The 2009 Perseid Meteor Shower Adventures

The Perseid Meteor Shower came and went last week. The peak was occurring between Tuesday August 11th and Friday August 14th. I always get excited about the Perseids. A few years back, I was observing on a rather explosive night of shooting stars, and ever since then, this has been my favorite meteor shower to observe. Living in Upstate NY, it is also one of the few Meteor showers to observe in shorts, under the warm August nights.

August 12th – Wednesday Early AM Hours

The first night, the skies were of a poor and low quality. I was feeling ill from battling a tooth infection, and I needed to go to bed early that night. But I struggled to stay awake for a while just to see my first Perseid come my way. Under a clear sky, but with thick haze, I stared up for about an hour or so. I wasn’t having too much luck as of yet. I didn’t expect to see a ton of meteors, as I was observing from my home in the suburbs, and there was a bunch of light issues from the suburban lights reflecting off the thick haze above. I was still hopeful to see a fireball or a bright grazer.

Nothing came, and I headed off for bed to rest my struggling body. I slept for about three hours, and then my wife woke me at 1 AM stating that skies were clear. I dragged myself out of bed, and went to the Deck. I joined in with a group of folks who were tweeting on Twitter about their meteor watching experiences with the tag #MeteorWatch. Twitter user ksastro (http://twitter.com/ksastro) was the coordinator of the online event, and it was great to see real time links to the meteors other folks were imaging, and to see their accounts of what was going on.

The moon was starting to climb over my tree line here, and combining this with the haze, a spectacular fireball would be needed to beat all the light in the sky. Finally a bright meteor ripped across the sky. It left maybe a 35 – 40 degree tail behind it….Wow! I was really impressed! It had everything except the crackling and sparking one often hears from others accounts. It left a pretty decent stream of debris behind it. I was amazed! I was so amazed…it took me a few moments to realize…its tail didn’t point towards Perseus, its tail pointed towards Scorpio. Ahh man…still hadn’t see a Perseid. But what a fantastic sporadic meteor it was.

With my ADHD getting the best of me, I continued to chat with ksastro on Twitter, and broke out the binoculars to gaze upon the moon. Called it a night around 3 AM, and went to rest my poor tooth once again as the sky was fully covered in a thick haze.

August 12th/13th – Wednesday night into Thursday AM.

Socked in by clouds. About all there is to say about the observational side of things. Fairly discouraging, but checked in on the #Meteorwatch on twitter, left a few tweets, and by Wednesday at around 5 AM, it occurred to me that ksastro was not sleeping at all. This impressed me being an amateur astronomer. I was still struggling with my tooth, and knew there was no way I was in any shape for serious sleep dep like that. I was saving it for the possibility that Thursday night into Friday AM would clear up. The weather forecast wasn’t looking so good though.

August 13th/14th – Thursday Night into Friday AM.

After work on Thursday, I checked the weather as well as the Clear Sky Clock for Kopernik Observatory. And one of those rare miracles in upstate NY looked to be happening. The forecast was perfect. Not just for clear skies, but the elusive transparency and perfect seeing that is almost never witnessed in NY State. For this I was getting excited!

After hanging out with my family for a few hours, I packed up the car. Taking my portable hammock that carries on my shoulder, my grab and go 4” Vixen refractor and porta-mount, binoculars, eye pieces, and of course my six pack of caffeine loaded mountain dew, I was ready for a night of observing. Got in the car, and headed up to Kopernik Observatory.

I was expecting a small crowd of folks to be up at the observatory. Of course first I expected the Kopernik Astro Society’s finest to be there. And most of them were. A few KAS members had headed up to Stellafane for the week for the Amateur Telescope Makers convention. But most of the KAS regulars were there. There was also a decent group of public onlookers there who wanted to see the wonders of the skies on a glorious clear sky night. I would say there were probably a total of about 40 folks there when I first arrived.

Awesome clear skies on this night. Jupiter was looking really hot! Great seeing and clear stripes to boot in the 6″ f/12 Astrophysics Planet Killer Refractor. Pulled in a bunch of classic objects in on the 20″ f/8 OGS (M51, M81, M82, M57, M13, M27, and of course others). I saw about 10 meteors in total, and from what folks were saying, we were seeing about 10 per hour or so. On my 4″ refractor in the yard. Checked out Andromeda, Jupiter, the moon, Albireo, lagoon nebula, and other objects in Sagittarius including globs, open clusters, and Triffid.

This was a great night for public outreach as well. I spent about two hours with one group of Binghamton University students showing them the sky’s wonders through the 20” scope as well as through my 4” refractor. They were really getting into it. Out of the five students, I am positive that I hooked at least one of them permanently. Especially after describing and showing them Andromeda before the moon became too bright. While working with this group, one of my 10 meteors came along, and left about a 60 degree streaming tail behind it. It was indeed a wonderful Perseid. Running towards the north almost parallel to the horizon is a somewhat slow motion.

I was impressed with some of the public members who hung in there with us until around 2 AM or so. That was great to see that level of enthusiasm, and the strong desire to observe the meteors. The KAS members including me all bailed out by 2:30 AM, as most of us had to work the next day ☹

Not the best Perseid Shower I have witnessed, but by far the most fun thing I had done that week. Once again, every night under a clear sky is what keeps me hooked and keeps me waiting for that next perfect night!

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