This year’s Perseid Meteor Shower will peak on August 11-12-13 and should offer up a moderately pleasing view of meteors but will be impacted by the nearly Full Moon. Meteors come in all sizes and shapes and during a reliable shower like the Perseids, you can see them all. However, moonlight increases the ambient lighting of the entire night sky and consequently makes the faint meteors all but invisible. The medium-strength meteors and the fireballs will shine through the glare of course, so the Perseids will have a showing, but just not at the rate we often see during a truly dark sky shower.
I’ve often written that meteor showers are best viewed after midnight, when we are turned toward the path of Earth’s orbit (we are on the “front-face of Earth” after midnight), and we get better meteors. This still holds true, but in a recent article in Sky & Telescope, author Alan MacRobert suggests that early evening is a very good time to look for earth-grazers, meteors that enter the Earth’s atmosphere as a low angle and can be seen for much longer periods of time. I will certainly be looking for these. I’m not an all-night observer and prefer looking out into the sky waiting for meteors when I am a bit more awake. So the idea of seeing grazers carries appeal for me in more ways than one. Last week on Mt. Tam we witnessed some spectacular meteors, one of which had a trajectory that suggested it was an early Perseid grazer.
For more information on the Perseids, check out these resources.
Image courtesy of Stefano De Rosa