August 13th, 2009


Perseids sighting

This morning, I awoke at 2:30am and decided fate was telling me to get my ass outside and watch the meteor shower. I pulled on long pants and a shirt, scarfed a Peanut Buddy, grabbed a can of ginger ale, doused myself in mosquito repellant, origami-ed a folding chaise lounge into my Crossfire, and headed out to Clinton Lake Park to watch the fireworks.

Click the image to see a story about Clinton Lake.

Turns out that the park is closed, but the road leading up to it is decently dark for this purpose, so I parked there and set up the chair in the shadow of the car. The Moon was out in force (waning gibbous - nearly last quarter), and West Lawrence is now getting bright enough to pretty much blot out the sky above it, so the best way to view the sky was by putting up one hand at arm's length to block the Moon's glare. I settled into the comfy chair, peering into Perseus' realm.

The first interesting object was a man-made satellite that passed above Perseus, shone brighter than most stars in the sky, then faded to dark. Cool and creepy. A few seconds later, I witnessed my only fireball of the night - beautiful! Its trail - about 8° long - glowed for a few seconds afterward.

Soon, I realized that I could enjoy the best view - and see more meteors - by angling the lounger such that I faced the darkest part of the sky, with Cygnus pretty much in the center of my field of view. Cygnus flies through the heart of the Milky Way, which is gorgeous even under attack by light-pollution.

Click the image to see a Slovenian astronomer's page.

Jupiter is dramatic right now, far and away the brightest non-Moon object in the night sky at nearly -3 magnitude; around these parts, it's directly overhead at about 1:00am. Really made me wish I could carry my telescope right now.

Click the animation to see a Kansas astronomer's page.

I was also pleased to discover that I can find the Andromeda Galaxy with my naked eyes, even with such a light-washed sky!

Click the image to see the story.

And when I was done meteor-watching, I stared directly at the Moon. There just isn't anything else up there that is as lovely as our companion world, sharp shadows revealing its terrain all mountainous and rugged.

Click the image to see the story about Moon phases.

In all, I caught 20 meteors, 19 regular ones after the fireball. There was one flurry at about 3:15am, during which I saw 5 in shor succession, but mostly they appeared at a rate of about one every minute or two. Tonight, I don't think we got the 3:00am storm that folks saw last night, but I was so glad to be out and doing astronomy again.

Click the image to see the Spaceweather story.

How'd your sky-watching turn out?


Astro-Image of the Day: With bonus Perseids story

One of this summer's students of the CSSF Intensive Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction, Christopher Cokinos, wrote this wonderful Perseids story. Check it out - it's lovely (and short)!

For inspiration, have a gorgeous meteor photo:

Click the image to see the story plus an amazing video of the night's show.

Oh, geez, I almost forgot my favorite meteor of the night! It came directly at me for about three seconds. How did I know it was gunnin' for me? Well, from my perspective, what I saw was a star that appeared, grew brighter for a time, then really bright for a moment, then it slowly faded. I'm pretty darned sure it wasn't a supernova, so I'm going to assume it was a meteor whose trajectory terminated right at Clinton Lake drive where I was parked. If only it were a bit more massive, I might have a memento from the event!


my soul just died a little bit...

...when NPR played a xylophone version of a non-hit Nirvana song.

This comes in second only to when I first heard the Muzak version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in a Seattle elevator.

Ye gods. Am I getting old and cranky or is this really what has become of the anti-pop band's legacy?