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Happy Cosmic Trails: Perseids Paint Yosemite Mariposa Sky Each Summer

Group hiking with the Milky Way above.

The Perseid meteor shower is an excellent excuse to get outside and appreciate the dark night skies in Yosemite Mariposa County.

Yosemite Mariposa County’s annual celestial showcase, the Perseid meteor shower is a midsummer night’s marvel as hundreds of streaking cosmic rockets burn bright across Mariposa County’s dark midnight sky.

2021’s edition of the Perseids will light up between July 17 and August 24, hitting peak intensity around August 12. On the night of August 11-12, a waxing crescent moon will grace the western sky at nightfall before setting by early-to-mid evening. That guarantees a dark sky for this year’s Perseid main event. Sky gazers can hope to see around 100 meteors per hour!

A Tale of Science, Fire and Myth

The Perseids circle back each July and August when Earth passes through the trail of the Swift-Tuttle Comet. Like that truck barreling down the highway with a rocky load, the comet throws off a wake of space gravel crashing through the atmospheric window at around 133,000 miles per hour. Their velocity compresses gas in their path, the rocks heat up, ignite and burst into flame about 60 miles overhead to create silent celestial sparklers. (Yes, the Perseids stand out as one of the very few fireworks shows that are dog friendly, too!)

Here’s a summer romance angle to the Perseids. In Greek mythology, the hero Perseus was son of the god Zeus and the mortal Danaë. It is said that the Perseid meteor shower commemorates the time when Zeus transformed himself into a raincloud, and in the form of a shower of gold, cascaded through the roof of the tower where Danaë was sequestered. Love and family were soon to follow.

Where to Watch

Guided star gazing program at Glacier Point

For extra insights, look for guided star programs to hear stories about the night sky while you look for shooting stars. (Don’t forget to make a wish!)

Mariposa County is remarkably free of light pollution, and there are innumerable places to set up a night watch party and scope a swath of starry sky. Sierra National Forest service roads around Tenaya Lodge, Glacier Point or Wawona Meadow or the Golf Course in Yosemite National Park (overnight permit required), and Bagby Camping and Recreation Area (extra star credits for catching a Perseid meteor reflection off the water) are all-star locations.

Guided tours are a great way to enjoy the Perseids, but spaces tend to book fast. It can also be as easy as hopping in your car, taking a Mariposa County back road and finding a safe place to pull over. For photographers, the Perseid meteor shower is a stellar chance to capture eye-catching photos of streaking meteors amid a night sky bedazzled with thousands of stars.

Rooms With a View

As the Perseids are an after-hours event, it naturally follows that you will be staying at one of Yosemite Mariposa’s superstar hotels or vacation rentals. One interesting lodging option: AutoCamp Yosemite, a unique property from every angle with its collection of vintage Airstream accommodations, and even more inviting during the Perseids as it offers guests a rooftop celestial observation deck.

 

Perseid Pro Tips

  • Layer Up – Expect the “feels like” temperature to fall far below what the local weather forecast predicts. When you sit still, close to the rapidly cooling ground, you can become chilled. Wear layers and come with warm blankets, sleeping bags, ground cloths, and pillows.
  • Eyes Wide Open – The human eye is the ideal viewing device for the Perseids – meteors appear to streak across large parts of the sky, making telescopes or binoculars impractical. Look up and keep your head on the proverbial star swivel.
  • Sky Savvy – The Perseid meteors all stem from a single pointin the northeast part of the sky, near the constellation Perseus. Start your search here! Use a sky guide astronomy app (Google / Apple) to help you locate Perseus and you’ll be at the source.
  • Hop A Moonshadow – Take Cat Stevens’ advice and find a moonshadow! Just place some large structure or natural object – a tree, barn, cabin, mountain – between you and the moon. You’ll see more stars and meteors.
  • Kick Back – Find something flat to lie on (smooth granite slab, reclining lawn chair, air mattress, pool floatie, even the hood of your vehicle). You’ll save your neck muscles as you sink deeply into the starry night. Bonus tip: bring a thermos filled with hot chocolate, tea, or a nightcap to make things cozy.
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