What NASA calls the "the best meteor shower of the year" – the Perseids – will peak Thursday night, according to the American Meteor Society. But stargazers could be disappointed: The moon will be full, which can spoil the show because of its brilliant light.
“Sadly, this year’s Perseids peak will see the worst possible circumstances for spotters,” NASA astronomer Bill Cooke said in a statement. “Most of us in North America would normally see 50 or 60 meteors per hour, but this year, during the normal peak, the full moon will reduce that to 10-20 per hour at best.”
The showers coincide with what is known as both a "sturgeon moon" and a "supermoon," which reaches peak illumination at 9:36 p.m. EDT Thursday, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac.
The best Perseid performance in recorded history was in 1993, when the peak rate topped 300 meteors an hour, according to NASA.
What's best about the Perseids is they can be enjoyed during summer's warmth, unlike the often-nippy nights during the Leonids of November or Geminids of December.
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What causes the Perseids?
The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year when the Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. The meteors are actually tiny dust and particles from the tail of the comet as it orbits the sun.
The particles, many of them no bigger than a grain of sand or a pea, blast across the sky at 132,000 mph and disintegrate high in our atmosphere after a brilliant flash of light.
Great balls of fire!
Perseids are known for their fireballs, NASA said.
"Fireballs are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak," the agency said.
Meteor showers are named for the constellation out of which they appear to come, according to the American Meteor Society. Look for the constellation Perseus in the northeastern portion of the sky. It's just to the left of the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters constellation.
Who was Perseus?
In ancient Greek lore, Perseus is the son of the god Zeus and the mortal Danae, according to EarthSky. It is said that the Perseid shower commemorates the time when Zeus visited Danae in a shower of gold.
No special equipment is needed to enjoy the spectacle, just a dark sky and some patience, both of which could be in short supply this year because of the full moon.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight, but a supermoon could interfere