Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend
Look up Friday and Saturday nights (Aug. 11 and 12) for this year's Perseid meteor shower peak.
For Northern Hemisphere observers, August is usually regarded as "meteor month," with one of the best displays of the year reaching its peak near midmonth. That display is, of course, the annual Perseid meteor shower, which is beloved by meteor enthusiasts and summer campers alike. But skywatchers beware: You will face a major obstacle in your attempt to observe this year's Perseid performance — namely, the moon. (Live in a big city? Find out how to see the Perseids from urban areas here from our sister site Active Junky.)
As (bad) luck would have it, this year, the moon turned full on Aug. 7, and it will be at a rather bright waning gibbous phase several nights later, seriously hampering observation of the peak of the Perseids, predicted to occur on the night of Aug. 11-12. (Aug. 12-13 will also have high rates, as the absolute peak is during the day Aug. 12, but will also be obscured by the moon.).
Moonrise on Aug. 11 comes at around 10:20 p.m. local time, while on Aug. 12, it's at around 10:50 p.m. The moon will be hovering below and to the left of the Great Square of Pegasus these nights and not all that far from the constellation Perseus, from where the meteors will appear to emanate (hence the name "Perseid"). Perseus does not begin to climb high up into the northeast sky until around midnight; by dawn, it's nearly overhead. But bright moonlight will flood the sky through most of those two key nights and will certainly play havoc with any serious attempts to observe these meteors.
The worst possible circumstance
The Perseids are already around, having been active, although weak and scattered, since around July 17. But a noticeable upswing in Perseid activity has taken place during the last few nights, leading up to the meteors' impending peak. They are typically fast and bright, and they occasionally leave persistent trains. Every once in a while, a Perseid fireball will blaze forth, bright enough to be quite spectacular and more than capable of attracting attention even in bright moonlight.
Even more unfortunate than its brightness, the moon is full on Aug. 7, so it will always be above the horizon during the predawn morning hours (when Perseid viewing is at its best) in the few days before the peak. So moonlight will even spoil the gradual increase in the shower's meteor rates. The moon arrives at last quarter on Aug. 14, and thereafter, its light becomes much less objectionable. But by that time the peak of the display will have long since passed, leaving only a few lingering Perseid stragglers in its wake.
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