I flew out to Fresno California to observe the Perseid meteor shower peak with Brendan Fallon my old friend, college roommate and meteorite hunting companion. We made it to the Yosemite National Park by early afternoon Friday, checked out the valley and scoped out possible locations for observing and photographing the meteor shower. Later in the day, we worked our way up to glacier point to observe the shower the night before the peak.
Glacier point is known as an astronomers hangout and many of the rangers recommended it to us as the place to be. I was surprised by how many people where there to watch the shower Everyone was talking about the shower and really excited about it . The San Jose Astronomical Society was hosting a star party on the ridge and over 100 people where there to see the show. We found a little area outside the fences on the edge of Glacier Point and setup our equipment with intentions of staying there all night. Camping is not allowed at attractions like Glacier Point but staying there all night, so long as you’re not sleeping or pitching a tent is totally fine. We were all setup a little before sunset and shot the skies with two cameras the entire night.
I spent most of the night fiddling with the cameras and had less time to relax and observe the shower, but Brendan was able to kick back and counted over 100 meteors the first night. I was not keeping a good count, being distracted by technical devices, but registered about 50-60 meteors. We both stayed up the entire night, and as celestial fortune would have it, on this night and only this night the moon, the Pleiades, Jupiter, Venus and the Sun would all rise over half dome. We were in the perfect location to watch all of this along with thousands of shooting stars all over the place. It was amazing.
After the sun rose around 7:00 AM we packed up our gear and slept for the rest of the day at a hotel an hour away from the park.
On Saturday, we made our way back to Yosemite by 7:00 PM and headed straight for Sentinel Dome. The top of the dome is about an hour hike from the parking lot and we each had packs filled with camera equipment and camping gear. At the peak of the dome in the center of the space, there was a big rock with a leveled metal compass in the middle. It was the perfect perch for my portable astrotech pier and tracking mount.
I was so amped to be on top of Sentinel Dome at 8,100 feet above sea level with 360 degree views of the entire park. It was amazing! After spending a night on Sentinel Dome I am convinced this is the BEST place on the planet to observe a meteor shower.
Every landscape view was breath taking, the skies were as dark as I’ve ever seen and there were meteors everywhere every minute. What else could you ask for?
I was much better about my counting this night and we played a counting game together, competing to see who would observe more meteors. Each time one of us saw a meteor we needed to say our count out-loud followed by the other persons count. It was a competition the entire night and helped keep us awake, alert and engaged in the shower. For the night of the peak I was able to count 250 meteors and Brendan counted 246.
Sentinel Dome is harder to get to than Glacier Point and we thought we would have the whole place to ourselves, especially since no-one was there after sun-set, but believe it or not throughout the night, several parties arrived at the dome after dark. Some getting there as late as two or three in the morning. I was again impressed with how many people who were interested in the shower and dedicated enough to make it out. We all shared a common bond watching the shower together from one of the highest points in Yosemite park.
That morning we watched the sun rise again and then hiked back to our car.
We were both exhausted and sleep deprived but still wide awake and pumped up from the adrenaline of the park, the meteors and the observing experience.
To date, this is the very best meteor observing experience I have ever had and I am convinced Yosemite and specifically Sentinel Dome is the best meteor observing location in the world for viewing the Perseid Meteor Shower.