08/12/2014 09:00 EDT | Updated 10/12/2014 05:59 EDT

Perseids meteor shower highlighted by 'supermoon'

This year’s Perseids meteor shower was expected to peak Tuesday night — the same night a super moon was to light up the evening sky.

The Perseids happen every summer when the Earth passes through the orbital path of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. The so-called shooting stars are created when pieces of debris from that comet enter into the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The meteor shower has been happening for the past 10 days and will continue for the next week.


According to a staff member at Sudbury's Science North, a full moon during the Perseids is an issue about a quarter of the time, but tonight will be extra problematic because of the moon’s closer-than-usual orbit of the Earth. NASA said it’s the largest super moon of the year.

“A full moon on the night of the Perseids makes it harder to see fainter shooting stars,” said Simon McMillan, a staff scientist and astronomer at the northern Ontario science centre.

A super moon is about 10 to 15 per cent brighter than an average full moon, McMillan said, meaning star watchers are likely to see 20 to 30 meteors every hour, rather than the more than 100 that are usually visible during the Perseids.

Still, McMillan said he doesn’t expect the Perseids will disappoint.

“It is one of the best meteor showers of the year,” he said. “Most other things in the night sky happen over a long time scale, so you can’t see lots of stuff. With meteor showers you can look up and see things happening. That’s exciting and rare.”

Meteor shower to last well into the weekend

With rain expected for much of the northeast Tuesday night, McMillan said star watchers might not be missing out too much with the moon. He adds the Perseids last longer than just one night.

“Even though the peak is tonight, the Perseids are visible over the next 10 days or so, so if it clears up over the weekend it will still be a good time to look for them,” McMillan said.

He suggests a spot out from the trees as being the ideal vantage point, and that observers should be able to admire the night sky without a telescope or binoculars.

McMillan said he’ll still be out there looking at the stars – but will perhaps wait until the weather dries up a bit.

“What is there that is better than looking up at the stars and looking at shooting stars,” he said. “At least for me as an astronomer it would be the perfect date night.”