For stargazers, this time of year is always interesting because of the annual Perseid meteor shower. This year, the moon phases cooperated, leaving the dark sky with the best viewing conditions. I went to Mount Rainier National Park on the evening of August 11th.
I saw many huge fireballs in the sky, but I could only catch one by aiming at the Milky Way and the huge Emmons Glacier on the northeast side of Mount Rainier with my camera.
If you look closely at my photo above, you will see the headlights of climbers on the glacier, hoping to reach the top of the mountain before sunrise.I’m a little lucky because the smoke from the nearby Schneider Springs fire was filtered near Natches, Washington and blocked the view at 4 AM
The source of the Perseid meteor shower is the debris of Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle that passes near the Earth every year. This year’s meteor shower activity time is from July 14th to August 24th, and the peak of meteor activity between August 11th and 13th is as high as 100 meteors per hour. However, the showers continue, and if you observe the sky in the next few days, you will still see meteors, just fewer.
Meteors usually radiate from Perseus, hence the name. They are best viewed in the northern hemisphere before dawn. Looking north at Perseus is usually the best strategy, but meteors will appear in all areas of the sky. This particular lens is actually looking towards the southwest.
Here are some tips to maximize your viewing experience:
- Find a place away from city lights, with the fewest trees and buildings blocking your view.
- Wildfire smoke may obscure the show. Starting Saturday, the forecast for western Washington has overland air currents, which should drive wildfire smoke from our area before the end of the weekend.
- After the moon sets, you are more likely to see meteors. On August 13th, the moon set in Seattle at 11pm, and gradually became late every night thereafter.
- Bring a recliner, blanket or sleeping bag and find a comfortable place to look up at the night sky.
- Give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness and don’t expect to see fireworks. If you can, don’t look directly at the glare of your smartphone. Bring a flashlight so you can walk safely to your viewpoint, but be aware of other people.
- Consider bringing snacks and a bottle of coffee or some other refreshing drink to keep you alert before dawn.