As many as 200 meteors will be visible each hour during this year’s Perseid meteor shower tonight night and early Friday morning.
The Perseids are actually pieces of Comet Swift-Tuttle that were left behind on its last trip past the sun, and each year when Earth travels through the astronomical graveyard, stragglers come a-crashing into our atmosphere in blazes of glory.
On an ordinary year, this is a worthwhile spectacle. This year, it’s unmissable: We’re expected to see twice as many meteors as usual -- along with several planets. Here are our picks for the best ways to view it.
Hitch a ride on a gondola
Ski resorts like Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in British Columbia, Crystal Mountain Resort outside of Seattle and Mont Tremblant in Québec are offering evening gondola rides to events like dinners and deck parties in honor of the Perseids. Since altitude reduces atmospheric distortion and allows use to see the stars more clearly, this is a great way to spend your Thursday night. (It’s also a great way to support your local ski hill.)
Get away from it all
Pack up your layers, sleeping bag and some sustenance and hit the trail. Nighttime hikes are a stellar way to experience familiar trails in a new way, and even short, easy hikes can get us to places where cars can’t go, which means that you and your friends could have the heavens all to yourselves.
If you can make a full night of it, even better. There are plenty of national forests and other public lands that allow free camping -- tent optional.
Take to the “sea”
Even in densely populated areas, heading toward a body of water with an unobstructed horizon and/or an absence of light sources is a pretty safe bet for catching a meteor shower.
Standing at the end of a dark road that dead-ends at the water works, but an after-dark boating excursion (with a competent captain and the proper safety equipment) will get you far enough away from the bright lights, big city to bask in the glow of all the burning space dust.
Do a nighttime river float
The laid-back posture and non-motorized nature of river floats lend themselves well to sky watching. So, nighttime river floats, like this one on the Comal River outside of San Antonio, Texas, are a refreshing and relaxing - not to mention unusual - way to take in the meteor shower.
If there aren’t any organized floats near you, check to see whether it’s legal to float independently. Many places also allow nighttime canoeing and kayaking with navigational lighting.
Alternatively, you could raft the Green River and camp along its banks in Utah’s Flaming Gorge Country, where inky dark skies will provide an ideal backdrop for the Perseids.
The National Park Service’s “Half the Park is After Dark” campaign has helped us to remember that our national parks offer some of the most magnificent stargazing around, and many of them have created programming around the Perseids.
If you’re in Northern California, you can check out "Path to the Perseids -- A Meteor Shower Adventure,” atop Mt. Wanda, at the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez.
The NPS has also put together tips to help you make the most of your meteor shower viewing over the next few nights.
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