It’s that time of the year again — time to go outside, lay back in a comfy chair and watch out for the dazzling Perseid meteors that come out to play every August. Unfortunately, this year, there is a major obstacle that will likely interrupt your shooting star viewing pleasure: the moon.
The Perseids originate from the dusty tail of comet Swift-Tuttle, through which the Earth orbits every year. Depending on the density of the cloud we’re passing through, the Perseids usually don’t disappoint. In fact, although the shower peaks on the night of Aug. 12-13, moderate meteor activity is already being reported. These meteors appear to come from the direction of the constellation Perseus, hence their name.
You may want to try some meteor viewing earlier rather than later, however, as the moon will play a key role in the 2014 Perseid meteor shower. On Aug. 10, the full moon will be high in Northern Hemisphere skies, outshining all but the brightest meteors.
If you need to get your meteor fix without the bright lunar interference, there is one more window of opportunity in the early hours of Friday morning (Aug. 8) between moonset and sunrise. Unfortunately, even that opportunity has been shrinking day after day. Skywatching columnist Joe Rao has the details of the observing window on SPACE.com.
Fortunately, the full moon can’t stop us from listening to the meteors hit our atmosphere. At Spaceweather.com, there’s a live audio feed from a radio antenna in New Mexico that can detect TV signals bouncing off the ionization trails generated by these hypervelocity grains of comet dust. It’s fun to tune in an hear the occasional whistle from a meteor pinging the atmosphere.
We may be clutching at straws to seek out the odd Perseid this year, but don’t let that stop you from going outside to try to spot a bright meteor or two. But if you do get dazzled by the bright moon, perhaps try your hand at some lunar observing instead.