Lost Dutchman State Park to host viewing event Aug. 12 during the Perseid meteor shower

Members of the Superstition Mountain Astronomical League host star-viewing events, such as this one above, at Lost Dutchman State Park and Peralta Trail Elementary School in Gold Canyon. The star parties will return in late fall. (Courtesy of Superstition Mountain Astronomical League)

Members of the Superstition Mountain Astronomical League host star-viewing events, such as this one above, at Lost Dutchman State Park and Peralta Trail Elementary School in Gold Canyon. The star parties will return in late fall. Astronomy expert Dr. Sky will conduct the Aug. 12 Perseids meteor madness viewing. (Courtesy of Superstition Mountain Astronomical League)

About 50-80 meteors per hour.

That’s how many sightings people should be able to see Aug. 12 of the Perseid meteor shower, sky authority Steve Kates estimates.

Mr. Kates is Dr. Sky, a radio and television personality and authority on the skies. He will be leading Meteor Madness, an overnight event Aug. 12 at Lost Dutchman State Park, 6109 N. Apache Trail in Apache Junction.

It is hosted by the Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park.

The meteor shower is actually debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, which is about 16 miles across and the largest object in the universe that regularly gets close to the Earth, Dr. Sky said during a phone interview. The Earth passes through the debris field every Aug. 12-13, he said.

Each bit of debris is about the size of a grain of sand, he said. Remarkably, none of the debris has ever been reported as having hit the surface of the Earth, he said, because each piece is so tiny and moves so quickly.

Viewing for the annual astronomical event should be good this year, he said.

“The big draw is there will be no moon,” Dr. Sky said, adding the minute bits of debris as they incinerate about 80 miles above the Earth will be more easily seen without light reflecting off the moon.

Meteor Madness will begin at 8 p.m. with food and beverage service, musical entertainment and prizes. At 9:30 p.m., Dr. Sky will discuss the best way to view the meteors. At 11 p.m., participants can watch the meteor show overhead until dawn.

Tickets are $15 per adult. A limited number of prime campsites have been reserved for event guests. Proceeds from the event will benefit Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park.

To purchase tickets, visit the Meteor Madness ticket website.

Dr. Sky said he’s honored to be a part of the event.

“People tell me I’m a big draw, and I’m so honored. I want people to come and experience this wonderful park, to spend the night here,” he said. “I’m looking forward to educating the world on all that’s in the sky.”

Viewing from the park should be exceptional, he said.

The Phoenix metropolitan area is becoming more and more light-polluted so dark skies, such as those in the far east Valley, are sacred, he said.

“You can see the skies here as they were in Phoenix in maybe the 1950s,” he said.

For more information, visit the park website.

Superstition Mountain Astronomical League

For those who are unable to attend Meteor Madness or would like to view the night sky during the rest of the year, the Superstition Mountain Astronomical League offers star parties during the cooler months at the park and at Peralta Trail Elementary School, 10965 E. Peralta Road in Gold Canyon.

League co-founder Bill Shaheen said the schedule of star parties, which have been held since spring 2009, will be announced soon.

Like Dr. Sky, Mr. Shaheen said Lost Dutchman State Park is unique in that despite its proximity to Gold Canyon and Apache Junction, it still offers dark skies.

The league schedules its monthly star parties around or near a new moon, when the skies are their darkest, he said during an interview.

“The moonlight can obscure seeing a lot of celestial objects. We try to schedule our events shortly after a new moon when there is a nice crescent moon,” he said.

Mr. Shaheen received his first telescope as a gift in 1987. The local star parties provide star-gazers with the opportunity to bring their own telescopes or view the sky through telescopes brought by league members, he said.

League members — there are about 80 — are on hand at the parties to answer questions from the public about astronomy, the constellations, star-viewing equipment and other related subjects, he said.

“We explain why you’re seeing what you are seeing when you are seeing it,” he said.

An impetus for forming the league was to bring retired senior citizens with skills and information together with a community filled with children who had a desire to learn, Mr. Shaheen said.

“We felt it would give the adults an outlet and pass along the store of knowledge they’ve accumulated over the decades. It’s really satisfying when they get together and see the learning exchange and focus on things that matter,” Mr. Shaheen said. “It reinvigorates our members.”

For more information about the Superstition Mountain Astronomical League, e-mail SuperMtnAstro@aol.com.

Reach staff writer Wendy Miller at wmiller@newszap.com

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