Starparty: Where to Watch the Perseids Meteor Shower
The annual Perseids meteor shower will start peaking this week, sending streaks of fireballs through the night skies. We've compiled a list of great spots to watch, as well as some advice for a successful stargazing overnight.
The annual Perseids meteor shower will start peaking this week, sending streaks of fireballs through the night skies. And this year, stargazers will see more meteors than average.
“Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of Aug. 11-12,” said Bill Cooke with NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, Ala. “Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour.”
With help from hikers all over Washington, we've, as well as some advice for a successful stargazing overnight.
What causes the Perseids? Every year in August, the Earth passes through a dust cloud in the wake of the Comet Swift-Tuttle.
When to watch
The annual show will peak at night between Aug. 11 and 12. In most years, the best time to watch is between midnight and dawn, though this year's outburst may come at any time.
If you like to take a scientific approach to your stargazing, EarthSky has everything you need to know to dial in your stargazing efforts.
Where to go for great stargazing
Where's the best place to watch the show?
Light pollution, weather, smoke factors to consider when choosing a destination
"Get away from city lights," suggests Cook.
Sound advice, and something that most hikers already know. That means getting to parts of Washington away from urban centers. Head to the Okanogan National Forest or the Salmo-Priest Wilderness in the north and far corners of the state. The western side of the Olympics or south side of Mount Rainier are all great places for star watching, too. Forests around Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens can be great, too.
The other major factor to consider is weather. Look at the forecast before you settle on a destination. Even though you might avoid the desert or coulee country during the summer heat, clear skies might be more reliable there.
- For light pollution, try using the Dark Sky Finder
- For a more detailed cloud cover forecast, check Clear Sky Charts.
- Smoke from wildfires burning in Washington may also obscure stars.
Trails to consider checking out
Stuck on where to go?
A few years ago, we asked our Facebook community for their favorite spots to stargaze in Washington, and here are the here are the many trails they suggested.
Tips for sleeping out under the stars
- Naps and alarms. Consider getting to your camp early and taking an afternoon nap. The best show will be later at night, so if you've had a nap, you won't want to nod off. Alternatively, set an alarm for 2 or 3 in the morning to catch the show at its peak, and then take a sunrise hike.
- Hot beverages. Most times, a heavy thermos doesn't make the cut for backpacking. But if you're going to be up late or up early in cool night temperatures, a hot cup of tea, chocolate or coffee can take the experience from great to amazing. If you are star watching with kids, plying them with hot cocoa is key.
- Think outside the tent. Consider bringing an extra ground cloth and sleeping outside. You can always have your tent set up nearby if weather rolls in, but this way, you can stargaze from bed.
Star/meteor party programs
- Mount Rainier National Park has a regular evening astronomy program out of the Paradise Visitor Center. Check for start times (typically 9:45 every evening) at the visitor center or call the astronomy hotline: 360-569-6230. You need a National Parks Pass to enter the park, or you can pay a one-time fee of $30 per private vehicle.
- The Tacoma Astronomical Society also organizes star parties around the meteor shower most years. Find more local astronomy clubs in Washington.
- While not billed as a Perseids event, North Cascades National Park hosts an evening ranger-led walk on Thursday evenings at 8:15 at Newhalem in the summer, which would be a terrific start to an evening of stargazing from one of the North Cascade campgrounds.
Stuck in the city? Watch this
This video, captured by Siddhartha Saha, on Mount Rainier during the 2010 Perseids shower can be your virtual star show.