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Perseid meteor shower to fall short of Facebook hype

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Not even astronomers can escape the scourge of “fake news” often spread on social media.

A currently circulating Facebook post claims that on Saturday, the brightest meteor shower in human history will be visible.

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This 2011 photo illustration shows a group watching the night sky for a view of the Perseid meteor shower, a regular event every August and this year peaking on Saturday. (Associated Press)

“It will light up the whole sky and night will appear as day,” it reads. “It will be no doubt once (sic) in a lifetime opportunity as the next shower of such kind will be after 96 years.”

That’s only partially true, said Jim Greenhouse, director of space science at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science.

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“They got the first part right,” Greenhouse said.

The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year around this time and will indeed peak on Saturday.

The rest of the post, though, is far from the truth.

“This year is probably actually not going to be a very good year for Perseid,” Greenhouse said.

The moon will be near third quarter and will likely outshine many of the meteors, and the shower certainly won’t be visible at all during the day, Greenhouse said.

Meteor showers are the result of the Earth passing through debris left behind by comets.

In Perseid’s case, the shower is bits of dust and rock from the tail of comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 130 years.

The shower gets its name from the constellation Perseus, from which the meteors appear to originate in the night sky.

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Greenhouse advised the best time to observe this year’s Perseid will probably be from sunset to around 11 p.m. Friday.

“After the moon rises, it’s going to outshine a lot of the meteors,” he said.

The viral post was recently featured on Snopes.com, and the debunking website also labeled the claims as “false.”

“The reason the website that originally made this claim cites zero sources is likely due to the fact that there is a complete lack of factual information to support it,” the article reads.

The false information was included in an article on “www.physics-astronomy.com” on July 27.

The story had been shared on Facebook 349,000 times as of Wednesday.

“You should be suspicious of everything on Facebook,” Greenhouse said.

He also said people should be suspicious of any assertions of the time or brightness of a shower, as there is no technology that predicts them.

Instead, predictions are based off of historical observations of the showers.

“The only way to predict what a meteor shower is going to do in the future is to look back at the past,” he said.

Other upcoming meteor showers include the Orionids, which will peak around Oct. 21, the South Taurids, which peak around Nov. 5 and the Leonids, which will peak near Nov. 17.


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