SUBLETTE COUNTY – Wyoming’s remote, nighttime skies can offer ideal conditions for spending a fascinating night beneath the stars. With locations free of light pollution in great abundance in many areas of the state, including Sublette County, simply taking a short drive down a dusty back road can open up a whole new world when looking up.
The Perseid meteor shower is currently in full swing and is building up what could be the greatest number of meteors between Aug. 11-13.
According to space.com, a dark, moonless sky typically results in approximately 80 meteors an hour being visible during this popular annual shower. In outburst years, the rate can be between 150 to 200 an hour. However, this year, the famed shower coincides with a moon that will be three-quarters full during the peak. The moonrise will take place mid-evening and wash out the sky between midnight and the early morning. Due to the brightness of the moon, estimates for what will be visible this year run between 40 to 50 meteors per hour, according to NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke.
Even though the show won’t be in ideal conditions, don’t let the moon’s light get in the way of an enjoyable evening outdoors. Perseid meteors typically are bright in nature and some should be visible despite conditions not being absolutely perfect. It is also common for meteors to arrive in the early evening hours before the moon rises; they just won’t be as prevalent as the early morning hours after midnight. If lucky, one could catch a glimpse of a rare earthgrazer, which is a long, slow, colorful meteor traveling across the night sky. Earthgrazers only appear in the early to mid-evening hours.
According to sunlightsunset.com’s moonrise and moonset calendar for Big Piney, moonrise is expected to occur at 10:47 p.m. on the evening of Friday, Aug. 11, while moonrise will occur at 11:19 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 12 and 11:53 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 13.
Despite the peak occurring Aug. 11-13, the Perseid meteor shower runs for several weeks leading up to the peak, and will rapidly drop off after Aug. 13. If interested in heading out a few days early, one could go out and likely catch a few meteors before the weekend. Earthsky.org suggests combating moonlight by sitting in a shadowed area, such as next to a building or next to a row of trees.
Other helpful tips to maximize the experience of viewing meteor showers is to go outside and spend at least an hour or so looking up. There is no “set schedule” for meteors to appear, and can come in bursts, followed by lulls. It can also take between 20 and 30 minutes for one’s eyes to adapt to the darkness, providing a better viewing experience all around.
Once spotting a Perseid meteor, trace it backwards to find the front of the constellation Perseus, as all meteors will come from this single place in the sky, according to earthsky.org. If you notice meteors coming from different directions, you might also be witnessing some from the Delta Aquarids, not Perseids.
The biggest thing when heading out for a night of meteor watching is to pack patience. With the moon filling the night sky for the majority of the evening during this shower event, many of the more faint meteors will be washed out, but not all. Grab a comfortable chair and a few blankets to stay warm, as evenings will be in the low 40s. Be ready to spend at least a few hours outside, so it is best go take a few modern comforts along to make the experience more enjoyable.
Smoke from wildfires in neighboring states and to the south could also reduce visibility at times, so take that into consideration when heading out.