The Perseid meteor shower, usually considered the most impressive of the year, is approaching its peak on the night of August 11. But due to the effects of moonlight, the best time to view the event in 2022 may actually be shortly before this.
According to the American Meteor Society (AMS), the Perseids will peak on the night of August 11-12, although the shower is active between July 14 and September 1.
Normally, you can expect to see between 50 and 75 visible meteors per hour at the shower’s peak, observing from an area with clear skies and low light pollution, the AMS has said.
But on the peak night in 2022, the moon will be full, making it more difficult to see the event.
“Our satellite, with its light, can literally ruin the show. Last year, for example, was superb because the moon was basically new, so it was not visible. we had zero contamination by moonlight,” astronomer Gianluca Masi, from the Virtual Telescope Project, told: Newsweek.
“Unfortunately, this year we will have a full supermoon (the last of the year) just as the Perseids peak. The full moon is visible for the whole night, seriously affecting the enjoyment of the meteor shower,” he said.
Given the effects of moonlight on the peak night, Masi said that observers might only be able to see 10-15 meteors per hour at this time, based on his experience with previous, similar scenarios.
The astronomer said a better time to see the shower this year could be a couple of nights before the peak, on the night of August 9, when it might be possible to see 30 meteors per hour within a short window.
“On this night, the moon will set about 60 minutes before dawn, leaving a very dark sky at the end of the night, when the radiance of the meteor shower will be at its highest in the sky,” he said.
These are the “most desirable” conditions to observe the event, according to Masi.
Meteor showers are celestial events during which numerous meteors streak across the sky, appearing to originate from a single point—known as the radiant. They occur when the Earth passes through streams of cosmic debris left behind by comets and, in some rare cases, asteroids.
The tiny fragments of space debris burn up in the atmosphere at high speed producing meteors—the steaks of light we see in the sky that are commonly referred to as shooting stars.
In the case of the Perseids, the radiant lies in the constellation Perseus, which is named after a hero in ancient Greek mythology who was the son of Zeus and the mortal Danaë.
The parent body of the meteor shower is the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 133 years and has a nucleus measuring 16 miles across.