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Perseids Watch 2011

August 11th, 2011 · 1 Comment · Personal

It’s that time of year again for the dust from comet Swift-Tuttle to come crashing into our upper atmosphere with spectacular effect. I wasn’t planning on starting the party early but the skies were totally clear tonight after some late evening clouds moved out so I decided to give it a go although the peak doesn’t start until tomorrow – I’m viewing from my backyard this year as my Adirondacks trip did not work out this time around. But still, the heavens did not disappoint! Even better is that there are clear skies forecast for both Friday and Saturday mornings as well. The only detriment is that the moon sets a bit later each day but there’s still a window of darkness before the sun rises. Know that the best times for catching meteors is from 3am-sunrise. We’re passing through a cloud of debris left behind by a comet that crossed our orbit, so as you spin to face the direction of Earth’s orbit (the night/day terminus) you’ll be heading more head-long into the cloud and thus more bugs shall splat into the windshield, so to speak. And before you go any further make sure you’ve read my meteor watching tips in case this is your first outing.

Happy viewing everyone!

The Preshow – 8/11

I rolled the lounge chair out onto the lawn at 3am to settle in. Given my amount of light pollution it would have been better to wait until around 4am but I wanted to give my eyes plenty of time to adjust. I spotted my first meteor just before 4am, a dim streaker shooting through Taurus. From that point up until I quit the field at 5am I counted 14 more for a total of 15 – not bad for the day prior to peak! One of them skimmed the atmosphere, which is cool because they last a good 2-5 seconds and track across a good deal of sky – you need to turn your head to keep them in view. You can see them dim and brighten as they dip in and out before burning up completely. Four others I saw were more head-on collisions – these meteors are the ones that leave the bright trails behind them as they burn up quickly – the bigger they are the longer they last. The rest were dim, quick specks – the kind you spot only if you happen to be looking at the right place at the right time as they aren’t bright enough to pull your view from another section of the sky. In addition to my 15 meteors, I caught a handful of satellites orbiting by overhead – most I spotted out of the corner of my eye since they are rather dim. Four of them however caught my attention thanks to bright flashes of light off their solar panels – really bright ones are usually Iridium Flares. To cap off the night, just before 5am a Jupiter-bright object soared across the sky. No commercial airliners fly high enough for you not to see their strobe lights blinking, so if you happen to catch a bright object traveling across the sky that doesn’t blink, it’s a good bet you’re looking at the International Space Station. To confirm this, head over to Heavens Above, use the map to get your location coordinates and check the times for ISS passage – mine this morning was from roughly 4:50-4:56am. I checked my clock as it passed over me at 4:54am. I’d say that closes the case 🙂 I waved and shouted “Hi astronauts!!!”

So – great start. We’ll see what the peak days have to offer tomorrow and Saturday morning!

Peak Day One – 8/12

Tomorrow is really the Big Day but this morning is also considered to be part of the peak time to spot Perseids. Unfortunately I was tired from only getting 5 hours sleep after the previous night’s watch and although I got a few hours earlier at night to wake up to watch at 4am, I really couldn’t keep my eyes open. Still, in the 20 minutes I was outside I saw 6 bright meteors flash by overhead and the ISS made another appearance lower in the northeastern sky.

Peak Day Two – 8/13

I slept in the previous day so I could stay up this morning to watch starting around 4:30am – the full moon was still above the horizon tho thankfully at least low enough to be behind my house and tall trees so it didn’t shine on me directly but it still had a noticeable effect on the darkness of the night sky. From the southwest, high-altitude clouds were beginning to move in, which started to haze out the area of sky they covered as they slowly (thankfully) crept northeast. In my first 15 minutes I caught 4 meteors, bright ones obviously since you can’t really see anything else. The first left a nice long streak in the sky behind it. The ISS once again made an appearance, this time pretty much straight up in the sky traveling from the northwest to the southeast. And then…. and then I fell asleep 😛 I woke up about an hour later as the sun rose and headed back inside.

Oh well, haha. Still caught a couple good ones. Hopefully I can make it back out to the mountains again next year.

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