A supermoon and a meteor shower will create a rare side-by-side celestial spectacle Thursday night. It’s your last chance to see a supermoon for another year.
NASA says the Perseids are the best meteor shower, as Earth plows through a field of debris left behind by a comet, and 50 to 100 shooting stars streak across the sky when bits of comet burn up in the atmosphere. This year, however, the moon will appear to swell large and bright in the sky, outshining many of the fireballs.
“Sadly, this year’s Perseids peak will see the worst possible circumstances for spotters,” Bill Cooke, who leads the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said in a statement.
At best, Cooke said, observers in North America will probably see 10 to 20 meteors per hour.
“Bright moon phases are bad for meteor showers as they wash out the dimmer meteors,” Mike Hankey, operations manager for the American Meteor Society, told CNN.
“A full or almost full moon dominates one part of the sky, making that part undesirable for observing meteors. The full moon also lasts the entire night, leaving no hours of complete darkness, which is preferred,” Hankey added.
When the Perseids peak on Friday and Saturday night, the moon will still appear full. The shower continues until September 1, so there’s still time to see a few shooting stars.
To see both the moon and the meteors most clearly, it helps to go somewhere dark, far from city lights. But this year is probably not worth a big trip for the Perseids, NASA’s statement said.
A super Sturgeon moon takes the stage Thursday
There is no official definition of a supermoon, but the term usually refers to a full moon occurring at perigee — the closest point to Earth in its orbit. It’s a small difference in distance, but at this point the moon can appear up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter than it does at apogee, its farthest point from Earth, according to TimeandDate.com.
The big white orb hanging in the sky Thursday is also a Sturgeon Moon — a name for any full moon in August, historically peak fishing season for the hearty sturgeon in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain. The full-moon name comes from Indigenous groups in those regions, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
The moon will probably look biggest when it’s hovering closest to the horizon, thanks to an optical illusion. It will shine brightest at 9:36 p.m. ET, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
The next supermoon will occur in August 2023, according to In-The-Sky.org.
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