Sky watchers awaiting the arrival of one the premier meteor showers of August, sometime dubbed "meteor month" for its abundance of the celestial displays, face an obstacle in their efforts to observing this year's annual Perseid shower, and it's all down to the moon.
A full moon, that is, expected to arrive Aug. 10, just in time to seriously put a damper of people's ability to see the meteors, experts say, during their peak set for the night of Aug. 12 into Aug. 13.
While the Perseid shower routinely produces up to 100 meteors an hour, they will have to try to shine though a sky flooded by the light of a "super moon," the name used to indicate a time when Earth and the Moon are at their closest.
Super moons occur between four to six times a year, when the moon moves around 30,000 miles closer to us than its average distance.
Still, anyone interested in observing meteors is encouraged to give it a try on the nights between Aug. 10 and Aug. 13, experts say.
"The best time to see the showers will be at around 2 a.m. in the morning," Tony Berendsen, astronomer and Tahoe Star Tours founder, says.
That's staying up late, but veteran meteor watchers are used to that and it's their best chance of observing success, he says.
"Because the moon will be incredibly bright in the earlier evening, the smaller showers will not be a match."
The Perseids, which get their name because they seem to radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus, are the result of the Earth moving through a trail of space debris left stretched along its orbital voyage through the solar system by the Swift-Tuttle comet.
The Perseid shower, one of the brightest and most reliable of such displays, was first mentioned by Chinese astronomers writing as early as A.D. 36 but it was not recognized as the being the same shower returning yearly like clockwork until the 1830s.
Because of the orbital path of the Swift-Tuttle comet, the Perseid shower is mostly visible to observers in the Northern Hemisphere.
This year, because of the super moon, the best chance to catch sight of some Perseid meteors may be during the predawn hours on the mornings of Aug. 6 through Aug. 8, before the arrival of the full moon on Aug. 10, experts say.
On those days the moon will set long enough before sunrise to provide a dark observing window of a couple of hours, they say.