My son and I will never forget our first Perseid Meteor Shower. He was in fourth grade and we gazed in wonder and delight at countless ‘shooting stars” in every direction. Most astronomers agree that August’s annual Perseid Meteor Shower is the Northern Hemisphere’s celestial ‘show of shows” with a consistently high rate of bright meteors occurring at a time of year when folks can comfortably be outdoors in the early morning hours.
Meteors begin as tiny specks of cosmic debris, which enter our atmosphere at high speeds and then vaporize, causing the streaks of light we know as ‘shooting or falling stars” or meteors. A small particle can be seen for a few hundred miles as a bright streak of light in the sky.
The Perseid Meteor Showers occur annually in mid-August, and this year’s prime date is August 12. The days before and after should provide good shows as well. Astronomers say that it is common to see anywhere from 100 to 150 meteors per hour.
The key, of course, is finding a truly dark sky environment, and fortunately for us Coloradans, we have plenty of those. But keep in mind: the best viewing times are typically from midnight to 4 a.m., since the side of the Earth nearest to turning into the sun attracts more meteors as the planet moves through space. So plan ahead and get your family as far from those city lights as you can, then be prepared for a thrill you will never forget.
Where to best see the Perseids in Colorado:
Lookout Mountain, Golden
Although close to the metro area, there is very little light pollution.
Getting there: About 30 minutes from downtown Denver, take exit 256 from I-70 towards Lookout Mountain Road. The Nature Center and Park closes an hour after dusk, unfortunately, but find a parking spot along the road and enjoy the show.
No visibility Plan B: If you live in the metro area, you’re close to home. So head on back to bed, or make a stop at one of Golden’s open-all-night fast food chains for an ice cream.
Rist Canyon, Fort Collins
This is a good choice for Northern Colorado families. Less than half an hour from city center, the canyon is dark and far from light pollution.
Getting there: Drive west on Rist Canyon Road through Bellvue, park along the road’s shoulder near the summit, or continue to Stove Prairie.
No Visibility Plan B: Drive back to Fort Collins and treat the gang to Walrus Ice Cream on 125 W. Mountain Avenue—it’s open until 11 p.m. walrusicecream.com
Vail Pass offers supreme meteor viewing at 10,662 feet. Only 15 minutes from the town center on I-70 East, you”ll join the ‘star party” in the summit’s rest area parking lot. Back in Vail, The Vail Nature Center offers an early evening all-ages Discovery at Dusk program on August 12, 7 to 8:30 p.m. exploring crows and ravens and ending with s’mores around the campfire. If you can keep the kids up, hang out at the secluded cabin after the program ends to view the Perseids from the (very dark sky) picnic area. Tip: Bring your sleeping bags and lay down on the picnic tables. walkingmountains.org/locations/vail-nature-center
Need a place to stay the night? The Antlers at Vail Hotel & Condos is one of the most family-friendly, affordable accommodations in Vail with a great swimming pool and two hot tubs, free rental bicycles, and excellent location in the heart of Lionshead. antlersvail.com
Getting there: About two hours west on I-70 from Denver, an easy straight shot, but be prepared for traffic around the Eisenhower Tunnel.
No visibility Plan B: Head back to your condo at The Antlers, and hit the front desk to borrow a board game or a favorite family movie on DVD. Get some sleep so you can get an early jump in the swimming pool before checking out and heading home.
Preparing for the Perseid Tips:
- Find the darkest sky possible unobstructed by trees and buildings. NASA’s website advises finding an area ‘set up where you are shadowed from the moon’s glare before it sets.”
- Bring sleeping bags, blankets, warm clothes, and reclining chairs or air mattresses if you don’t want to be flat on the ground. M&M’s help keep everyone awake and cheerful.
- Be patient. It takes about half an hour for our eyes to adapt to the darkness and to see fainter objects, including less-bright meteors.
- Follow the shower’s estimated peaks with the International Meteor Organization’s 2017 Meteor Shower Calendar. imo.net