Perseid meteor shower to put on show at Turner Farm Observatory Park tonight

The moon shines over Virginia (staff photo by Scott Fields)

Tonight will be Fairfax County residents’ first chance to observe the Perseid Meteor Shower with a free event at the Turner Farm Observatory Park in Great Falls.

Located at 925 Springvale Road, the Turner Farm Observatory will open for the public to view the shower today (Wednesday) from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

In case of inclement weather, the park grounds will open on Thursday (Aug. 12) from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Peak viewing for the annual Perseid shower is tonight and tomorrow, according to the Analemma Society. The shower consists of debris and dust burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere after being left behind by the Comet Tuttle-Swift, which orbits the sun every 133 years and was last seen in 1992.

Anyone interested in attending the event is advised to bring lounge chairs and blankets to watch from the park grounds. The public is also encouraged to bring their own telescopes or binoculars to observe the night sky.

The event is a part of a cooperative effort between the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Analemma Society to provide celestial observing sessions at the observatory.

After being suspended last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Turner Farm’s regular observation sessions returned on June 18, allowing members of the public to study the night sky every Friday from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m., weather permitting.

“Interest in astronomy has not waned during COVID. Sky watching is a great COVID-friendly activity,” said Judith Pederson, a public information officer for the Fairfax County Park Authority.

“Since we resumed our programs and public viewing sessions, classes have been filling up and we have seen an average of 40 people per session on clear Friday nights. What’s great about meteors is that they are best viewed with the naked eye and no telescope is needed. It’s a great family activity as well.”

She added that Park Authority naturalists expect “excellent viewing conditions” for the Perseid shower this year due to the moon’s thin crescent setting in the west shortly after sunset, which will make late night viewing in the eastern sky ideal.

The shower could produce as many as 100 meteors per hour.

Turner Farm also hosts a variety of in-person classes for anyone, ages 8 and older, interested in telescopes, astronomy, stargazing and more. There is an $8 enrollment fee for each class. Signups for classes are available on the Fairfax County Park Authority’s site.

The site follows COVID-19 protocol policies consistent with Gov. Ralph Northam’s directives and CDC guidelines.

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