Buzz is increasing about the impending solar eclipse whose path is set to streak across Turtle Island later this month. But before that rare event, Mother Earth will make her annual pass through the remnants of comet Swift–Tuttle to bring us one of the brightest meteor showers of the year, the Perseids.
This year, however, the valiant Perseids will be duking it out against mighty moonlight from a waning gibbous moon. The greatest number of meteors will be seen between midnight and dawn on the mornings of August 12 and 13, according to Earthsky.org.
“This year, however, there is a bright waning gibbous moon in the sky all three mornings,” said Earthsky.org. “This bright moon will obliterate all but the brightest Perseid meteors.”
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The moonlight battle is particularly ironic this year because a rumor has sprung up proclaiming that the 2017 Perseids are set to be among the most numerous and brightest on record. In fact, with or without the excessive moonlight, this would not be so, said Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center. In other words, as NPR pointed out, it’s fake news.
“Reports are circulating that this year’s Perseids will be the ‘brightest shower in recorded human history,’ lighting up the night sky and even having some meteors visible during the day,” Cooke said in a NASA statement. “We wish this were true… but no such thing is going to happen.”
The Perseids, he explained, “never reach storm levels,” which would be thousands of meteors per hour.
“At best, they outburst from a normal rate between 80-100 meteors per hour to a few hundred per hour,” he said. “The best Perseid performance of which we are aware occurred back in 1993, when the peak Perseid rate topped 300 meteors per hour. Last year also saw an outburst of just over 200 meteors per hour.”
The prediction this year is for about 150 hourly or so, but that is exactly what may well be canceled out by the aforementioned moonlight.
“A meteor every couple of minutes is good, and certainly worth going outside to look, but it is hardly the ‘brightest shower in human history,’ ” Cooke noted.
“The waning gibbous Moon will rise and light the sky starting in mid-evening, but the brightest meteors will still shine through,” said Sky and Telescope. “You may see one every couple minutes on average, depending on the brightness and clarity of your sky.”
Saturday the 12th might be better for observation, Sky and Telescope said, since the moon will rise a little later and be a tad dimmer.
Do not despair, however. Earthsky.org has suggestions for minimizing the moon’s influence and catch glimpses of some of the year’s brightest shooting stars. And for those who are too close to city lights or do not feel like venturing outside, it will be livestreamed online.