Technology & Science

Perseid meteor shower peaks near supermoon

This year's Perseid meteor shower coincides with the brightest full moon of the year. Here are five tips to give you the best chance of spotting lots of shooting stars despite the supermoon-light.

5 tips to help you see the most meteors

CBC reader Ric Hornsby sent us this photo of a Perseid meteor, captured north of Gimli, Man., in August 2013. This year's Perseid meteor shower peaks on Aug. 12, two days after the brightest full moon of the year. (Submitted by Ric Hornsby)

This week, the night sky will be lit up with both one of the best meteor showers and the brightest full moon of the year  and that's not a happy coincidence.

The annual Perseid meteor shower, known for producing unusually bright meteors called fireballs, officially peaks on Aug. 12.  Normally you'd see up to 100 meteors per hour that night as debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle hits the Earth's atmosphere and burns up as it streaks across the sky. Generally, the darker the sky is, the more meteors you'll be able to spot.

Unfortunately, this year's peak is just two days after the biggest supermoon of the year – one that may appear up to 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter than a regular full moon.

"It will really light up the sky," said Colin Haig, vice-president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. The glare will likely wash out all but the brightest meteors.

On the other hand, there isn't that much difference between the effect of a supermoon and the regular full moon, he added. Nor is this an unusual situation — full moons happen around the peak of Perseids every three years.

Unfortunately, on the night of the the Aug. 12  Perseid peak, the moon is expected to be up "pretty much all night," which doesn't help.

Still, there are things you can do to maximize your chance of seeing more meteors this year. Here are some tips.

1. Start watching now and try again often

There will be lots of meteors all week. While Aug. 12 officially should have the most meteors per hour, there still should be plenty from the Aug. 8 to 15, Haig said.

If there is good weather all week, viewing conditions will be best toward the middle of next week, when the meteor shower is close to its peak and the moon is waning. But there's never any guarantee of good weather.

If you start early, Haig said, "You'll get more tries."

2. Find someplace dark

As always, you'll see the most meteors if you get away from city lights. Campers and cottagers should take advantage of being surrounded by darkness.

3. Look northeast

The meteors will streak all across the sky and appear to originate from the constellation Perseus in the northeast sky (hence the name of the meteor shower).

The good news is that if you look towards Perseus, you will be looking away from the moon, which will move across the southern sky.

4. Check the weather forecast

Whether you'll see lots of meteors or not depends more on the weather than anything else. If it's cloudy, you're out of luck. Haig suggests trying again the next night.

Drier conditions are better – even a little haze or humidity can be a problem when the moon is full, Haig said.

"It's like shining a flashlight into fog, it kind of lights up all the fog."

5. Find ways to avoid the moon

The moon rises and sets at a different time every night, and the sky will be darker when the moon isn't up.

This weekend, the moon will set a little bit before sunrise, so that may be the best time to watch for meteors.

It will begin to set later and later. By Aug. 15, the moon won't rise until after 11 p.m., so you'll have darker skies early in the evening.

If you can't get the timing right, try watching the sky from someplace where buildings, a ridge, or trees obscure the moon. That should reduce a lot of its glare.

Regardless of the supermoon, weather permitting, if you watch the skies over the next week, you should spot some shooting stars.

"It's not an ideal time for the shower," Haig said, "but usually the Perseids give you a few good bright ones."


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