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How to see the Perseids meteor shower despite a bright full moon

The Perseids — an annual light show caused by a cluster of space dust particles that drift into our atmosphere from mid-July to late August — will be at their peak on the night of August 11 and 12, Thursday night and Friday morning. But there is a problem: There is a full moon at peak, and the rule of thumb is that you need a dark sky to get a good view of most celestial events, meteor showers most certainly included.

“Sadly, this year’s Perseids peak will see the worst possible conditions for spotters,” NASA astronomer Bill Cook, who leads the Meteorite Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said in a statement.

But watching at night is always fun and rewarding. So here are some pointers:

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How can I see the Perseids during a full moon?

For most people, seeing a meteor shower would mean driving about forty miles from any city to escape the light pollution. If you can only fit it into your calendar for the morning of August 11th and August 12th, that’s great! Watching the night sky is always worth it.

Think of it this way: On any given summer night, with good visibility, you can usually see four to eight meteors an hour. When the Perseids are not full, you can usually see 50 to 100 per hour (in recent years, that number has been dwindling). During the height of the Perseids, which coincides with the full moon, it’s as hunted as any random summer night. When you’re lucky enough to see one, it’s all the more exciting.

And don’t look at your phone while you’re looking for meteors. It can spoil your night vision.

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When should I watch for the Perseids?

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the moon roughly rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. That means your best shot at a dark, meteor-rich sky is before dawn, when the moon is receding near the horizon. So Friday morning at 5:11 a.m. if you’re in Maine and 6:28 a.m. if you’re in Miami, and wherever you’re reading this (go here to find yours) the show is over. local moonrise time). In any case, get up early – give your eyes 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness before the sky starts to brighten. Or you may stay up too late. Your choice.

Where should I look in the sky to see the Perseids?

They are usually in the northeast sky. But in my experience, during peak times, the Perseids appear across the sky and leave long, bright streaks over a wide area, sometimes lasting several seconds, so it’s silly to say you have to focus on one particular spot. . It is even more foolish to advise using binoculars, which narrow your view even further. Fill your vision with as much dark, moonless sky as you can at once.

What are the Perseids anyway?

What we call the Perseids is actually a trail of space dust from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, the result of an annual collision with Earth. Swift-Tuttle is a 16-mile-wide rock orbiting the Sun in a crazy, grain-shaped orbit that puts it in a good enough position to eventually hit Earth and do some damage, though probably not hundreds. Thousands, or even millions of years, and certainly not in the next 2,000 years. Swift-Tuttle last visited our Solar System in 1992 and replenished our supply of Perseids along the way. Every year since then the show has been less spectacular.

Think of a dust cloud as a long cluster of loop-shaped bugs, and we on Earth are like people in a giant car. Our atmosphere is the windshield, and every once in a while, the road our car is on puts us on a collision course with bugs. The splatters on the windshield are Perseids.

Staying with that bugs-on-the-windshield analogy, the path of our car collides with the path of bugs in the same place on the windshield every time. All the superheated rocks colliding with that one place give the false — albeit useful — impression that they originate from roughly that region: the constellation Perseus in the northeastern sky. That’s why Perseus is called the “radius” of a meteor, sometimes called its “point of origin.” But that is misleading. For measure, the galaxies in the Perseus constellation are about 240 light-years from Earth, so no, the Perseids, which are only 60 miles above Earth’s surface when you see them, definitely did not originate in the Perseus constellation.

Are there good nights to see the Perseids?

possibly. said Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society Philadelphia Inquirer Starting August 1, stargazers will be able to see about ten Perseids per hour. As meteor activity increases, the moon brightens, meaning you can see as few as ten (and maybe more) per hour from peak. By September 1st, the Perseids will be completely stationary, which means that when the moon is waning again, there is plenty of time after peak to look and see them.

The takeaway? This is a year when you should not think in terms of “peak”. The best time to see the Perseids is whenever you pack the car with a blanket and some hot cocoa.

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