The Moon couldn’t be in a more perfect spot tonight. For one thing, it forms a beautiful display in tomorrow’s pre-dawn sky as it lines up between Jupiter and Venus, the brightest objects in the night sky after the Moon itself. Venus is well below the Moon at first light, with Jupiter above it.
And for another, the Moon is a thin crescent, so it adds almost no glare to the night sky. And that’s important because the Perseid meteor shower it at its best tonight. The lack of brilliant moonlight will make it easier to see the fireworks — but only if you can get away from city lights.
The Perseids are one of the year’s best showers. At its peak, you can generally see several dozen “shooting stars” over a period of a few hours.
Those streaks of light have nothing to do with the stars, though. They’re bits of rocky debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle as it orbits the Sun. As Earth flies through the comet’s path, some of the bits of cometdust slam into the atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour. They quickly vaporize, creating bright but brief streaks of light in the night sky.
As seen from the United States, the Perseids should be at their best before dawn tomorrow. So if you’re out in the wee hours of the morning, you could be in for a double astronomical treat — the lineup of Jupiter, the Moon, and Venus, and a brief display of celestial fireworks.
We’ll have more about the Moon and its companions tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.