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  • Sunset at Mojave Desert in Twentynine Palms, CA

Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park Photo by Jack Fusco

 

It’s that time of year again! The annual Perseids meteor shower will be gracing our desert night skies once again this August in all its out-of-this-world glory. Boasting some of the darkest night skies in southern California and bordering Joshua Tree National Park, an International Dark Sky Park, 29 Palms is the ideal destination for observing the Perseids this summer!

Producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak and known for its massive fireballs which are larger explosions of light and color that last longer than the average meteor streak, the Perseids are a sight to behold and one of the most exciting meteor showers to observe. These fireballs leave “long ‘wakes’ of light and color behind them,” according to NASA. Named after the constellation Perseus, NASA reports the Perseids originate from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862 by astronomers Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle. With the meteors appearing in all parts of the sky, this shower will be easy to witness with the naked eye. Plus, with the waxing crescent moon setting in the early evening, viewers will be left with gorgeous dark skies for what is sure to be an excellent show!

There are a few things you’ll want to bring with you to make your meteor shower watch party a memorable experience, starting with a comfortable chair. A reclining lawn chair would be best as it allows you to sit back, look up, and enjoy the show.

Because it will be a late night, be sure to pack all your favorite late-night snacks and lots of water. We can’t emphasize the importance of water and staying hydrated enough, even for nighttime adventures! It’s easy to underestimate the effects of the summer heat at night and even if you don’t feel thirsty, it’s important to keep your water intake up. A gallon per day/per person is always recommended. It’s also a good idea to have a few extra layers of warm clothing handy as evening temperatures do drop and you’ll want to stay comfortable.

Another key item to have with you is a red flashlight. It is recommended that you do not use bright white flashlights, headlamps, or cell phones when getting ready to stargaze. It takes approximately 20-30 for the human eye to fully adjust to these types of low light conditions. Don’t have red lights? No problem! You can turn any regular flashlight into a red-light flashlight by covering it with red cellophane, tape, paper, fabric, or any other similar materials.

This red flashlight will also help you watch your step while getting settled at your viewing spot, and help you avoid stepping on cacti, desert critters, and uneven surfaces that can be difficult to see at night. Wearing closed-toe shoes is also highly recommended.

Plan on giving yourself at least one hour of viewing time as meteors are known to come in spurts with interspersed lulls. The optimal viewing time for the Perseids meteor shower will be between midnight and dawn, with the peaks expected on the mornings of August 11, 12, 13.

While many focus on this peak time, remember that meteor showers typically last weeks! According to EarthSky.org, the Perseids can be visible for up to 10 or more days following the peak, so if you can’t make it out to 29 Palms between August 11-13, you can certainly still plan a trip shortly after!

One of the common questions we get asked is where the best place to stargaze is, and fortunately, due to the lack of light pollution in our area, the opportunities are endless! Many of the hotels and vacation rentals in our city offer great views of the night sky so it can be as easy as pulling a chair out to the patio or backyard.

Designated as an official International Dark Sky Park in 2017, Joshua Tree National Park is the best (and most popular) place for stargazing in southern California, offering visitors incredible stargazing opportunities year-round. Do expect the park to be busy during the annual Perseid meteor shower and as always, take the time to plan out your visit in advance. With cell reception extremely limited in Joshua Tree National Park it’s important to download the new National Park Service mobile app as it provides the ability to download and save park maps and helpful visitor resources for offline use. Also, remember you can now purchase your park pass online and in advance by visiting www.recreation.gov.

*Please note, if you are planning on watching the Perseids from within Joshua Tree National Park, there is a temporary fire restriction in place, and all fires are banned until further notice. The restrictions include campgrounds, residential areas, and the backcountry, and bans campfires, barbeques, outdoor smoking, and other fire hazards.