Debbie Croft: Get a glimpse of the stars this weekend

August 11, 2013 


I'm not much of a camper. But there are rare occasions when I do venture into wilderness. In the mountainous, forested lands where lakes are crystal-clear (and no bathroom facilities exist), my sole purpose is to reconnect with the great outdoors.

Once removed from civilization, it gets easier to accept the fact that outdoor adventures come with a less-than-my-preferred-state-of-cleanliness. But after placating my nesting instincts, I actually start enjoying the rustic beauty surrounding me.

While camping at Mono Hot Springs a few years ago, the highlight of the week was watching the stars. Lying under the mesh roof of our borrowed tent, I kept fighting the urge to close my eyes. Because right above me, almost within my grasp it seemed, was a dazzling display of glittering lights.

I realize driving a few thousand feet higher in altitude doesn't make an Earth-dweller like me any closer in proximity to objects that are light years away. Yet nestled there beside the John Muir Wilderness, the stars looked closer than they do at home. I hated to fall asleep and miss the show.

According to Robert Lunsford, author and American Meteor Society member, meteor activity kicks into high gear this month.

In rural areas of the Northern Hemisphere, observers may see as many as 50 to 75 shower members, a k a shooting stars or falling stars, per hour — especially because of the absence of moonlight through this weekend.

Best viewing typically is after midnight and into pre-dawn hours.

The Perseid meteor shower makes an annual appearance each summer sometime from mid-July through August.

No special equipment is needed for viewing, although a star atlas is handy for those unfamiliar with navigating the night sky.

A star atlas can be purchased at most planetariums and science stores.

In the Central Valley, the closest planetariums are located in Fresno: the Fremont Unified School District Planetarium and the Discovery Center.

A star atlas includes maps with grid lines of the celestial coordinates for locating the radiant positions and rates. There also are online apps for smart phones and such.

"A radiant is an area of the sky where the meteors appear to shoot from," Lunsford said.

As meteor activity shoots outward from the radiant, our field of view should be centered on the edge of the radiant, Lunsford recommends. His new book, "Meteors and How to Observe Them," is a helpful guide for stargazers and amateur astronomers.

Garret Wimer, instructor at Fresno City College, teaches an astronomy class with Sierra Foothill Conservancy. He says the best time for viewing the meteor this weekend is Sunday night through Monday morning.

Since moving to the foothills, our family has accumulated an odd assortment of memories.

We've set our alarms to awake in the middle of the night and watch, through bleary eyes, an eclipse or meteor shower.

Sitting on my daughter's bed beside her window or lounging in camp chairs on our property, we've snuggled, whispered and, of course, oohed and aahed at these wonders of nature. It was family time well- spent.

Looks like we're about to add another midnight excursion memory to our collection.

Writer Name


Get a glimpse of the starsthis weekend

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at

Merced Sun-Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service