Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 1, 2010

Ten Top Places to Watch a Meteor Shower

[LEONIDS UPDATE: The Leonid meteor shower will peak after midnight November 16 and before sunrise on November 17. The best viewing times will be after the moon sets about 1:45 a.m. Though not as intense or colorful as 2009's Leonids, the 2010 version might be worth staying up for!]

So, where is a good spot for some star-gazing?

Here is a list, heavy on viewing locations in the Western Hemisphere, where I know best, that I guarantee are among the very best (i.e., darkest) places to watch meteor showers, such as the week-long Orionids,

Orionids are caused by the tail of Halley's Comet (Ecosalon)

which peak in 2010 on October 21, the Leonids which climax on November 17, 2010, and the colorful Geminids showers, which will be at their best on December 13, 2010. See a sky calendar for celestial events through 2015, click here.

To wit, my meteor shower viewing favorites:

Time-lapse photo over the Anza-Borrego during a meteor shower (John Gonzalez Photo via Del Mar Fair)

1. The consensus pick seems to be Southern California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The skies are invariably clear here, and the ocotillo-studded desert is very sparsely populated. Mount Laguna, which overlooks the desert, is possibly even better. San Diego State University operates a small observatory there.

Mauna Kea Observatory is built around the rim of (hopefully) dormant volcano (Redorbit Photo)

2. Professional star-gazers swear by the 13-telescope complex at Mauna Kea observatory, atop the Big Island of Hawaii’s big volcano. The Visitor Information Station’s Onizuka Center for International Astronomy usually offers extended hours around meteor showers; expert astronomers are available to answer questions (this excellent article addressed a lot of mine). In my experience, however, Mauna Kea is too often cloud-bound.

The Sonoran Desert is magical at night (Photographer Unknown)

3. The sparklingly clear skies above the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona and northern Mexico also offer ideal conditions. But the area hasbeen a bit of a battleground lately in the immigration and drug trafficking fights. Kitt Peak Observatory, 56 miles southwest of Tucson, is a great facility for star-gazers; but operators are increasingly concerned about the proliferation of light pollution from encroaching civilization (check out their cool webcam).

Kitt Peak Observatory photographed this famous "helios" nebula (Augustana.edu)

4. In South America, Chile boasts some of the best viewing locations – especially the desolate Atacama Desert. Bring water; it hasn’t rained there in more than 50 years!

5. “Color Country” in southern Utah – the high mountains above Zion National Park, west of Bryce Canyon National Park and north of the Grand Canyon North Rim – are remarkably beautiful viewing areas. The skies are generally pollution-free, and pitch-black.

Stellar shot of bright meteor over Zion National Park (Greenpacks.org)

6. Oregonians swear by the wide open spaces near Bend and Sun River, especially up in the mountains. Sun River even has a small observatory, but in my experience, it is too often closed.

Meteorite streaks over Oregon skies (Courtesy Oregonlive.com)

7. Speaking of observatories, CalTech’s Palomar Mountain Observatory north of San Diego, boasts one of the world’s finest telescopes. But the facility is closed to the public after 4:30 p.m., so as not to interfere with ongoing scientific studies. But there is a campground on the darker east side of the mountain, where star-gazers traditionally gather to watch the night skies.

This comet, photographed by Lowell Observatory, is a meteor of gigantic proportions.

8. Historic Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill in Flagstaff, Arizona, is open – and offering several programs around the meteor shower. Hard-core star-gazers also cluster at the famed meteor crater near Flagstaff. Everyone has their fingers crossed for clear skies. (Lowell also operates telescopes in La Serena, Chile, and Australia.)

Meteor streaks toward impact at Joshua Tree National Park (Courtesy NASA)

9. Joshua Tree National Park, north of Palm Springs, California, also offers almost a guaranteed prospect of clear skies and a dark night, far from the light pollution of cities.

Leonids meteor mirrored in water at Cherry Springs State Park (Courtesy Meteorblog.com)

10. What is purported to be the darkest spot in the eastern United States is at remote Cherry Springs State Park near Coudersport, Pennsylvania. The park attracts East Coast star-gazers year-round, and a popular annual event here is the Black Forest Star Party.

The sea, at night, can also be an unforgettable location for viewing heavenly delights. Cruise lines advertise expeditions to watch comets, eclipses and northern and southern auroral displays. but in my experience, however, cruise ships keep on way too many lights – all night.

Star-gazing is, to me, the ultimate democratic exercise: Anyone can do it. And when you wish upon a star, it makes no difference who you are.

Jerry Garrett

September 1, 2010

[Editor’s Note: For information on another celestial phenomenon, check out this column on where to watch the Northern Lights. Sunspot activity is picking up after several years of quiet, and some spectacular heavenly light shows should be viewable September-April in these locations in 2010/2011 and perhaps subsequent years.]

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Responses

  1. [...] Ten Top Places to Watch a Meteor Shower « Garrett On The Road on September 1, 2010 at 9:30 [...]

  2. The Geminids are a great meteor storm to end the year…amazing seeing so many different colours, too!

  3. [...] shooting stars until the Perseids in August. For suggestions about the best viewing locations, check out a previous column of mine on the [...]

  4. […] Generally speaking, as far away from city lights and nighttime “light pollution” as you can get. But for some specific locations, check out my earlier columns on this subject. […]

  5. […] and nighttime “light pollution” as you can get. But for specific speaking, check out my earlier columns on this subject and a list of my ten favorite spots to […]

  6. Hello, the last picture which is cherry springs, is that a lake?
    I’m real curious to find out, thank you in advance.

    • There is a small lake. It is kind of marshy around there, though.


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