30 years.
We are based in the OM Dark Sky Park and Discovery Center in Davagh, County Tyrone. Or rather, we are outside of it.
The new observatory operated by the Mid Ulster District Council is not yet open to the public.
Finishing operations are being done to the internal screens after work has been delayed by the Covid-19 crisis. The film is scheduled to open in October.
However, for now, the night was warm and the floor around the outside of the building was quite comfortable while we watched and waited for the astronomical darkness and hoped the clouds cleared.
Clouds and comets
Although the Perseid meteor shower is an annual event, the spectacle of noctilucent clouds over Northern Ireland this summer has been going well.
Cosmic dust clouds and frozen water vapor that form at the edge of space, 82 kilometers from Earth, characterize the brief summer nights.
The spooky clouds in the highest part of the atmosphere reflect light from the sun already below the horizon.
“I love the romance of these glowing clouds in the dark,” said Alistair Hamill.
“There’s no camera improvement, what you see with the naked eye is exactly what you get.
“They live in the part of the atmosphere we least understand. Higher than weather balloons, but lower than satellites.
“The condensing nuclei allow clouds to form made up of space dust from the meteorite-like meteorites we are hunting tonight.
“Matter that has been circulating in space for billions of years will be gone, not by groans, but by final, glorious display.”
We have lights. But not the ones we were hoping for yet. A car was going down a trail in the woods.
The driver was Terry Moseley, the former president of the Irish Astronomical Society and my guest a few hours earlier for the Extra Evening.
He was drawn to the dark sky and the prospect of haze.
He said that this summer is of great significance for the appreciation of astronomy, especially Comet Neowise seen for two weeks in July.
“People have been getting great photos that show a lot of detail, even when using smartphones,” he said.
“Some show basically two different tails, the dust tail and the ion tail.”
Martin McKenna doesn’t just have a smartphone. He is known to be a hunter in the night sky and tonight he is hunting for meteors.
Now the sky is clear over Davagh, and as my eyes adjust, the number of visible stars increases with every minute. I have yet to see any meteors.
But Martin was: “Years far.”
His excitement is obvious. And it was helped by messages he received from observers in other parts of Northern Ireland who were being obscured.
“That’s good, isn’t it,” he said, a grin from ear to ear.
“We are lucky. But it’s not just luck, it’s persistence. You have to take time to create opportunities.”
The night was getting darker and darker. Martin and Alistair adjusted the camera.
The number of meteors is 13 and it is clear that even for these experienced astrologers it is actually turning into a very special night.