Throughout this month, the sky might look brighter than usual, thanks to the Perseid Meteor Shower. The annual astral event is caused by the Earth's passage through the debris stream of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. Thanks to a little extra gravity from Jupiter pulling on the comet, this year's meteor shower is expected to be one of the strongest in decades, according to NASA. The Perseids can be seen until Aug. 21, and they'll hit their peak Friday, Aug. 12, with estimates of 100-200 meteors per hour.
According to Diane Martin, president of the Eugene Astronomical Society, "The best time to see them will be between one and four in the morning because the moon will have gone down, which will make it that much darker," said Diane Martin, president of the EAS. "So take a nap, and then go out."
For the best experience, Martin suggested leaving town. "If you can get out of the city, that's your best bet. Even five miles out," she said. "You just need to get to a place where it's dark and (where there is) not as much glow from the city."
Locally, Sunriver Observatory and Pine Mountain Observatory offer ideal viewing locations.
The nonprofit Sunriver Observatory, which is home to 11 telescopes, will host a handful of night viewings during the week, from 9 to 11pm. Staff Member Grant Tandy said the observatory staff will be on hand during the Perseids to provide visitors with "astronomical interpretations."
"It's sort of an unguided tour. You can go around to different telescopes. We do a presentation early in the night, and then a constellation tour," he said. "Between all that, you can walk around, look at the night sky, and we'll probably start seeing more and more meteors around 10:30pm. It's a lot of fun to get a whole crowd that roars as a fireball flies by." Night viewings cost $8 for children and $10 for adults.
Meteor Shower Canoe Tour
Going even farther out of the city, Bendites can experience the Perseids from a canoe during one of Wanderlust Tours' summer starlight canoe trips. Several regular tours fall during the Perseids' peak, and owner Dave Nissen said it's one of the best ways to view the meteor shower.
"When you get to a place where there are no human-generated lights, that's most magnificent," he said. "Most people usually have not seen a sky as dark as what we see up in the mountains. It's awe-inspiring."
Wanderlust's stargazing tour starts at $85 per guest, and includes desserts from Sparrow Bakery and hot cocoa.
Fight the Light
Amateur stargazers who try to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower from town will have a tough time seeing much, thanks to light pollution.
"Light pollution is any sort of light that isn't covered that's going to be illuminating the night sky," said Sunriver Observatory's Tandy.
While the phenomenon can cause a list of problems—a recent New York Times article attributed disrupted ecosystems, poor sleeping habits, and excessive energy costs to light pollution—the main issue astronomers encounter is skyglow, a form of light pollution typically caused by artificial lights in populated areas.
"It mainly affects your ability to see big objects, like galaxies, nebulas and star clusters. You can still see the planets pretty well in Bend, but it can be tough to see the Milky Way here at night," Tandy said.
Deschutes County passed a light ordinance in 1994 to help curb light pollution. According to the ordinance, all private and commercial light fixtures that use bulbs brighter than 120 watts must be shielded and directed downward. Enforcing the ordinance is important, but home and business owners can help by being mindful of their light usage, Tandy said.
"A lot of it is unnecessary. People just leave their lights on without even thinking about it," he said.
According to a recent National Geographic article, in 80 percent of the planet's land areas, residents currently can't see the Milky Way due to light pollution. Luckily, Bend and Central Oregon are part of the 20 percent minority, but, Tandy says, "If we don't realize that we need to preserve that, it may be that we can't see the Milky Way at all."