Here in Western Washington, thousands of folks are serious spectators of the Perseid meteor shower. Looking to the night sky and watching the dramatic sky show is a favorite traditional activity. My family started watching the “August falling stars” back in the 1950’s. On the north end of the Kitsap Peninsula, a short ferry ride west from Seattle, the view is glorious. The event occurs from mid-July through August, with the most dramatic display of the Perseids occurring the middle of August.
What is the Perseid Meteor Shower?
The Perseids are a beautiful sight, worth the effort to view. But it’s all about science. Technically, according to the University of Washington Astronomy Department Website, “The Perseid Meteor Shower occurs each August as the Earth, following its normal orbit around the Sun, intersects the orbit of dust particles left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle….Think of this event as a car on a road driving through a chute of snowflakes. In the case of the meteor shower, these dust particles — all of them tiny specks — become extremely hot as they hit the Earth’s upper atmosphere at speeds of 20-50 miles per second. The hot particle generates a streak of light before the particle is obliterated.”
It is referred to as the Perseid Meteor Shower because as the pre-dawn side of Earth turns towards the view of the Constellation Perseus, the count rate of the meteors is at its greatest, hence the Perseids.
Meteor Viewing on the North Kitsap Peninsula
In Western Washington there are several obstacles to overcome when it comes to watching to Perseid meteor shower – or for that matter, any skyward viewing: mountains, trees, smog, fog and city lights. The good thing about the Perseids is that they come during our best warm and clear weather. For an area that gets over 40 inches of rain a year, the months of July and August are considered the driest with well under one inch of precipitation each month. The challenge is to find locations that are not inhibited by the city lights of the Greater Seattle/Tacoma area which runs north and south from Bellingham near the Canadian border to Olympia, on the far south end of the inlets leading to Puget Sound. Also, the Cascade Mountains that define the boundary between eastern and western Washington, loom over the territory, obscuring views directly to the east.
Where to go in Western Washington for a clear view of the sky? The North Kitsap Peninsula is a favorite: just far enough away from the big city to lose the bright lights and surrounded on three sides by large bodies of water that offer clear views of the heavens. On a clear night, the view of the sky seems boundless!
Best Spots On the North Kitsap Peninsula
Waterfront Park, Poulsbo, Washington. Poulsbo has a traditional old town, which was established in 1885. The community is proud of the Waterfront Park, 18809 Front Street, that runs along Old Town’s marina on Liberty Bay. The park is one block off of the main street and offers benches, a gazebo and plenty of grass to place lounge chairs or blankets. Take along warm jackets since the winds from Liberty Bay can be chilling at night. Gazing straight up, the Perseids are spectacular.
Waterfront and Park areas, Port Gamble, Washington. Port Gamble was founded in 1853 and is a National Historic Landmark. Situated on the shores of Hood Canal, it offers great viewing of the Perseids. Pick any number of park locations on the 120 acre site to watch the meteors, the best are closest to the water for a clear northeast view. Lounge chairs and blankets are recommended. Bring warm clothing since Port Gamble is surrounded immediately on three sides by bodies of water.
Point No Point, Hansville, Washington. At the very northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula is the small hamlet of Hansville. Point No Point Lighthouse is located at the far eastern side. The oldest lighthouse on Puget Sound, Point No Point also boasts one of the largest bird lists in Washington state. Just past the lighthouse is a beach area that is wide open to the West side of Puget Sound as it meets Admiralty Inlet. The vistas are dramatic and the view of the sky is clear and beautiful. This is right on the beach, surrounded by water, so bring warm beach clothing, a blanket and lounge chair to gaze at the Perseids.
No matter where you choose to view the Perseid meteor shower, here are some tips to help make the time more pleasant:
1. The evenings can get very cool, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Bring warm clothes, covers and hot drinks.
2. Looking up at the stars for some time may become uncomfortable unless you use a blanket or chair. Find a spot where you can easily look up at the stars, sit back, relax and enjoy!
3. Optimum viewing time is between 2AM and 4AM, but with clear skies you should be able to view some activity anytime after dusk.
University of Washington Astronomy Department: Website
NASA Video Feed: Website
KING 5 News, Perseid Meteor Shower: Web Link