Put August 11 on your calendar to watch the night sky. The best meteor shower of the year, the Perseids, will be entertaining night sky watchers with at least 40 fireballs an hour when they peak next week. However, they have been known to rack up as many as 100 meteors per hour.
As debris from comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseid Meteor Shower occurs annually when earth’s orbit takes it near the comet’s path from the end of July to mid-August. The meteors are already zooming across the sky but in 2021 the peak is Aug. 11-13.
If you like company or have trouble seeing them, tune into NASA which has invited everyone to watch with them. Watch time is Aug. 11-12 from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. CDT on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
If weather is a problem, there is likely to be a second chance Aug. 12-13. The livestream is hosted by the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
A crescent moon will be setting early so moonlight shouldn’t be a factor. Watch between midnight and dawn away from city lights. Some folks stretch out on blankets but if the ground is dewy damp pull out a lawn chair.
Don’t worry if you don’t see any meteors right away. It takes a few minutes to adapt to the night sky. The meteor shower radiant appears to be above Perseus.
Forget about turning off the light that may be keeping you up on April 26-27. It’s streaming in through the windows from upstairs, outside. However, the source will have seemed larger earlier in the evening.
What’s shining through the windows if the sky is clear, is not merely a full moon. The orb outside is a Supermoon. It really isn’t larger. It just plays tricks on the eyes and perspective as it appears huge when first appearing at the horizon and in early evening.
The April full moon, also known as the “Pink Moon” is a Supermoon because it will be closer to Earth than most other full moons. The exception being the full moon in May 26, called the “Flower Moon” that will be even closer.
Some astronomy sites only designate the April and May full moons as Supermoons. Other sites include June 24’s which is also close. Still other sites include the March full moon which was fairly close.
For times to watch or photograph the moon check. EarthSky. The site also has the April, May June, 2021 Supermoons’ distances from the moon to Earth with April 27 at 222,212 miles (357,615 km), May 26 at 222,089 miles (357,462km) and June 24 at 224,662 miles (361,558 km).
If interested in how this all happens, you should know about the lunar perigee. It’s when the moon’s orbit brings it to its closest point to Earth. The opposite is apogee.
Of course, the third factor is where the earth is in relation to the moon and the sun to be a full moon. So, the April Supermoon actually happens about 12 hours short of it lunar perigee and May’s Supermoon falls about nine hours after perigee. The reason some sites refer just to April and May’s full moons as Supermoons is because less than 24 hours occur between the perigee and full moon phase.
Next, don’t be surprised if bothered with sinus trouble and have a full-moon sized headache. Because the pull of the full moon, particuclarly the Supermoon, does influence the tides, lore has it that their affect on humans and animals can also be felt.
If the light of the moon was keeping you up last night it’s because the first full moon of spring is March 28 but looks full March 27 and March 29.
And because this spring (Northern Hemisphere) full moon is closer to earth than the ones in January and February it appears brighter and is considered by some sky watchers as a “Supermoon.”
Actually, its perigee (closest part of its orbit) is March 30 so it still will continue to appear very bright and mostly full.
Don’t worry if your area is cloudy. The full moons in April, May and June will be even closer and will look like Supermoons.
Called the Worm Moon, Crow Moon or Sap Moon by some native American tribes, this full moon also sets Easter, which, in 2021, is April 4. See Tonight | EarthSky
Fun Fact:Do you know what syzygy means? It’s when three bodies, such as the Sun, Earth, and the Moon, are in alignment. See Time and Date for the term and alignment.
Time and Date also does an excellent job of explaining how long the moon really is fully illuminated and why due to the earth’s tilt it may not appear at total illumination, noting that the degree of illumination somewhat blends what appears to be a Full Moon and the last stage of a Waxing Gibbous Moon or the beginning of a Waning Gibbous Moon.
On NASA’s site a sidebar tells that the term “supermoon” was “coined by the astrologer Richard Nolle in 1979 and refers to either a new or full Moon that occurs when the Moon is within 90% of perigee, its closest approach to Earth.’
The site also connects the first spring moon’s names from native Americans and different religions. It notes that this weekend’s Full moon is also called the Pesach moon on the Jewish calendar, Paschal moon for Western Christianity and Medin in SRI Lanka.
