The Perseid meteor shower is currently lighting up the night sky over North America, but this year stargazers will have to contend with the light of the full moon eclipsing the peak of the stream. The Perseid peak is expected to begin on August 11, the same day as the last supermoon of the year. During the peak of the stream, viewers can see from 50 to 75 meteors per hour.
The annual celestial light show takes place thanks to comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. While a huge comet visits Earth only every 133 years, the Earth follows in its wake every summer. When the Earth passes through the Swift-Tuttle debris, the planet is showered with meteorites. The Swift-Tuttle comet, which is not due to fly past Earth again until 2125, is estimated to be twice the size of the comet thought to have killed the dinosaurs. Fortunately, Swift-Tuttle won’t collide with Earth anytime soon.
While astronomers usually recommend watching comets during the Perseid peak, this year’s Sturgeon Supermoon will make viewing a little more challenging. Instead, experts recommend to hit the road within the next two weeks (from the end of July to the beginning of August). Although stargazers won’t be able to catch as many meteors by watching before the peak, it will be easier to see celestial activity without so much competition from the moon. The meteor shower comes from the constellation Perseus and is most noticeable between 2 and 4 a.m.
Watch out for fireballs too
In addition to the Perseids, two other meteor showers are currently active in North America, which increases the likelihood that viewers will have a chance to see the “fireball”. Fireballs are exceptionally large and bright meteors. They can be seen with the naked eye even in light-polluted cities, and it is rare to see more than one in a lifetime. According to NASA, the Perseid meteor shower produces more fireballs than any other. This, in addition to the simultaneous peaks of the Southern Delta Aquariids and Alpha Capricornids meteor showers on July 28 and 29, prompted the American Meteor Association to announce that it is officially the fireball season.
Since July 28 is also the new moon, when the moon’s light is at its dimest, July 28 is the best night to look up. Despite the full moon, this is not a year to miss the Perseids. Go to the peak of the downpour to see a real spectacle and maybe even a fireball. Once the Perseid meteor shower is over, the next visible meteor shower, the medium-strength Orionids, will not be visible until the end of September.