Head to Lassen national park and catch the Perseid meteor shower

The view of the Milky Way is heavenly from Bumpass Hell overlook at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

They attempt to invade Earth every year, but few ever make it through the atmosphere.

You can get a great view of them bursting into flames as they try at the Dark Sky Festival on Friday and Saturday at Lassen Volcanic National Park. 

The park's annual event celebrates the return of the Perseid meteor shower as it approaches its peak in early August. It's an ideal place to watch, according to event coordinator and park ranger Kevin Sweeney.

"It's a great chance for folks to see a natural dark sky — which we're losing faster and faster as we increase lighting in cities," Sweeney said.

Star party at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center during the Lassen Dark Sky Festival

Technically, we're invading the meteors’ territory, not vice versa. Earth passes through debris fields left by asteroids and comets every year around late July and early August.

Usually best viewed before dawn, at their peak the Perseids can "fall" at a rate of 50-100 meteors an hour, according Bruce McClure and Deborah Byrd at EarthSky.org. Their numbers often increase around midnight and peak in the pre-dawn hours.

The best environments for seeing night skies are usually inland locations away from lights, like the park, Sweeney said in an interview with the Record Searchlight in 2017.

The waxing moon will appear as a tiny sliver in the night sky on Friday and Saturday, making meteors and other celestial bodies even more visible, according to the moon phase calendar.

You can see the fire trails from meteors as they burn up with the naked eye, but astronomers and stargazers will be at the festival with their telescopes to show you what you can’t see.

In addition to nightly stargazing, the festival includes activities for children and adults including a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astrobiology tent at Sulphur Works, astrophotography, solar scope viewing, a planetary biology walk, nightly constellation tours, a Junior Ranger astronomy program, film showings and guided walks. There are also discussions and demonstrations by national park rangers, NASA, the International Dark Sky Association and the Astronomical Society of Nevada.

The weekend forecast says temperatures will reach the middle 70s, but temperatures drop to the mid-40s at night. Bring warm outerwear, blankets and lawn chairs for nighttime viewings.

Food and beverages are allowed at most places in the park, but not around the telescopes and other viewing equipment.

Bring a flashlight to get to and from your car, but turn it off or use a red-light option if you have one — when you get to the viewing area.

Read more about the Dark Sky Festival

  • When: 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
  • Where: Lassen Volcanic National Park venue including Bumpass Hell, the amphitheaters and Sulphur Works.
  • Admission: A park pass is required, but most events including the viewing are free. Cost for passes is $15 for an individual, $30 for a vehicle, $25 for a motorcycle, and $55 for an annual pass.
  • Contact: Call 595-4480 or go to https://www.nps.gov/lavo/planyourvisit/dark-sky.htm. Visit the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at 21820 Lassen National Park Highway, Mineral. See a full schedule of events at https://www.nps.gov/lavo/planyourvisit/upload/2019-DSF-Schedule.pdf

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Jessica Skropanic is features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers lifestyle and entertainment stories, and weekly arts feature d.a.t.e.  Follow her on Twitter @RS_JSkropanic and on Facebook. Join Jessica in the Get Out! Nor Cal recreation Facebook group. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today. Thank you.