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A supermoon and a meteor shower? Here's your best chance to see the celestial show

West Virginia Perseid Meteor Shower

A meteor streaks across the Milky Way in August during the annual Perseid meteor shower.

There will be a lot going on in the sky the next few nights.

Look for the Perseid meteor shower and the August full moon, known as the Sturgeon Moon. This full moon will be the last supermoon of the year, with the other two being in June and July.

While a full moon is usually a marvelous sight to see, this time the bright light from the supermoon will unfortunately make it difficult to see the meteor shower, though not impossible.

According to the American Meteor Society, “The Perseid or Perseids are the most popular meteor shower as they peak on warm August nights as seen from the northern hemisphere. The Perseids are active from July 14 to September 1,” with a peak viewing window Aug. 11 through 13. On average, viewers can expect to see 50 to 75 meteors an hour. Space.com reports that on nights without moonlight, viewers could see about 150 to 200 meteors an hour.

The best time to look for meteors is in the pre-dawn hours, which Almanac.com defines as the time between midnight and an hour before the first morning light. So if you’re still searching for meteors at 5:30 a.m., you’re probably out of luck. Look up to the sky and face north.

Meteor showers are common, and happen throughout the year. A meteor shower can be seen when Earth passes through fragments of iron or rock, or sometimes debris of ice and rocks left behind by comets. A typical meteoroid moves at 133,200 miles per hour in space. When it hits Earth's atmosphere, it’s then classified as a meteor, and it can travel about 44 miles a second, according to National Geographic. When you see a meteor, you’re seeing comet debris heat up and burn in bright bursts of light as they enter the atmosphere. They clock in at about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and they’re visibly very small in the sky, about the size of a grain of sand. If the meteoroid should hit the ground, it’s then classified as a meteorite, but most of these burn up in the atmosphere.

“Most space rocks smaller than a football field will break apart in Earth’s atmosphere,” NASA reports. “Traveling at tens of thousands of miles per hour, the object disintegrates as pressure exceeds the strength of the object, resulting in a bright flare. Typically less than 5 percent of the original object will ever make it down to the ground. These meteorites, pieces of meteors that are found, typically range between the size of a pebble and a fist. Don’t expect to find meteorites after a meteor shower. Most meteor showers come from comets, whose material is quite fragile. Small comet fragments generally won’t survive entry into our atmosphere.”

The Perseids meteor shower can be seen every summer, as Earth passes through the ice and rock debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle. This comet was first discovered by Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle in 1862, and this comet passed close to Earth again in 1992, although Space.com reports it was too faint to see. It will return to our orbit again in about a hundred years in 2126.

If you don’t have luck viewing this meteor shower, the next one to look forward to would be Draconid Shower in October.

Jess Gamari can be reached at jgamari@berkshireeagle.com.

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Jess Gamari has worked at The Berkshire Eagle since 2016. She was previously a Berkshires Week intern in 2013 and a North Adams Transcript summer intern in 2009.

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