We are in for a real treat this year. The peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, the greatest meteor shower of the year, is happening on a weekend this year, and it’s going to be a new moon. The forecast is even calling for clear skies in North Taiwan on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, which is where the meteor shower will be most visible.
A bit of History:
The Perseids, which get their name from the constellation Perseus, which they appear to come from, have been wowing earth's population every summer for hundreds of years. The Earth is currently passing through a cloud of space dust that was ejected from the commit Stout-Tuttle, which orbits around the sun every 133 years. This dust explodes on impact with earth's atmosphere, creating a dazzling display in the sky. The larger pieces also create streaking fireballs, which streak across the sky. This year the meteors are projected to be 60 shooting stars per hour, and the conditions are favorable for clear viewing. Due to the inclination of the earth as we pass through the dust cloud, the most meteors will be visible just before sunrise.
Where to watch the meteor showers?
To see the most meteors, you need to get someplace dark, and stay there, without turning on a light or looking at your phone, for at least 20 minutes to let your eyes adjust. Unfortunately, Taiwan is such a beacon of light, that truly dark spots are hard to come by. Even at the tops of the highest mountains, there is still light pollution. This is a serious problem for plants, wildlife, and star gazers, but that’s a discussion for a different article.
Even though we can’t get true darkness, there are still plenty of dark-enough spots where much of the big sky show will still be visible. Here is a map of dark places to watch the stars, that also have open skies without obstructions, for good stargazing. This is a map for places that are easily reachable by families, without extended hikes. I’m making this map publicly editable by anyone, so please feel free to add your favorite stargazing spot to the map. It’s a community driven endeavor. These places can be graded ABCD for darkness and amount of visible sky
Because of the way the earth tilts, the meteors will be slightly easier to spot in Taipei than Kaohsiung, but the biggest factor will still be how dark the night sky is. The best place to be is on a mountain top, with an unobstructed view of the sky. Being at higher elevations also helps to lower the humidity, which allows us to see farther. Most dark, clear, easy to reach areas are in the river valleys though. If the mountains are blocking the lower portion of the sky, you’ll have to wait until after 1am to start to see the meteors coming in full. If you can’t get the whole sky, find a place that has a clear view to the North/Northeast.
The best place in the north to view the meteor showers will be along Highway 7甲. The best places in the south will be Alishan and Pingtung mountains. Much of the east coast is good for viewing, and most of the central cross highway and Hehuanshan are dark. Green Island and Orchid Island also have exceptional night skies.
For a broader map of light pollution, here is a map of Taiwan (and the world) with overlaid with artificial brightness.
When and how to watch the meteor shower:
The most important thing to remember when watching a meteor shower is to never look at your phone. Your eyes need to adjust to the night sky and this will take 20-30 minutes. Any artificial light will kill your night vision, so avoid any light sources, and respect the people around you but not creating any light. The best ways to improve your chances of seeing a spectacular display is to find a dark area with most of the sky visible, and stay there for a long time. This is a waiting game so make sure you are comfortable. Bring chairs, blankets, pillows, mattresses, snacks and drinks. Soft red lights can be used to help preserve night vision, if you absolutely have to turn something on. Due to the inclination of the earth, and also light pollution, most of the meteors that are near the horizon will be difficult to see. After midnight though, and especially around 3-4 am, just before dawn, the meteors will light up the night sky. (more information at timeanddate.com)
Watching meteor showers is one of my favorite childhood memories, and I’m very happy to write about it this year. I would have written about it last year… but it was a nearly-full moon. This year we are very lucky. With a new moon, and hopefully-clear skies, we’re in for special treat.
Please add your favorite dark-spots to the map, and share your experiences and photographs in the comment section below.