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Moonlight likely to drown out meteor shower tonight

"This is bad news for the Perseids," Bill Cooke said of the presence of the supermoon.
By Brooks Hays   |   Aug. 12, 2014 at 1:14 PM  |  Updated Aug. 13, 2014 at 8:36 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- The Perseid meteor shower began over the weekend, but for those with normal sleep schedules a glimpse of the shooting stars has been hard to come by. The glow of the extra-large moon -- now waning in the wake of Sunday's supermoon -- continues to bathe the night sky in star-drowning light, making small shooting stars invisible and large ones exceedingly difficult to pick out.

"This is bad news for the Perseids," Bill Cooke, astronomer at NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, recently said of the supermoon's presence. "Lunar glare wipes out the black-velvety backdrop required to see faint meteors, and sharply reduces counts."

That lunar glare will be present again tonight, as the Perseids are expected to peak, delivering as many as 100 meteors per hour. Astronomers say skywatchers who want to see shooting stars should go to bed early and set their alarms for the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

Cooke says the best time to see the meteor shower is several hours after moonrise and just before the sun begins to show on the horizon -- between 3 and 4 a.m. Cooke will be taking questions about the meteor shower via a live web stream tonight on NASA's website.

The Perseid meteor shower features the space dust leftover from the trail -- or tail -- of the Swift-Tuttle comet, which passes by every 133 years. As Earth orbits the sun, its atmosphere bumps into this flying space debris. The so-called shooting stars are bits of the comet's dusty tail burning in the Earth's upper atmosphere.

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