This was an unusual opportunity to take a night hike, with a hike leader, in Mission Peak Regional Preserve. The specific occasion was a meteor shower that was to occur just 2 nights after a new moon, so the sky would be relatively dark. The biggest challenges for viewing night sky phenomena in the Bay Area are city lights and cloud cover. The hike part way up Mission Peak promised to get us above and away from city lights. Then it would be up to Mother Nature to deal with cloud cover and actual meteor production. As it turned out, we didn’t see any meteors, but it was an interesting hike nevertheless.
The trail we hiked up is kind of a secondary trail, since it’s not the main route hikers usually use to get directly to the peak. Instead, we went up the Peak Meadow Trail a bit over a mile to a small knob with a great view of city lights as well as the appropriate part of the sky.
With over 700 feet of elevation gain in less than 1.2 miles this is a moderately steep climb even in daylight. It was an unusual experience with everyone wearing headlamps. (This is only about 1/3 of the elevation gain up to Mission Peak.)
Once we arrived at the viewing area everyone found a comfortable place to sit or lie down and settled in to wait and see what would happen during the hour or so of observation time. The hike leader explained that the meteor shower was the Draconids, and any meteors would probably appear to originate in the Draco constellation. He demonstrated an app that identifies constellations, planets, etc in the direction the phone is pointed. This is a pretty neat app, though it uses a lot of power.
While our eyes adjusted to the dark with headlamps off, we enjoyed looking at the city lights below. A few hikers brought tripods, but I just had my usual point-and-shoot camera which I used hand-held. Here is a view of the East Bay lights. The pinpoint of light at the upper right is probably an airplane; we were within view of traffic lanes associated with at least two Bay Area airports.
This view looks west across the Bay and clearly shows where the Bay is. We could also see the San Mateo and Dumbarton Bridges.
We looked diligently for meteors, but ended up not seeing any. Afterward I found an interesting writeup on-line about the Draconids meteor shower. The article suggested that this year was likely to produce few meteors, since the Earth passes through the orbit of Comet Giacobini-Zinner rather far away from the comet itself. For those interested, I also found an astronomy calendar listing many events throughout the year.
After our observing time was complete, we returned to the trailhead. On the way down the trail, we were startled to (barely) see two cows silhouetted against the dark sky. I was lucky to be able to use some contrast and brightness post-processing to pull out this image. It sure seemed as though the cows were more interested in each other than the city lights below!
Even though this meteor shower hike didn’t result in any meteor sightings, it was a great opportunity to experience a familiar park in an unusual setting.