For more word definitions and moon phases visit Space.
According to several astronomy sources it was northeastern native Americans who dubbed February’s full moon the Snow Moon.
Given the amount of snow that covered much of the United States in February, the moon is well named. It’s also called the Storm Moon and Hunger Moon.
That orb will be lighting up the landscape Thursday, Friday and Saturday but best time to view will be Friday night from when it appears above the horizon in the east as the sun sets to midnight when it is overhead.
Some studies mentioned by EarthSky have been done on the relationship of full moons to sleeplessness from the light point of view. Hopefully, scientists will also look at the tidal pull of full moons on sinuses.
Look up to take your mind off 2020 politics and pandemic that still plague us on earth. The sky is endlessly interesting with bright planets such as Venus in the early morning eastern sky and Saturn and Jupiter still a cozy couple in the early twilit southwestern sky.
Now, add to the mix the Quadrantids, an annual meteor shower that has been known to send out from 50 to 100 fireballs an hour. Associated with asteroid 2003 EH1, the Quadrantids were named for the defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis.
The good news in 2021 is that the Quadrantids peak early morning before sunrise Jan. 3. Because sunrise at this time of year in the northern hemisphere is shortly after 7 a.m., the Quadrantids peak time of around 6 a.m. means you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to catch them.
Best plan is to let your eyes acclimate to the darkish sky and look northeast where their radiant (place of origin) will be ascending.
The bad news in 2021 is that the full moon ending 2020 on Dec. 29 (into early morning Dec. 30) is only in its waning gibbous phase. That means the bright, nearly full orb of 81 % illumination, still high in the sky, can outshine the meteor lights.
If you miss the Quadrantids, mark the calendar for the Lyrids meteor shower that peaks April 21-22.
BTW – next three full moons are the Wolf Moon/Old Moon, Moon After Yule on Jan. 28; the Snow Moon/Hunger Moon on Feb. 27 and the Crow Moon/ Lenten Moon/Worm Moon on March 28.
Check the weather predictions in your area for Aug. 11-13. That is when the Perseids are supposed to be peaking with bright meteors shooting across the sky at 50 to 100 an hour.
Best time say the experts, is in the northern hemisphere right before dawn, so also check the sunrise times for your area.
Because these meteors are bright, plentiful and have long tails, the largish waning crescent moon might not be much of a hindrance the night of Aug. 11. By Aug 13 the moon will be thinner though there may be fewer meteors.to spot.
So where do they come from?
The Perseids are debris from the 109P/Swift-Tuttle comet. They are called Perseids because they look like they emanate (their radiant) from the Perseus constellation as the Earth moves through their trail each summer.
The comet’s name comes from Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle who discovered it in 1862.
Sky watchers have two meteor showers to spot the rest of July and much of August: the Delta Aquariids and the Perseids.
Although the Aquariids, a sparse shower of about 20 meteors per hour, are best seen in the Southern Hemisphere they can be spotted as far north as the mid-northern latitudes. Just watch for them after the moon sets around midnight this weekend until just before dawn, July 27-28. However, the moon, which is in its first quarter isn’t much of a factor.
The comet of origin is suspected to be 96P Machholz. Named for where they seem to come from, the radiant is the Aquarius Constellation in the southern sky.
Because the Aquariids continue through late August, you may see them when you watch for the Perseids that peak Aug. 11-13.
You will know which is which because the Perseids, a strong shower of up to 150 meteors per hour during its peak, come from the northern part of the sky where you find the Perseus Constellation. The comet of origin is 109P Swift-Tuttle.
If watching for the Aquariids this weekend, you may also see the Perseids because they are very bright and already started about July 17. However, they don’t peak until about the second week of August when the moon will also be bright.
The weekend of July 17 will be a great time to check out the night sky.
The NEOWISE Comet (C/2020 F3) can be seen zooming across northern United States and Canada after sunset. Watch for it now because it won’t be back for thousands of years. Tip: Look for the Big Dipper. Start with binoculars to first see the comet below the Big Dipper but then try unaided.
But also try to spot the planets. The schedule of when they first appear this weekend goes from late night July 17 through early July 18. Being able to see all seven planets over two days is a rare occurrence.