Editor’s note: This blog about the Perseid meteor shower is by our Central Idaho summer intern, Brian Rich.
Although long summer days let us enjoy even more of Idaho’s stunning natural beauty, there is much to see after the sun disappears beyond the mountains. When the colors of the sunset finally fade, stars slowly brighten above the peaks and prairies. In some special places, the Milky Way gradually appears, stretching from horizon to horizon. These nighttime wonders are an essential complement to those visible during the day, and every August Idaho’s night sky becomes more spectacular than usual.
In the last weeks of high summer, the Perseid meteor shower rushes through Idaho for two to three incredible nights. Although the meteors begin in early August, they will reach their greatest intensity between Aug 11 and Aug 14, with the best show in the early hours of Aug 13, according to several sources. Barring a cloudy sky or major light pollution, the Perseids should be visible throughout Idaho.
The Perseid shower is a product of the Swift-Tuttle comet, which leaves behind a long trail of dust as it swings through space. As Earth orbits through the comet’s trail, some debris enters our upper atmosphere where high levels of friction with atmospheric gases cause it to ignite. The resulting meteors streak across the sky, leaving a shimmering line of light behind them as they fall. The Perseid shower can produce fifty to one hundred meteors an hour, making it one of the most prolific of the year.
For the best viewing experience, find a place away from all artificial light. Views will be stunning from a campsite in a national forest or wilderness area. Although nights in Idaho may be darker than for most of the nation, artificial light in larger towns and cities will obscure some of the smaller meteors. The shower’s peak will fall near midnight between Friday, Aug 12, and Saturday, Aug 13-perfect for a longer camping trip or a single overnight.
While much of Idaho can easily view the Perseids, the International Dark Sky Association reports that as much as 80% of the world and 95% of the United States lives under a permanent "skyglow" from artificial light pollution. Idaho’s nighttime brilliance is an essential a part of the state’s wild beauty, right along with our clear lakes, snowcapped mountains and thick alpine meadows. Without a spectacular dark sky, Idaho would not be the same place that we love and protect.