Perseid Meteor Shower & Supermoon This Week (Aug 8-14, 2022)
The annual Perseid meteor shower (arguably the best meteor shower of the year) will peak on the night of August 11/12 (Thur./Fri.), but the nights of August 8/9, 9/10, 10/11, 12/13, and 13/14 should reveal some Perseids as well. The big problem with this year’s shower is that it coincides with the full moon on August 11, which will brighten the sky and wash out the dimmer meteors — indeed, a “supermoon” (when the Moon is near is closest point to Earth in its elliptical orbit, and thus will appear about 5% larger and 10% brighter than a typical full moon). Given these circumstances, your best views of the Perseids might actually occur in the pre-dawn skies of Tuesday, August 9, after the Moon has set — there will be about an hour of dark skies. [If you’re up during the predawn hours, you’ll also see brilliant Venus shining in the east (the so-called “Morning Star” — though it’s not a star, of course).]
In general, view them after 11 pm local time — or better, after 12 am (indeed, the pre-dawn hours should actually yield the largest hourly rate). [Before about 11 pm, few Perseids are visible (though they should be longer streaks than average, skimming through Earth’s atmosphere because the “radiant” from which they appear to come will be closer to the horizon).] Also, you don’t have to account for your specific *time zone* — the times I list above are fine *regardless* of where you are (though the northern hemisphere is more favorable than the southern hemisphere, for this shower).
The meteor shower occurs because Earth flies through debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, and the little bits of rock and ice will burn up as they zip through Earth’s upper atmosphere (altitude about 60 miles) at roughly 130,000 miles/hour. (“Shooting stars” or “falling stars” are not stars at all, of course!)
If you wish to view the meteor shower (despite the bright moonlight — though some of you will doubtless want to gaze at the “supermoon”), it’s best do so for at least half an hour (but an hour or longer is better). Try to get as far away from city lights as possible. The Perseids are known for having many bright and fast meteors that should be visible even in a somewhat light-polluted sky, though you’ll see many more from a darker location. *NO* binoculars or telescopes are needed; just look at the sky with your unaided eyes after getting dark-adapted (this can take up to 15 minutes). Choose a wide-open sky, without buildings or trees in the way. Dress warmly, and pack a hot beverage if you want to. Bug spray might be useful, too, depending on where you are. You should lie down on a mattress, sleeping bag, or reclining lawn chair for greater comfort, if you wish.
Looking anywhere in the sky is fine, as long as you’re not looking in the vicinity of the bright Moon. Views to the northeast should provide the most meteors, though their streaks will be shorter than if you look elsewhere. If possible, put yourself in a “moon shadow” — the shadow of a building or trees cast by the Moon — and look toward the unobstructed part of the sky (the night will appear darker). If you have clear skies, you might see 4-8 meteors per hour (yes, a poor showing this year, given the bright moonlight). But let me quote from the earthsky.org website below:
“Not every meteor shower is a winner. Sometimes, you come away having seen only one meteor. But consider this. If that one meteor is a pretty one… or a colorful one… or it takes a slow path across a starry night sky… if you enjoyed being outside, bathing in the moonlight, smelling the night air, chatting with a friend… you’ll be glad you went outside!”
There are many useful references with additional information and viewing tips, etc.; type “Perseid meteor shower 2022” in your favorite search engine. See, for example,
Wishing you clear skies,