Are you ready to see the best meteor shower of the year? Well, you might be in for a disappointment, because the 2022 Perseid meteor shower is expected to be somewhat of a dud.
You can chalk that up to bad timing among the objects moving around in our solar system. The meteor shower is scheduled to reach its peak on the same two nights the August “sturgeon moon” will be full — Thursday, Aug. 11, and Friday, Aug. 12.
That means the Perseids will be the most active, with the highest number of shooting stars zipping across the sky, when the moon (which some astronomy experts are classifying as a “supermoon”) is brightly shining.
But there is some hope for people looking for a decent sky show. Although the moon’s bright light will make it tough for stargazers to see most of the meteors, “some shooting stars should still be bright enough to spot,” according to AccuWeather’s astronomy expert, Brian Lada.
“For the best chance of seeing the Perseids, it is recommended to focus on dark areas of the sky without the full moon in sight,” Lada wrote in this report on Accuweather.com. “Some meteors may be visible shortly after nightfall, but meteor activity is likely to crest after midnight, local time.”
There is some debate about whether the August full moon should be classified as a supermoon — a moon that appears slightly bigger and brighter than the average moon because it turns full when its orbit is closer to Earth. But several major astronomy websites, along with AccuWeather, say the upcoming full moon meets their criteria, based on the distance the moon will be from our planet Thursday night.
Other astronomy experts classified only two full moons this year as supermoons — the June 14 “strawberry moon” and the July 13 “buck moon.”
Although they appear big from Earth, the Perseid meteors are actually tiny pieces of debris from the tail of a comet known as Comet Swift-Tuttle. The comet zips around the sun and leaves a trail of tiny ice and rock particles, and every August our planet moves through the debris.
When skywatchers on Earth see some of the fragments, they look like shooting stars.
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“Peak temperatures for Perseids are more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit as each fragment travels through the atmosphere and both compresses and heats the air in front of it,” Space.com notes. “Most of the fragments are visible when they are about 60 miles (97 kilometers) from the ground.”
If a fragment happens to make it down to the ground, it’s called a meteorite.
If you’re wondering why the most popular meteor shower of the year is called the Perseids, it’s because “the radiant — the area of the sky where the meteors seem to originate — is located near the prominent constellation of Perseus the hero when at maximum activity,” the American Meteor Society notes.
You can see the Perseid meteors from almost anywhere, but experts say you increase your chances if you go to a park or open area in a rural place, as far away as possible from bright city lights and street lights. Bring a blanket or a lawn chair for comfort.
Good timing also helps. Even though some meteors may be visible as early as 9 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday and Friday, experts say your chances of seeing more shooting stars will be better between 3 a.m. and early dawn on Friday and the same general time on Saturday.
That’s because during the late-night hours, “the Perseid radiant lies close to the northeastern horizon,” making the meteors tough to see, according to the American Meteor Society. During the pre-dawn hours, the meteors will be higher in the sky.
You don’t need a telescope or binoculars — just your eyes. But you should give your eyes about 20 minutes to adjust to the dark when you’re looking up into the night sky.
And astronomy experts from EarthSky.org say if you’re looking for the Perseids, don’t be in a rush. “Give yourself at least an hour of observing time,” they say, “because the meteors in meteor showers come in spurts and are interspersed with lulls.”
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Len Melisurgo may be reached at LMelisurgo@njadvancemedia.com.
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