The Perseid meteor shower is one of the most spectacular celestial shows we can see from Earth, but the event is a little more violent for the moon.
The Perseids happen every year starting at the end of July and last through most of August — but there’s always a peak viewing time where you can see up to 100 meteors per hour (about one or two every minute).
This year the Perseid meteor shower peaks at about 4 a.m. ET on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, according to Universe Today.
Like most meteor showers, the Perseids are caused by pieces of debris left by a passing comet. Each year the Earth passes into the debris cloud, and its small chunks of comet dust and ice burn up as they hit the atmosphere, lighting up the night sky.
No pieces should actually make it to Earth’s surface as meteorites. The moon, however, is a different story.
The moon doesn’t have an atmosphere, so it routinely gets pummelled by meteorites.
Sometimes it’s possible to spot flashes of light when the meteorites hit the surface of the moon, according to research published May 13 in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. The researchers recorded at least 12 of these flashes from the 2013 Perseid meteor shower.
Here’s what one of the flashes looks like:
The brightness of the flash depends on how big the meteor is and how fast it’s going when it hits the moon — it seems the harder the impact, the brighter the flash.
It’s difficult for astronomers to spot a meteor hitting the moon — it takes a good telescope and a lot of luck. But the odds are considerably higher during a heavy meteor shower like the Perseids. We don’t know very much about these flashes yet because they’re so difficult to spot, no matter how good viewing conditions are.
This year’s peak viewing of the Perseid meteor shower will coincide with a new moon. This is good news for amateur astronomers: It means there will be no moonlight for the meteors to compete with, so this year’s shower should be especially brilliant.
The best time to spot meteors will happen early in the morning on Thursday, around 4 a.m. ET, but you should be able to see them all week if you’re somewhere far away from city lights.
If you can’t get yourself somewhere with a dark night sky, NASA is streaming the meteor shower starting Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch the live feed below:
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