By Amanda Howard
Every August as a teenager, as the school year loomed closer and summer break wound down, on one special evening a year I would pack up a blanket and hot chocolate and head out to a dark field with my closest friends. There, surrounded by cricket calls and fireflies, we’d settle down to let the world drift away in a fleeting but magical light show. To this day these remain some of my fondest memories of lazy August evenings.
It’s time again for the Perseid meteor shower, one of the best and most popular meteor showers of the year – a spectacular show that paints the night sky with ephemeral streaks of light that delight and thrill stargazers across the Northern Hemisphere.
The shower runs annually from mid-July through mid-August when the Earth passes through a debris field left by the Comet Swift-Tuttle. This year the shower will peak in activity late in the evening of Thursday, August 11, into the early morning hours of Friday, August 12. The Perseid shower builds gradually however, so meteors can still be seen at higher than normal rates for several days before and after the peak night. Forecasts for this year’s shower are calling for an extra special show. An outburst is predicted, where meteors may appear at double their usual rates!
Viewing meteors is surprising simple. All you need is a dark, open space and a little bit of patience. No astronomy knowledge or constellation identifications are required, as these meteors will streak across the entire sky. To view the shower simply head out to a dark viewing location, lay back on the ground, and stare up at the sky. This year a bright, nearly full moon will drown out many of the fainter meteors, so your best time to view the shower will be after moonset (1 a.m. Thursday night and 1:30 a.m. Friday night).
- Find a dark and open viewing place as far away from city lights as possible. Watch out for headlights; frequent cars passing your viewing location can hurt your night vision and make it harder to see meteors.
- Get comfy. Bring a blanket to lay on the ground or a reclining lawn chair. You may want to bring snacks, drinks and a jacket to make sure you’re set for your viewing party.
- Take a buddy to pass the time and help call out meteors you may not see.
- Prepare to wait. Your need to give your eyes at least 45 minutes to fully adjust to the darkness for optimal viewing. Plan to spend at least an hour or more watching for meteors.
A Rare Opportunity
Finding a dark place to watch the show can be difficult, as many public parks close at dark, including the Metroparks. Camping is a great way to get in the parks at night and secure a good view for the shower.
This Friday, for one night only, Metroparks is hosting a star gazing campout at Providence, one of the darkest parks in our Metroparks family, but also a park that is usually closed to camping. The campout location features a wide, open view of the sky, charcoal grills and picnic shelters for family cookouts, bathrooms with flushable toilets and running water (no showers), and a playground close by. [Details and registration]
For those looking for a more private experience, several other parks also offer overnight camping. Oak Openings Preserve, Wiregrass Lake and Farnsworth all have primitive campsites every night of the year. All three locations also offer open skies in the camping area for viewing the meteor shower. See the Camping page for reservations or call 419-407-9710 to reserve your spot.
Few things capture that magical feeling of summer like the simple pleasure of lying in a dark field surrounded by friends on a warm August night, watching a speck of dust streak across the sky in a brilliant display of light. It’s more than a meteor shower; it’s a chance to make memories that will last a lifetime. So pack up the blankets and hot chocolate, round up some friends, and get out there.
Amanda Howard is an outdoor skills specialist for Metroparks.