• Thu
  • Aug 21, 2014
  • Updated: 9:22am

Bright lights from space

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 November, 2009, 12:00am

The Leonids, an annual meteor shower, are predicted to peak tomorrow night and early Wednesday morning, providing a treat for astronomy buffs.

In a meteor shower, large numbers of 'flying stars' hit the Earth's atmosphere. These meteors are the debris of comets that circle the solar system. When one of them comes close enough to earth, a meteor shower occurs.

Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which they appear to radiate. Hence, it should come as no surprise that the Leonids appear to come from the constellation Leo.

Hong Kong had two large-scale showers in 1998 and 2001. The latter had more than 1,000 meteors in an hour.

'Many people became astronomy enthusiasts after the Leonids in 2001,' says So Chu-wing, assistant curator at the Hong Kong Space Museum. This year, according to So, we can expect around 100 meteors an hour at the Leonidss' peak.

So suggests going to the countryside and finding a place with an unobstructed view to the east. An overnight stay at Tai Long Sai Wan or High Island Reservoir in Sai Kung, he says, would be ideal, adding southwest Lantau island - Tong Fuk, for example - would also be good.

'The more accessible the place is, the more light pollution there is. Therefore, the best meteor-shower watching venues are in rural areas. The most ideal destinations require hiking for some time to get to, so you need proper planning in order to have the best viewing experience,' So says.

If an overnight stay somewhere is not an option, So suggests heading to the beach in Shek O on Hong Kong Island or Tai Mei Tuk in Tai Po. 'You won't see so many meteors in these places, but if you want to go somewhere that is accessible using public transport, these are the best,' he says.

Meteor viewers should take a mat, says So, and find a place to lie down and gaze at the sky. No equipment is required ?all you need to do is to make the effort to be at the right place at the right time, and the rest is as easy as a night under the stars.

'Traffic may be heavy if a lot of people go to watch,' he says, adding the peak period of activity may not be completely accurate.

'Allow yourself more time and plan for a longer stay if you really want to get the most out of it,? So says.

He also notes that the intensity of the moon and cloud cover are important factors in a meteor shower viewing experience. He reminds readers to check the weather forecast before making a trip to the countryside.

Some local amateur astronomy associations, such as Space Observers Hong Kong (www.sohk.org.hk), Sky Observers (www.skyobserver.org) and Astroworld (www.phy.cuhk.edu.hk/astroworld) will also be holding meteor shower watching activities.

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