Tag Archives: Perseid meteor shower

Don’t forget about the Perseid meteor shower

The astronomically growing hullabaloo about this month’s total solar eclipse is threatening to outshine one of our coolest annual celestial events: the Perseid meteor shower. The shower has actually been going on for a couple of weeks now, but will reach its peak this weekend. The best viewing of the shower is expected late Friday evening, August 11 through the wee hours of Saturday morning, and again on Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

Perseids

Image: NASA

The Perseids are so named because they seem to originate from the constellation Perseus. The meteors are specks of material left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle that burn up as they hit Earth’s atmosphere.

There’s good news and bad news about this year’s Perseids. The good is that it looks like we’ll be going through a particularly dense part of the comet’s debris tail, so we could get more meteors than usual. The bad news is that the waning gibbous Moon will be casting its bright light in the early morning hours, washing out some of the fainter meteors. But even with a bright Moon out, the most robust of the meteors can be spotted, even from city skies.

I’m often asked where to go to see the Perseids. In answer to that, I’ve created a Stargazing Sites page on Seattle Astronomy. The page features maps of stargazing spots in Seattle and around the Northwest. This has been up in “soft launch” mode for a while now, so this is our first public call-out. Check the maps for a site near you, and please feel free to ping me with your own favorites.

The short story for Perseid watching: get as far away from city lights as possible. I first saw them when I was about 12 years old and on a backpacking trip in the dark wilderness near Holden, west of Lake Chelan. The show in pitch-black skies was spectacular. I didn’t know there was such a thing as the Perseids; it was just luck being in the right place at the right time. If you have to stay in the city, find a spot away from street lights for the best prospects.

This article from EarthSky has some useful tips for viewing the Perseids. Good luck!

Share

Perseid meteor shower 2016: Where to see it

Astronomy wags love to point out that things like comets and meteor showers don’t pay much attention to the predictions of experts. This does not dissuade said prognosticators from making their forecasts. This year astronomers say the annual Perseid meteor shower may well be even better than usual, thanks to geometry and a gravity assist from Jupiter.

Perseids

Direction of the Perseids. Image: NASA.

“Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of August 11–12,” said Bill Cooke with NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Alabama. “Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour.”

Keep in mind that you won’t see that many if you stay in the city, where all but the brightest of the meteors will be washed out by light pollution. But you’ll still be able to enjoy some shooting stars in your own backyard. That’s where I usually watch for Perseids (my back yard, not yours!).

The predicted peak is in the early morning hours on Friday, August 12.

We’re often asked where the best places are to go to see meteors or other cosmic objects. I’ll break out the answer for in-city, and away.

Within the city

You’ve got to get at least 30 miles or so from the center of a city to get away from the effects of light pollution. But some areas in a city are better than others. As a general rule, find places away from direct light. You also want to be able to see as much of the sky as possible. Large city parks are often places where both of those things can happen. For example, the Seattle Astronomical Society holds monthly star parties at Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline, where the viewing is a little better than it is next door to an automobile dealership. Other sources cite Lincoln Park and Solstice Park in West Seattle, and Jefferson Park on Beacon Hill as good places to see the stars. Parks on the water can be good; water is flat and there aren’t as many lights out on a lake or harbor.

One thing to keep in mind about parks are the official hours. Green Lake is a 24-hour park, while Jefferson and Lincoln parks are listed as open from 4 a.m. until 11:30 p.m., as are most Seattle city parks. Paramount Park is open “dawn until dusk” according to the Shoreline website. Perhaps city officials can be persuaded to waive early closures for special circumstances like meteor showers.

Be careful when you’re out at night in the parks.

Outside the city

Get away from the city lights and your stargazing prospects improve. One of the closest spots to do this is on Bainbridge Island. The Battle Point Astronomical Association has set up its planetarium and observatory in Battle Point Park on the west side of the island. Shielded a bit from the city and in a large, open space, the skies there are pretty good, given the proximity to Seattle. As a bonus, you may well find BPAA members there when there’s a meteor shower.

National Parks are great places to find dark night skies. Two spots that are great for stargazing are Sunrise Point on the way to Sunrise in Mount Rainier National Park, and Hurricane Ridge south of Port Angeles in Olympic National Park. Area astronomy clubs often use Sunrise Point and the Olympic Astronomical Society holds regular events at the Ridge. Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info also recommends Staircase campground on Lake Cushman near Hoodsport on the southeast side of Olympic National Park, and Lake Ozette campground way up near the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula. For that matter, most anyplace out on the coast will be good. The beach will offer good horizons and it’s pretty dark out there.

Head east. Going out I-90 and into the mountains, perhaps into Eastern Washington, can offer nice, dark skies and better weather. One of Enevoldsen’s favorites in the Lake Kachess campground just past Snoqualmie Pass. Take exit 62 from I-90. Last year Alan Boyle of Geekwire wrote an article about the Perseids and suggested Elk Heights Road off I-90 east of Cle Elum. That’s getting to be a bit of a haul for Seattle-area stargazers. If you’re really up for a drive, head to Goldendale. It’s super dark there, and the Seattle Astronomical Society holds star parties twice each year at Brooks Memorial State Park, just a bit north of town. While you’re out there visit the Goldendale Observatory State Park on a bluff above the city. There’s also a scenic overlook of the Columbia River on I-90 just a bit past Vantage with spectacular views and dark skies. One might find countless good spots along the Gorge between the last two.

Pack it in

My first experience with the Perseids was a memorable one. When I was 12 years old and on a backpacking trip with my father and Boy Scout troop, we slept out under the stars on a crystal-clear night in an open field just west of the village of Holden. We had no idea about the Perseids, but saw a constant stream of them through the night. It was a most memorable evening. This post from two years ago tells that story. So, while you might not be up for a hike to Holden, the wilderness offers most excellent viewing opportunities.

