On a Monday in late August, day will become night for a broad swath of the country.
The U.S. will experience its first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years on Aug. 21. The path of totality – where a total eclipse of the sun by the moon will block the light out – will travel diagonally across America from Oregon to South Carolina.
Parts of far northeastern Kansas, as well as parts of neighboring Nebraska and Missouri, lie in the eclipse’s path, prompting many Kansas astronomers to prepare road trips to see the celestial event. The Wichita area, not in the path of totality, will see a partial solar eclipse.
But even without such a rare event, this summer is a great time for stargazing.
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The Perseids is the premier meteor shower of the season. The Earth will begin passing through a comet’s debris field in July, but you can see the most meteors around the weekend of Aug. 12 and 13.
Lake Afton Public Observatory director Harold Henderson said the Perseids have a very broad peak, meaning the number of meteors per night will stay high for several days.
“It ramps up over the course of a week and then ramps down over the course of four or five days,” he said. “It’s a very extended thing.”
Henderson said the Perseids should be good, and the moon’s light should not outshine the light from the showers.
“It’s still warm weather. Kids aren’t in school,” Henderson said. “It’s a good family activity, looking up at the night sky and catching a few meteors while you’re looking.”
There’s also the Alpha Capricornids meteor shower, which plateaus in intensity around July 29. But it’s not nearly as strong as the Perseids and rarely produces much more than five meteors per hour, according to the American Meteor Society.
“What is notable about this shower is the number of bright fireballs produced during its activity period,” according to the AMS.
Here are places and times for other stargazing events around Kansas.
Lake Afton Observatory, which is south of Goddard, was re-opened late last summer by the Kansas Astronomical Observers.
The Wichita astronomy and telescope club hosts open houses from 9 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays during the summer, if the weather permits.
Henderson said some of the summer programming will highlight Jupiter and Saturn, although Jupiter will be less prominent in the night sky in August. He said they also plan to host two solar viewing events in the early afternoon on Saturdays leading up to the eclipse, on Aug. 5 and Aug. 12.
“Come out, learn about the sun, but more importantly, learn how to use the right equipment ... to view the partial eclipse in the area safely,” he said.
On nights when the facility is closed, you can still park on the observatory grounds to see some dark sky within a 20-mile or so drive of downtown Wichita.
Kansas City area
The Astronomical Society of Kansas City operates two observatories. The Warkoczewski Observatory, also known as the “Warko,” is on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. It’s open to the public on Friday nights until October.
They also run the Powell Observatory in a more rural location near Louisburg, which is open on Saturday nights until October.
That observatory hosts open houses beginning at 7:30 p.m. with themed presentations on the moon, Mars and infrared astronomy from now until the end of August.
Farpoint Observatory, about a 30-mile drive southwest of Topeka, is owned by the Northeast Kansas Amateur Astronomers’ League.
They will have public observing nights at 9 p.m. on July 15 and July 22. There will also be one at 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 19.
“We’ll emphasize the Milky Way and Jupiter and Saturn, which are both up this summer,” said Janelle Burgardt, the education and outreach coordinator for the Topeka-based group.
The Banner Creek Science Center in Holton, about 35 miles north of Topeka, has scheduled programs on July 15 and 29, both Saturdays. They’ll host classes from 2 to 4 p.m. those days on how to make solar filters for taking pictures of solar eclipses.
“We’re trying to stress safety, because the sun is extremely bright,” said Mike Ford, the Banner Creek Science Center’s observatory director.
The observatory will be open later those days from 9 to 11 p.m. for stargazing. It will also host a meteor shower watch for the Perseids on the night of Aug. 12 through 4 a.m. on Aug. 13.
Ford said that because Holton is so close to the path of totality, the observatory is also open the day of the solar eclipse from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Crane Observatory at Washburn University in Topeka is closed for the summer and will re-open in the fall.
The Pittsburg State University/Greenbush Astrophysical Observatory will host a viewing party for the solar eclipse in Crawford County. They’ll post their schedule for upcoming open observatory nights in July, said Mike McCambridge, Greenbush’s director of student enrichment.
The Kansas Astronomical Observers will host a star party at Fall River State Park, about 70 miles east of Wichita. The July 22 event will be at the Casner Creek Campground and begin at 8 p.m.
Park manager Kimberly Jones said the event is in its 15th year. She said the group typically does a slide presentation about an astronomy topic in the news before pulling out 15 to 20 telescopes for people to use.
“We’ll wait for it to get really dark and … folks will be able to look through those scopes through the wee hours of the night,” Jones said. “It’s a really cool event.”
You’ll need a park pass for your car if you visit and a camping permit if you stay overnight, Jones said. Lawn chairs and bug spray are recommended.