BARSTOW • The best light show in town will be coming from the sky this week.
The Perseids meteor shower will be at its peak during the next few days. The shower runs throughout the month of August, but this week will provide the best viewing, according to Barstow Community College astronomy professor Scott Bulkley. Upwards of 50 meteors an hour can be spotted during the peak of the shower. Bulkley said the best time to see the shower would be from 12 a.m. to dusk.
The meteor shower takes its name from the constellation Perseus, which is where the meteors appear to originate from. Perseus can be spotted in the northeast and rises from the horizon as the night progresses. Bulkley said although the meteors originate near Perseus, that is the last place to watch in the sky.
"I tell my students to look at Perseus, it is the radiant or source," Bulkley said. "You want to look almost anywhere else. They start at that location, but they tend to hit the atmosphere in other locations."
The annual shower happens when the earth orbits through the debris field left by the Swift-Tuttle comet. Bulkley said the comet last passed near the Earth in 1992, but it still provides a dazzling show. The majority of the debris that falls to the Earth is around the size of a grain of sand and burns up in the atmosphere creating the light we see, according to Bulkley. The debris is made of rocky material that was expelled from the comet as it passed near the sun.
Bulkley said if someone is lucky they will get a chance to see one of the larger pieces enter the atmosphere.
"What's really spectacular is what we call the fireballs," Bulkley said. "When a larger item comes down it creates more light and leaves a bigger trail. That's what we're all looking for."
Bulkley said the Perseids aren't the only extra light in the sky this month — Jupiter is currently among the brightest spots in the sky due to a closer orbit to Earth this year. Jupiter can be seen to the west of the moon throughout the night.
"The desert is probably the best place to observe these showers," Bulkley said. "The clear skies and low light make for a perfect place to watch. I've been around the country and I love watching them here."
Bureau of Land Management outdoor recreation planner Brad Mastin said he also believes the desert provides great opportunities to see the stars. Mastin recommended that people visit some of the outlying areas in the High Desert to avoid interference from city lights.
Bulkley and Mastin both recommend telling somewhere where you are headed, bringing water, food, warm clothes and something to sit or lay on, such as blankets or chairs, if you venture into nature to watch the meteor shower.
Good places to view the Perseids meteor shower
Rainbow Basin/Owl Canyon
Located off of Ft. Irwin Road in Barstow.
Restrooms, picnic tables and overnight campsites available for $6 per site.
Harper Dry Lake
Located west of Barstow off of Highway 58.
Restrooms and handicap accessible trail to lake bed.
El Mirage Dry Lake Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area
Located west of Adelanto near Highway-395.
Restrooms, shade structures, barbecue pits and picnic tables.
$15 single day permits are required.
(Visit www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/barstow/barstow_recreation.html for more information on the sites)
Source: Bureau of Land Management outdoor recreation planner Brad Mastin and BLM web site