Moon gazers will be in paradise as this evening’s moon will appear to be one of the largest and brightest all year, however moon may steal the show from this year’s annual meteor shower, the Perseids. Nevertheless, this evening the sky should be a beautiful sight to see depending on the clarity of the sky, which varies greatly depending on location and weather patterns moving through.
The moon will be extraordinarily big, bright, and round this evening. This is the second super moon of the summer, occurring less than a month after the first super moon of the year, which was on July 12, 2014. Optimal viewing conditions will be in areas with clear skies. Last night was the first night of the super moon and the moon should be visible even through medium cloud density.
The term “super moon” describes the moon when it is closest to the earth and full. At its closest, the moon is approximately 222,000 miles from the earth, and when this happens it is called the moon’s perigee. When the moon is furthest from the Earth it is nearly 252,657 miles away, and the term for that is apogee. The fact that the moon is closest to the earth this evening, as well as full, not only makes it more visible, but gives it the appearance of being brighter and larger.
The moon will appear most visible when it is near the horizon even though it is closest when it is directly overhead. It is unclear why the moon appears larger when it is closer and smaller when it is farther away, but it adds to the mystery of the beautiful glowing ball in the sky.
This month also marks the annual Perseid meteor shower. The Perseid meteor shower makes a yearly appearance and lasts for several weeks to a month. The meteor shower has actually been visible for nearly two weeks, but it is getting close to peak visibility, which is on the 12-13th of this month. Thus, the meteor shower should be visible for another two weeks or so.
The meteor shower appears every year as the earth travels through the debris field of Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. As earth passes through the debris field in mid-August, the shower is usually most visible near the constellation Perseus. The comet in question makes a full orbit around the sun every 133 years. It was first observed in 1962 and was given the name Perseid because the meteor shower has the appearance of shooting stars radiating from the Perseus constellation.
Seeing the super moon and the meteor shower together may be a neat experience, but it is likely not the best time for sky gazers to catch a glimpse of the passing meteor shower. The super bright moon tonight may illuminate the sky so much that it is difficult to see the meteor shower. Logically, the optimal time for seeing the meteor shower is when the moon is at its smallest so there is little light being reflected off its surface. The meteor shower may still be visible, but it will likely be much harder to pinpoint where the meteor shower is in the sky.
The best time to view the meteor shower this evening will be early when the moon is not at a peak position in the sky. Using an app that gives a map of the sky with the location of planets and the stars may make the meteor shower easier to locate, as it should be visible by the Perseus constellation. Moon gazer’s will not have any trouble locating the moon as it illuminates the night sky, stealing the show from the annual meteor shower.
By Amy Gilmore