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Hawaii is one of the world’s best locations to view meteor showers because of relatively low light pollution. The astronomical observatories at Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island and Haleakala Crater on Maui call Hawaii home for this reason.
Stars, constellations, and celestial activity are central to native Hawaiian culture and cultural practices. More on that in a moment. First, a little about the Perseids. They occur each year when Earth passes through the path of the Swift-Tuttle Comet. This year, that falls between July 17 and August 24. Over the weekend, Earth will pass through the dustiest segment of the comet’s tail. The streaks that light up the night travel at 37 miles per second.
Further enhancing visibility for this year’s Perseids is the fact that the near-New Moon (just a sliver) will set before the show begins. Even in light-rich Honolulu, the “shooting stars” will be visible.
The importance of the night sky in native Hawaiian culture cannot be overstated. The first Polynesians to arrive in these Hawaiian Islands were guided by the stars. Of course, winds, cloud formations, sea birds and other natural, daytime observations were vital as well.
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The Polynesian Voyaging Society is dedicated to preserving that navigational legacy. The first journey of the Hawaiian sailing canoe Hokule’a to Tahiti was led by the legendary Mau Piailug, a master navigator with an unparalleled understanding of the night sky. Hokule’a can be translated as “star of gladness.” There are many other Hawaiian words for stars and meteors. Hokulele means “flying star.” Akualele means “flying god.”
Celestial events like meteor showers are rich in Hawaiian myth and legend. They are seen as omens. When they occurred during births and other important life events, they portended greatness. An ancient Hawaiian legend foretold of a king that would unite the Hawaiian Islands into a single kingdom. King Kamehameha the Great, who did just that, was born in 1758, a year of the return of Halley’s Comet.
There are a variety of factors that promise to make this year’s Perseid Meteor Shower especially spectacular. The phase of the moon is key to this. A full moon in the midnight sky diminishes the visual intensity of the display, so the fact that moon will have set before the shower is fortuitous. Hawaii’s latitude in the Norther Hemisphere is also advantageous for viewing.
Actually, the only thing to prevent a thrilling view of the Perseids would be getting socked-in by clouds (here’s hoping for clear skies!). Pretty much anywhere outside of the immediate Honolulu/Waikiki area will offer the best look: mountain ridges and coastal areas alike.
Barring star-blocking clouds, the magnificent splendor of the Perseid Meteor Shower is a free show for anyone under Hawaii’s skies.
For more information about the Perseids, visit this website.