NASA observes high numbers of Perseids

A week before the shower’s peak NASA cameras record dozens of fireballs

Credit: NASA/MSFC/Meteoroid Environment Office

In 2011 the Perseids were a spectacular show, despite the bright full Moon

One of the most magnificent meteor showers of the year, the Perseids, will peak between 11-13 August. But NASA’s All Sky Fireball Network, which constantly looks for meteors, has already recorded dozens of the bright lights shooting across the sky.

The Perseids are normally regarded as one of the best meteor showers to observe. However this year the display coincides with the largest Moon of the year, a Supermoon, that will be so bright it will be impossible to see the dimmest of the Perseids. Luckily, there should still be enough bright meteors to give a great show.

The annual meteor shower is caused by the Earth passing through the trail of debris left behind by comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. The comet crosses Earth’s orbit every 133 years, leaving a band of dust and meteoroids that our planet passes through every year between late July and the end of August. Though the full shower spans over a month, the peak of activity, when most meteors can be seen, only lasts a few days. NASA tracks the number of meteors all year round using a network of all-sky cameras across the USA. This year they recorded high numbers of meteors on 3-4 August, even thought the peak was still over a week away.

Since 2008 the Perseids has had more bright meteors, called fireballs, than any other annual shower, making it one of the best times of year to observe them. Unfortunately this year the sight may be swamped by the light of the full Moon.

Over August the Moon will not only be full, but will also be passing through the closest part of its orbit to the Earth, appearing larger and 30 per cent brighter than usual, making it impossible to see many of the dimmer meteors. However the high number of luminous fireballs should mean that there is still a spectacular show to watch.

It is still possible to take some amazing photographs of the meteor shower despite the bright moonlight. Pick up the August copy of BBC Sky at Night Magazine for our guide to photographing the meteor shower to find out how.


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