5 great places to catch a falling star

Jane Engle

Are you ready to party with the stars? The Perseids, which periodically shower the night skies with meteors, or “falling stars,” will reach their August peak this weekend. And that means thousands of astronomers, plus ordinary folks who love to be bedazzled, will head for the hills, deserts and other remote spots for star-gazing parties.
 
No telescope or other equipment is required to view this celestial spectacle,  which is visible to the naked eye. You just need to stay up late (or get up before dawn), dress for the weather and pick the right place. Barring a cloud cover, nearly anywhere in the U.S. that is away from bright city lights should give you a glimpse. But certain spots possess extra star power. Here are five of them:
 
Portland, Oregon

The “Perseid Meteor Shower Watch,” staged at two parks near Portland, draws hundreds of fans from all over the Pacific Northwest. You’ll find telescopes set up and learn about the meteor shower, constellations and the summer sky from staff of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, one of four sponsoring groups. (The others are the Rose City Astronomers, Vancouver Sidewalk Astronomers and Oregon Parks and Recreation.)  Meet by 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12, at either Rooster Rock State Park or L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park.
 
Contact: www.omsi.edu/node/751; (800) 955-6674 (Hit “3,” then “5” on the recorded menu.) Free event; parking is $5.
 
Joshua Tree National Park, Calif.
 
Joshua Tree National Park, at the southern end of this state, is known for its vast vistas and jet-black skies. So to accommodate star-struck campers, it will open its 31-site Ryan Campground, which is normally closed during the slow summer season, for three nights during the height of the Perseids: Friday, Aug. 10 through Sunday, Aug. 12. At 8:30 p.m. Aug. 11, park rangers will present a special night sky program at the at the Oasis Visitor Center, 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, Calif. (Note: Another Perseids viewing event in Southern California, the popular “Perseid Meteor Shower Star Party at the Integratron” in Landers, was listed as sold out on its website, www.mojavedesertlandtrust.org/perseid.php.)
 
Contact: www.nps.gov/jotr/parknews/2012ryan_open.htm; (760) 367-5500. $15 per vehicle for park entrance; $10 per night camping fee.
 
Des Moines, Iowa

In the state’s biggest city, you can celebrate the Perseids at a 8-hour blowout, the first ever for Des Moines, with activities for all ages. Kids can hop around in a bounce house, get glow-in-the-dark face painting and build their own planisphere (celestial projection map). There will be sky talks, food concessions a meteorite for close-up viewing and even a screening of the sci-fi comedy “Spaceballs.” And yes, you can gawk at the meteor shower too—into the wee morning hours. Proceeds will help restore a local lilac garden.  6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, at the Ewing Park Lilac Arboretum, 5300 Indianola Road.

Contact: www.dmgov.org/Departments/Parks/Pages/StarParty.aspx;(515) 237-1386. Free event.
 
International Falls, Minn.

The far northern border of this Midwestern state is star central for the National Park Service. Voyageurs National Park, near the town of International Falls, is home to the Night Explorer Series programs led by so-called “Dark Rangers,” who are trained in interpreting the night sky. As part of that series, Don Graves, biology professor at Hibbing Community College, will lead a Perseids viewing at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. 9:30 p.m. to 11 p-.m. Sunday, Aug. 12.
 
Contact: www.nps.gov/voya/parknews/starry-starry-night-night-explorer-series-perseid-meteor-showers-at-voyageurs-national-park.htm; (218) 286-5258. Free event and park entrance.
 
Chicago

The renowned Adler Planetarium on Chicago’s lakefront packs up its starry theater and heads for the suburb of Wheaton to throw its family-oriented Perseids party. You can picnic, enjoy hands-on educational activities, peak through telescopes, hear a scientific lecture and view excerpts from the museum’s “Earth Moon & Sun” show in an inflatable planetarium dome. 7:30 p.m. - 11 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12, at Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton, Ill. 60189.
 
Contact: www.adlerplanetarium.org/experience/events/; (312) 922-7827. $7 for Adler members ($10 at the door); $10 for general public ($15 at the door).