The Perseid showers, our cabernet sauvignon namesake here at Meteor, are in full effect right now.
The showers will be on full display between August 10th and August 13th with Tuesday the 12th being the peak viewing day.
Every 133 years, comet Swift-Tuttle swings through the inner solar system, leaving behind a trail of dust. When the Earth passes through, the dust cloud particles hit the atmosphere at 140,000mph and burn up in streaking flashes of light, creating the spectacle known as the Perseids.
A very bright and dramatic supermoon is accompanying this year’s Perseid showers. Normally, with a dark and clear sky you can see more than 100 meteors an hour. However, this year, with the supermoon in effect beginning Sunday the 10th, there might be some issues viewing the showers.
A supermoon is when the moon has reached the point in its orbit that is closest to the Earth, known as perigee. This specific supermoon will be up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full moons during the year and is 31,000 miles closer than when it is furthest away from Earth.
The presence of the supermoon wipes out the black, velvet backdrop that is necessary to see faint meteors, therefore causing us to see less meteors than usual.
However, the debris stream left by the comet Swift-Tuttle, which produces the Perseids, is wide, so shooting stars will make an appearance. Also, the Perseids are known to be rich in fireballs that can be as bright as Jupiter or Venus that will remain visible despite glare from the supermoon. The Perseids have actually been referred to as the “fireball champion” of meteor showers, as you can see more fireballs from Swift-Tuttle than any other comet.
Director of the Society for Popular Astronomy's meteor section, Tony Markham, urged skywatchers to stay optimistic.
"The Perseids are rich in bright meteors and so many Perseids will still be seen despite the moonlit sky background," he wrote on the SPA's website. "You can minimize the effect of the moonlight by observing with your back to the moon – possibly viewing the Cassiopeia/Cepheus/Ursa Minor area. If possible, keep the moon hidden behind trees or a nearby building."
He also noted that at this time of year the moon is relatively close to the horizon, leaving most of the sky dark and also suggests looking at an area of sky 20 to 30 degrees away from the Perseid radiant – the spot near the constellation of Perseus that the meteors appear to fly out from.
The best time to view the showers is right before dawn, so get your blanket and stay up late, or set your alarm for early morning, to view this beautiful shower.