Ask any stargazer what’s the second-worst thing about watching a meteor shower and they’ll likely say moonshine. Or urban glow (light pollution). Either way, it’s the same effect: too much light in the sky. Of course, the number one hindrance to watching shooting stars? Clouds. Like having a Ferrari that you can’t take out of the garage, cloudy skies are a show-stopper. The moonshine though, that’s just like being on the interstate with a little too much traffic — you can still get to where you’re going, you just have to be a little more observant and it might take you a little longer to reach your destination.
Fortunately, cloudy skies won’t be an issue for many areas of the country, which will let the Perseid Meteor Shower be visible to anyone wanting to check out the show. The moon is now waxing gibbous and will reach full moon status this coming Saturday night — almost perfectly timed with the peak of the Perseids which occurs overnight between Friday and Saturday. The light pollution will be significant. A similar situation occurred two years ago when the moon was just past full, in its waning gibbous phase, and indeed the bright sky diminished the shower as fainter meteors were washed out by the moonlight. Additionally, the high pressure responsible for the current heat wave traps airborne pollutants which makes the air mass hazy — easy to see the haze by daylight, but it’s still there at night. Ideally, a clear and dark sky, a new moon and a winter night with a fresh, dry, cold airmass brings about the best star watching conditions (did someone say, “Perfect for the Leonid Shower?”). But don’t let a nearly full moon, a hazy sky and the warm temperatures stop you from enjoying this late summer treat that’s been enjoyed by campers, vacationers and even urban dwellers for thousands of years (the Perseid was first observed 2,000 years ago.)
Perhaps this is the perfect excuse to get out of the house this Friday night and enjoy the Great Outdoors. Thanks to the oppressive heat wave, many of us have been avoiding the outside as much as possible and the Perseids, best viewed well after the peak heat of the day, may provide the best opportunity to pack a picnic dinner and a few cold drinks, spread a blanket on the grass and enjoy the company of friends and family.
You can check out the best viewing times for your location on a table provided by Space.com.
Interested in moonrise and moonset data? Check out the U.S. Naval Observatory portal for a listing of the exact times by date.