In 2014, the legendary Perseid meteor shower – the Northern Hemisphere’s best summertime meteor shower – is expected to produce the greatest number of meteors between midnight and dawn on the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13. This year, however, there is a bright supermoon in the sky on the night of August 10 (morning of August 11). It’s not just any supermoon but the closest and brightest supermoon of 2014. According to NASA, this August 10 moon will be 30% brighter than most full moons of 2014. And the moon will remain big and bright for some nights around August 10. A bright moon will obliterate all but the brightest Perseid meteors. Here’s how to minimize the moon and optimize the 2014 Perseid meteors.
1. Start watching for Perseid meteors now, in early August. What, you say? Watch now for a shower that peaks nearly two weeks from now? Yes. The Perseids actually begin in mid-July, and they gradually build to a peak. If you’re in a dark location, you can see a fair number of Perseids in the week or two before the peak.
2. Watch between midnight and dawn. Most meteor showers are best after midnight, and the Perseids are no exception. After midnight, the part of Earth you’re standing on has turned into the meteor stream, which means the radiant point for the shower will be above your horizon. After the radiant rises, you’ll see more meteors.
3. Avoid city lights. A wide open area – a field or a lonely country road – is best if you’re serious about watching meteors.
4. Sprawl out in a moon shadow. When the moon is up around the shower’s peak dates, it’ll be casting looooong shadows at early evening and before dawn. Find a moon shadow somewhere that still provides a wide expanse of sky. A plateau area with high-standing mountains to block out the moon would work just fine. If you can’t do that, find a hedgerow of trees bordering a wide open field somewhere (though obtain permission, if it’s private land). Or simply sit in the shadow of a barn or other building. Ensconced within a moon shadow, and far from the glow of city lights, the night all of a sudden darkens while the meteors brighten.
5. Watch with friend or friends, and try facing in different directions so that if someone sees a meteor, that person can call out “meteor” to the rest.
6. Embrace the moon. We hear people bubble with excitement about seeing meteors in all sorts of conditions – moon or no moon – city lights or no city lights. The Perseids, in particular, tend to have a lot of fireballs. And so, around the nights of the shower, try taking your lawn chair or blanket to a wide open location and bask in the moon’s bright light. you’ll see an occasional fireball streak by. It’ll be beautiful!
7. Try observing in the evening hours, on the night of August 13 or 14. After full moon, the moon will be rising later each night. There’s not much of a window on the evening of August 11 or 12, but by August 13 and 14, you can work in a dark hour or two. You won’t see as many meteors during the evening hours, and the shower will be past its peak on those nights. But you still might catch an earthgrazer, which is a slow-moving and long-lasting meteor that travels horizontally across the sky. If you see one, you’ll have a new appreciation for evening meteor watching.
Meteors are also called shooting stars, but they have nothing to do with actual stars. Instead, they start out as bits of dust left behind in space by a comet. The Perseid meteor shower peaks annually at this time of year, as our planet Earth passes through the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle. Even though this comet is now moving in the outer solar system, the stream of rubble trailing Swift-Tuttle extends for hundreds of millions of kilometers in space. For several weeks from late July to mid-August, debris left behind by this comet slams into Earth’s atmosphere. The fragments vaporize as they fall through our atmosphere, and the result is the Perseid meteor shower.
Bottom line: The August 2014 supermoon will do its best to drown out the 2014 Perseid meteor shower. Here are 7 tips for enjoying the Perseid meteors in 2014. #1. Start watching for Perseid meteors now, in early August.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.