Wherever you go, find a lot of sky, look to the northeast after midnight, and enjoy the Perseids.

Maps

Here are some maps to selected stargazing sites. Have a suggestion? Email us and we’ll check it out!

More reading:

Share

Perseids and more on this week’s astronomy calendar

It’s a big week for astronomical observing, as the Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight under optimum conditions, and a couple of the region’s biggest annual star parties are under way. Meanwhile a series of astronomy talks comes to Bremerton starting Sunday and running through next week.

The Perseids

Direction_of_the_Perseids

Where to spot Perseid meteors. Image: NASA.

The biggest shooting star spectacle of the year peaks tonight and early tomorrow morning and it’s coming at nearly the perfect time of the month. The Moon will be new on Friday, so its slim, waning crescent won’t mess with our view of the Perseid meteor shower. Now, the weather—that’s another story. As I write this it’s cloudy and thundering at Seattle Astronomy world headquarters in West Seattle, though it hasn’t rained just yet. The hour-to-hour forecast for the day it is for about a 40 percent chance of rain through the evening, then clearing after about midnight or 1 a.m. If that clearing comes through, it will be perfect for Perseid watching.

I’m often asked where to go to watch stuff in the Seattle area, and was going to write up a post about it, but Alan Boyle did a piece for Geekwire that does the job nicely. I would add Hurricane Ridge to the list if you’re interested in traveling to the peninsula. I’ve also had luck finding skies that are a bit darker down at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. And if the weather looks better on the east side of the mountains, head out toward Cle Elum, or even further east and south; skies are especially dark in the Goldendale area at Goldendale Observatory State Park—the observatory is staying open late for the Perseids—and at Brooks Memorial State Park.

Boyle’s Geekwire article mentions a star party tonight hosted by the Seattle Astronomical Society and other area clubs at the Sunrise Visitor Center at Mount Rainier. If you’re interested in a little less formal experience, Sunrise Point, about three miles east of the visitor center at the last, sharp switchback in the road before the top, has spectacular views and is a popular stargazing destination. It’s dark up there, and the National Park System is making a point to have more astronomy-related programming in the evenings.

The Washington Trails Association offers this list of suggested viewing spots in its Dark Places Digest.

EarthSky has a good article with all you need to know about the Perseids.

Star parties

Three of the region’s biggest annual star parties are under way. The Table Mountain Star Party runs through Saturday at Eden Valley Ranch near Oroville, having moved there when a forest fire in 2012 rendered the namesake Table Mountain site near Ellensburg unusable. The Oregon Star Party at Indian Trail Spring in eastern Oregon, and the Mt. Kobau Star Party, held north of Osoyoos, B.C., run through Sunday.

LSST and astro talks in Bremerton

lssttalksA group of about 300 astronomers working on the Large Synoptic Space Telescope (LSST) project will be gathering for their annual workshop, which this year is being held in Bremerton beginning Sunday at the Kitsap Conference Center. A side benefit of the meeting is a nightly series of talks given by conference participants. Check this list of the presentations, which run nightly from August 16-20. There also will be an “astronomy slam” night on Tuesday, with mini-talks at a variety of different locations around Bremerton.

In the video below Dr. Bob Abel, physics professor at Olympic College and a member of the LSST team, discusses the project and the workshop with Bremerton BKAT Cable Access Television.

Share

Perseids peak–where to watch

The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks on Saturday night/Sunday morning. The weather forecast is looking good and the waning crescent Moon does not rise until about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, so conditions should be pretty favorable for spotting meteors.

The Perseid meteors appear to stream away from the shower's "radiant" point near the border of Perseus and Cassiopeia. Under dark-sky conditions, you may see an average of one a minute around the time of the shower's peak. Sky & Telescope illustration.

I first saw the Perseid shower when I was 12 years old. We were on a wilderness backpacking trip west of Lake Chelan, with pitch black skies. We had no idea what the Perseid meteor shower was, so far as I recall, but one clear, warm night, sleeping under the stars, we saw almost constant meteor activity;  we didn’t count, but it must have been the 100+ per hour often estimated for the peak for the Perseids. It was a most memorable evening, and certainly one of the reasons I’m so interested in stargazing today.

Thus, when people ask me where to go to see the Perseids, I’m tempted to send them to the area near Lyman Lake in North Central Washington. Given that it’s a couple days walk from anywhere, there’s a simpler and more helpful answer: someplace dark.

This doesn’t necessarily rule out everyplace in the greater Seattle area, but you will have a better show if you head east of the mountains and stay away from the population centers. Most campgrounds or parks would be good choices. This article on the University of Washington Astronomy Department website has a pretty good list of viewing spots suggested by faculty members. Sky & Telescope and Astronomy magazines both have helpful articles about what the Perseids are and how to watch them.

Some area astronomy clubs are hosting viewing events:

Nothing beats a good, dark sky for viewing the Perseids. The further you get from the city lights, the more meteors you’ll be able to see. All of that said, we at Seattle Astronomy global headquarters often just go out into our West Seattle backyard, light polluted as it is, plop down in an Adirondack chair, look up, and see what we can see. The brightest meteors will cut through the city glow. It only takes one shooting star to transport me back to age 12, hiking with my dad, sleeping outdoors, and watching one of the night sky’s greatest shows.

The Astronomy magazine video below explains more about watching meteor showers. Where are you going to watch the Perseids? Leave notes in the comments about your favorite spots.

Share