Spectacular meteor shower captured in the night sky at Whitley Bay

Photographer Thomas Heaton set his alarm for 3am to watch drama unfold

Thomas Heaton - tom@thomasheaton.co.uk Germinids meteor shower photographed by Thomas Heaton of Whitley Bay
Germinids meteor shower photographed by Thomas Heaton of Whitley Bay

Shoot stars burn up in the earth’s atmosphere, blazing across a winter sky simmering with shades of deep blue and purple.

This arresting shot of the Germinids meteor shower also captures St Mary’s Lighthouse, in North Tyneside’s Whitley Bay, as it shines yellow in perfect contrast.

Its photographer, 29-year-old Thomas Heaton, diligently set his alarm for 3.30am on Saturday so he could set up on the beach when the sky was clearest and watch the drama unfold.

The celestial event arrives once a year and is caused by debris from the 3200 Phaethon asteroid as it orbits close to the sun.

“I took a flask and some coffee,” said Thomas. “It was lovely and chilly and still and quiet.

“When the temperature dropped you could see the dark sky and I started taking photographs.”

Thomas, a professional photographer, had to wait until around 4am when the moon set so there was little light pollution to obstruct the view.

Then, he left his camera on for around an hour, allowing it to gather around 1,000 images.

On around 40 of the snapshots the meteor shower could be seen. Thomas pulled together the photographs to create what is called a ‘composite image’ of the shower.

He said: “I focused on a small patch of sky.

“It takes a long time one-by-one to look at all the images, but actually putting together the image didn’t take long. It is an overlay of all the images.

“You have to make sure all of the meteors are accurately placed in the sky so that it is as true to life as possible.”

Stargazers heralded the meteor shower as one of the best the country has seen this year with more than 120 meteors hitting the atmosphere each hour.

NASA said this year has been one of the most spectacular displays of the Germinids meteor showers that people have witnessed.

“Of all the debris streams Earth passes through every year, the Geminids are by far the most massive,” said Nasa astronomer Bill Cooke.

“When we add up the amount of dust in the Geminid stream, it outweighs other streams by factors of five to 500.”

It could be best seen over the weekend in areas with low levels of light pollution and was said to have continued from Thursday until Monday.

Early on Saturday morning was the optimum period to see the action.

Thomas, who lives at Belvedere Avenue in Whitley Bay, said he was fortunate to get it on film.

“I have tried to photograph a few meteor showers in the past and this time I think I have been really lucky,” he said.

“You have to be up really early to catch it. I’m really proud of this image, I think it looks great.

“It is what I pictured in my head and what I managed to achieve.”

Thomas’ work can be found at: http://www.thomasheaton.co.uk/

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer