This coming weekend will be the perfect time to be camping in the backcountry of a national park, or at least visiting a national park that doesn't suffer from light pollution. That's because the annual Perseid Meteor Showers are scheduled to arrive Saturday, and a dark sky is the best sky to observe them.
The meteor showers get their name because the meteors appear to ‘rain’ in the sky from the direction of the constellation Perseus in the northeastern sky. Perseus rises into the night sky at about 11 p.m. Meteors are icy debris and cosmic dust from the trail of comets that streak across the sky as the Earth passes through the debris trail.
Traveling at tens of thousands of mile per hour, most meteors burn up from friction as they hit the Earth’s atmosphere. Very rarely does a piece of cosmic debris strike the ground as a meteorite.
The star shows aren't going unnoticed in the parks. Special programs, and even campground openings, are planned to help you get the most from the display of shooting stars.
At Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, Don Graves, a biology professor at Hibbing Community College and an astronomy volunteer at the park, will offer a program at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center on Sunday, August 12, from 9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Bring a lawn chair/blanket and insect repellant.
This program is weather dependent. To find out if the event is being held, call the Rainy Lake Visitor Center at 218-286-5258 before 5 p.m. on Sunday. This program is sponsored by Voyageurs National Park Association. No fee or registration is required to attend. Recommended ages 10 and up.
For youngsters, the park has implemented two new programs. The first one is a new Junior Ranger Night Explorer Booklet, created in part by the park staff. This program has been adopted by the entire Midwest Region. The booklet is full of fun information and activities about the night sky. Each activity is rated on a level of difficulty, recommended for ages 5-12, and is a great way of introducing children to astronomy. The Junior Ranger Night Explorer Booklet is available at all three of Voyageurs National Park’s visitor centers and upon completion, the child will become an official Night Explorer and earn a special Night Explorer patch.
The second program, which began this spring and runs through the summer months, is Voyageurs’ Night Explorer Series. The included programs are headed by a “Dark” Ranger -- park rangers who have either extensive knowledge in interpreting the night sky, or have completed training in such programs and are equipped to share that knowledge with the visiting public.
In California, Joshua Tree National Park will reopen Ryan Campground during the nights of August 10-12 to allow visitors additional camping opportunities during the upcoming Perseid Meteor showers. The annual Perseid meteor event is scheduled to reach a peak of activity on August 11. The 31-site Ryan Campground is normally closed in summer due to low park visitation, however in recent years night sky activities have become popular at Joshua Tree and frequently draw large evening crowds to the park.
The temporary opening of Ryan Campground will allow the accommodation of more visitors who wish to stay the night. Normal park camping fees of $10 per night at Ryan Campground will apply during this temporary opening of the campground. Ryan Campground will close on the morning of August 13 and will reopen again for visitor use in the fall.
These are just two parks that are going out of their way to improve viewing of the Perseid Showers. Check with your favorite national park to see if they have any programs planned.