The sky is alive with the sights of space this weekend

8 Aug 2014

This weekend will be the equivalent of a blockbuster movie for stargazers, with a supermoon and Perseid meteor shower coinciding, starting on 10 August.

With the scope of laser measurement technology, the ability to measure the distance of the moon from the Earth has become so exact that it can now be measured on a scale of seconds and minutes, meaning those of us on Earth can figure out the best way of seeing the moon at its largest (a ‘supermoon’) in the sky.

And for those interested in the extreme technical side of science, this weekend’s supermoon – out of the three scheduled to happen this year – will be the closest to the Earth.

Speaking to, head of Astronomy Ireland David Moore has even collaborated with US space agency NASA to use the technology to figure out the exact distance of the moon of not just from the planet, but from our Ireland, using laser measurement.

According to Astronomy Ireland’s figures, the best time to view the supermoon will technically be on 11 August at 1.38am, which is promised to be worth staying up that little bit later. At that point, the moon will be 354,157 km away from Earth.

The next supermoon to be visible is not too far away, due on 8 September over Ireland at 12.27am, at a distance of 355,392 km from the island.

Advice for moongazers

What makes the supermoon such a great event is that compared with other celestial events to be seen from the ground, the supermoon is obviously that bit closer and definitely that bit larger that it almost makes little difference, aside from cloud cover, as to where you view the moon.

As Moore explains, it may even be more beneficial for moongazers, and particularly keen photographers, to use the city to their advantage during the supermoon.

“In fact, it’s probably a good idea to watch it from the city because if you’re into photography, you can line it up with something interesting, like landmarks and buildings.

“You can see these great photos of previous supermoons where people make it look like the supermoon is being held in their hand, and we always call on people to submit (the photos) to our website. If you’re viewing it, the moon is a fantastic target (for telescopes), as even the smallest telescope will show good detail while even a cheap pair of binoculars will show craters on the moon.”

Perseid meteor shower

A Perseid meteor shower

Perseid meteor shower

While a little less obvious in the night’s sky this weekend, especially with the supermoon dominating the Sunday night/Monday morning sky, another sight to behold will be the Perseid meteor shower, easily one of the biggest celestial displays of the year.

Reaching its peak from 10–13 August, the meteor shower is expected to be a bumper one this month. Going by Astronomy Ireland’s estimates, there will be up to 20 times more shooting stars than normal, averaging almost one a minute.

Of course, the supermoon will make the chance to see them that little more difficult, but Moore has assured stargazers that there’s still plenty of opportunities to view them.

“Because there’s so many of them around this weekend, you’re far more likely to see a shooting star this weekend than at any time of the year, aside from December.

“We run a campaign every year trying to get people to count the number of shooting stars but we don’t expect to be successful his year, given the number of them!”

Supermoon image and Perseid meteor shower image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic