Be it the “Sturgeon Moon,” “Fruit Moon,” or “Buck Moon,” the August full moon answers to a galaxy of colorful nicknames rooted in folklore.
But for skywatchers hoping to see what usually are the most anticipated meteor showers of the year, this one might well be called the “Nuisance Moon.” The Perseids peak this weekend, when the sky will be flooded with moonlight during the prime hours.
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For a show-spoiler, however, this particular moon would sure beat the hay out of a rainout, and it will be powerful enough to prevail over the standard light interference so prevalent in the Philly region. When it rises Thursday evening, it will be a fourth consecutive “super moon,” and the last one of 2022. It will be nearly as full when it rises Friday and Saturday nights.
It also will be sharing the celestial stage with Saturn — nearly at its brightest — which will be rising in the same part of the sky, says Harry J. Augensen, director of the Widener University Observatory, which is hosting its first “stargazing session” of the year Friday at the Chester campus.
Besides, the moon notwithstanding, this might well be the best meteor show of the year, says Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment office. (You might call him literally a meteor-ologist.)
He says that in dark-sky conditions, as many as 10 to 15 meteors an hour might be visible to those with their backs to the moon in the early morning hours of Saturday. That’s down from the 50 to 100 in some other years, but it might outdo any other shower this year.
For a refreshing change, with the heat routed, the skies will be decongesting, and the moon and meteor viewing should be mostly unobstructed by clouds.
About that ‘super moon’
The term super moon has no astronomical definition. It is a widely accepted term for a full moon that rises not long after the moon’s nearest approaches to our planet. This is the fourth one in four months, which is not all that unusual.
This one won’t be quite as bright as July’s but will give it a run for its money, and readers probably won’t notice the difference. In July, the moon was within a mere 223,000 miles of Philadelphia, the closest it will have come in 2022. At its farthest point, the moon is about 254,000 miles away.
This time around, it has made it to within 223,567 miles of Earth, said Augensen. It will be rising at 9:36 p.m. Thursday and will appear dramatically large on the horizon, an illusion that NASA says continues to elude “a satisfying scientific explanation.” Why ask why?
Saturn will be rising with it, and once the moon climbs well into the sky, it will appear about 30% brighter than when the moon is at its farthest point from Earth, says Karen Masters, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Haverford College.
The moon won’t be setting until near daybreak; not ideal for meteor-watching. On subsequent nights as the showers continue, the moon will be rising and setting even later.
Nevertheless, NASA’s Cooke says the Perseids are worth a look.
About the meteors
The Perseids are so named because they appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus, and best of luck trying to locate Perseus under these light conditions.
Meteors, so many cosmic fireflies, are out there most every night as cometic particles and other detritus enter Earth’s atmosphere and hurtle toward Earth at 130,000 mph. They become incandescent as they streak through the sky, on occasion exploding into greenish fireballs.
A harvest of meteor showers occurs when Earth’s orbit intercepts a particularly fertile field of debris as is the case with the Perseids, set off when it encounters the remnants of the comet Swift-Tuttle, named for Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle, who discovered it in the 19th century.
To see the Perseids, ideally you would want a dark spot, if not some serious caffeine, since the peak period probably would be between 3 and 4 a.m. Saturday, said Cooke, although you’ll have a shot earlier. The showers continue until late August, although the numbers will be declining after the peak.
Keep your back to the moon so that you’re facing toward your shadow, he advises.
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Rather than standing under a wide-open sky, the EarthSky website recommends finding an open area bordered by trees or buildings that cast a broad shadow that would provide a viewing shelter.
Cooke said that by all means be patient: For meteor-watchers this might as good as it gets in 2022.
“Even with the full moon, the Perseids are better than the others,” he says.