Have you ever gone out of your way to plan a meteor shower event?
The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks next week overnight on Friday/Saturday, August 12/13 and, under normal circumstances and in clear weather, I would advise you go somewhere dark—at least 25 miles from the nearest town—lay on your back at midnight and watch up to 100 “shooting stars” whizz over you.
It’s worth the hassle. Usually.
But probably not this year.
Although I hate to discourage people from enjoying the night sky, there’s really no point in making plans to see this year’s Perseid meteor shower if you’re expecting to see 100 “shooting stars” in an hour.
That’s not going to happen this year.
Blame the full Moon, which rises on Friday, August 12—just hours before the predicted peak of the Perseids.
The biggest natural light polluter of all, a full Moon doesn’t just mean a lighter sky in which shooting stars are harder to spot. It also means that there will be a bright Moon in the sky from dusk through dawn.
That will make any attempt to get away from light pollution to a dark sky completely pointless. Seriously, if you’re thinking of going camping purely to see the peak the Perseid meteor shower this year, think again.
However, there are two celestial sights you should see instead:
1. The moment the full Moon appears
When: Just after sunset on Thursday, August 11, 2022
The full Moon is always best viewed as it rises since it’s draped in muted orangey hues that are just jaw-dropping. Only on the night of the full Moon is it possible to see the Moon appear on the horizon during dusk. Look east at exactly the right time and it will soon appear. Consult the Moonrise and Moonset Calculator!
A rising full Moon look orange because you’re viewing it through a lot of atmosphere (as with a sunset). The physics at play is Raleigh Scattering, in which long wavelength red light travels more easily through the thickest part of Earth’s atmosphere then short-wavelength blue light, which strikes more particles and gets scattered.
2. Saturn at it biggest, brightest and best
When: Sunday, August 14, 2022
A planet is at opposition when Earth passes between it and the Sun. That’s what happens on August 14, 2022, which will cause Saturn’s disk will be fully illuminated as seen from the Earth. Any small telescope will get you a view of its rings—perhaps the most impressive view of any object it’s possible to have!
At its biggest and brightest and best for all of 2022, Saturn will be visible in the southeast after dark and rise slightly into the southern night sky as seen from North America and Europe.
Is there any chance of bright Perseids?
Yes—but you’ll need patience. After you’ve seen the full Moon rise and had a look at the rings of Saturn you may see some of the very brightest shooting stars from the Perseid meteor shower.
Just before midnight on Friday, August 12 and into the early hours of Saturday, August 13 is when you may just glimpse a particularly bright bolide from the Perseids.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.