Starparty: Where to Watch the Perseids Meteor Shower
Ajay Varma on stargazing at Boulder Lake. "I woke up at 3 in the morning, got out of my tent and saw the most beautiful sky. I set my camera on a long exposure and walked into the frame."
The annual Perseids meteor shower will start peaking this weekend, sending streaks of fireballs through the night skies. With help from hikers all over Washington, we've compiled a list of great spots to watch, as well as some advice for a successful stargazing overnight. We've also got information about a program at Paradise on Mount Rainier, and two great videos to check out.
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 between Aug. 11 and 13, and according to Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, the best time to watch the shower is between 10:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m., with the show getting better as the night goes on.
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. Forest 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 usually avoid the desert or coulee country during the summer heat, clear skies might be more reliable there.
Additional resources suggested by the community:
- For light pollution, try using the Dark Sky Finder
- For a more detailed cloud cover forcast, check Clear Sky Charts.
- Smoke from wildfires burning in Washington, Oregon and Idaho may also obscure stars.
Trails to consider checking out
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 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 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 star gaze from bed
Star/Meteor party program at Paradise
Mount Rainier National Park is hosting a special all-ages program in honor of the Perseids, starting at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 10.
The program starts at 8:00 PM in the lobby of the Paradise Inn with a short presentation about the National Park Service “Natural Lightscapes” program, which celebrates the night skies that only wild lands can provide.
At 8:45 PM there will be outdoor star and meteor gazing next to the Paradise Visitor Center with Tacoma Astronomical Society (TAS) volunteers and their telescopes. Volunteers will also assist visitors to make astronomy devices called star finders.
Weather note: If weather makes star gazing difficult, the party will move inside the Paradise Inn lobby for star finder making and a question and answer session with the astronomers.
You need a National Parks Pass to enter the park, or you can pay a one-time fee of $15 per private vehicle. There is no fee for the Star Party and Natural Lightscapes program.
If you have questions please contact Park Ranger Curt Jacquot at (360) 569-6577.
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.
Learn more about the "fireball champion of annual meteor showers"