Grab a telescope and a beach chair: Shenandoah Night Sky Festival to feature Perseid meteor shower

Stargazing at Big Meadows, just at the entrance of Rapidan Road, during the 2018 Night Sky Festival. This program was led by Park Rangers with Greg Redfern also talking about the night sky. (Courtesy NPS/Mary O’Neill)

Star gazers from across the country are expected to make the trip to Shenandoah National Park’s Annual Night Sky Festival this year.

“This year we’re really expecting a big turnout because the Perseid meteor shower will be occurring during the Night Sky Festival. The moon will be out of the way,” said Greg Redfern, WTOP’s space contributor and NASA solar system ambassador.

Amateur astronomers will gather for a “Telescope Party” to witness the phenomenon Saturday Aug. 12 at 10:30 p.m. at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center with Northern Virginia Astronomy Club or Big Meadows with Rappahannock Astronomy Club, Richmond Astronomical Society and the University of Virginia Department of Astronomy.

Visitors will get a chance to view as many as 60 falling stars an hour.

“Sharing the nighttime with so many people is really fun. The peak Saturday night is what we’re pushing for,” Redfern said.

So what else will visitors see when they look up during the Shenandoah Night Sky Festival?

Redfern says the splendor of the Milky Way will be in full view. “It goes across the entire sky in August.”

Visitors will also get a chance to hear from former astronaut and space scientist Tom Jones during presentations in the Byrd Visitor Center Auditorium. Jones will present “When Rocks Attack: Defending Earth from Asteroids” and “Beyond Earth: Humanity’s Future in Space” on Aug. 12 at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Redfern will also present at the Byrd Visitor Center Auditorium for “The Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater” Aug. 11 and 13 at 5 p.m. and “Shenandoah Skies and the Perseids” every night of the festival at 6 p.m.

The festival runs Aug. 11-13, but the main events will be at Big Meadows Saturday night, which include a “Star Party” followed by a “Telescope Party” and plenty of fun events for the kids.

There is an admission fee to get into the national park but all events will be free. Now is also a good time to book a room if you’d like to attend all weekend.

Redfern says visitors should prepare for night sky viewing in the mountains by dressing warmly, and “bringing a lounge chair and a red flashlight.”

“There could be a lot of people up there and, if you turn on a white flashlight, you could ruin not only your night vision but those around you. We want our eyes to get dark-adapted,” Redfern stressed.

For a full listing of events and schedule, visit the Night Sky Festival website.

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Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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