Our Northwest

Seek dark skies for best view of meteor shower

Thursday, August 11, 2016by  Jon Osterberg
Stargazers are anticipating tonight's Perseid meteor shower, projected to be thicker than usual as the Earth passes through a band of uncommonly chunky comet dust.
     The annual shower began a couple weeks ago and peaks tonight and Friday night, with the best viewing between midnight and dawn. Happily, the Perseids arrive during a spell of warm, clear Northwest weather.
     The farther you can get from city lights, the better the show. Today's Seattle Times article suggests some nearby viewing locations, as does an Oregonian story.
     My dad stoked my interest in astronomy as a kid, and I did the same with my son and daughter. But Sean now lives in San Francisco, and because Kristin has young kids of her own, it's not practical for her to join me for the celestial show, either.
     If they could have joined me, I have an ideal viewing location – the top of a ridge near our Cle Elum cabin. There's little light pollution, so the dark sky should be crystal clear (barring any new wildfires, of course.)
     I planned a backpacking trip in 1994 to coincide with the Perseid shower. Sean was just 10, and I knew the meteors would impress him. So we hiked 6 miles up the Pacific Crest Trail to Ridge Lake in glorious weather and set up camp.
     What I failed to anticipate was how bad the mosquitos would be. August is prime hiking season for blue skies, but pesky bugs are at their peak. Sean and I covered up and rubbed Cutter repellant on our faces and necks, then exited the tent to enjoy the Perseids. But the blood-thirsty mosquitos were relentless.
     We pulled mosquito nets over our hats and heads, but the mesh was dense enough to obscure constellations and shooting stars.
     Frustrated, we soon retreated to the tent. Maybe another year, I thought.
     That year is yet to come. Maybe 2017?

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