Last night, Melanie and I made
our yearly trek to a reasonably dark place to watch
the Perseid meteor showers. The sky was moonless
with the only significant light pollution coming
from the city of Erie in the east. We camped at
a marina, so there were a few parking lot lights
in the distance, but not in the direction of the
meteors. It was nothing special.
We set up
our camping chairs (very comfortable) at around
11:30 PM and stared at the sky until a little after
1:00 AM. Unlike last year when we saw a couple really
impressive fireballs, nothing remarkable appeared
this year. I counted about 15 total. With one exception,
all the meteors were bonafide Perseids since their
trails originated in the predicted direction of
Perseus (see map below).
If the radiant
point were to be any farther away from Perseus,
they would be called the Cassopeian Meteors. At
our 42.1° latitude, at this time of year Perseus
is only about 20° up from the horizon around midnight.
As usual, even if the meteor shower experience
is disappointing, the opportunity to get reacquainted
with the starry sky is utterly welcome. My house
is surrounded by tall tress, so the observing is
lousy from the yard. Nearby trains shake the ground
and planes from the airport constantly fly through
the space, so nobody would ever consider establishing
a serious observatory here; astrophotography is
out of the question. It is amazing how far the train
horns travel all the way to the lake shore - a mile
away and 100 feet below the track elevation (they
blow those *@^%# horns all night long). But I digress.
Because the sky was unobstructed by cloud or
haze cover, and because the moon had not yet risen,
an excellent view of the Milky Way was provided.
A tree line prevented seeing the more southerly
constellations and stars, but everything to the
north was there in full splendor. Although I religiously
read Sky & Telescope magazine every month and
review the sky charts in a desperate attempt to
prevent all aspects of my once heavily pursed hobby
from being lost, it takes actually getting out and
observing to refresh the image on my mind.
I rely heavily on the oft-used little sayings
to help me find my way around the night sky, like
"Follow the arc to Arcturus," and then, "Speed on
to Spica." The former refers to continuing the arc
of the handle of the Big Dipper (an asterism, not
a constellation) on down in to the constellation
of Boötes , where the bright red star Arcturus resides
(3rd brightest star in the northern sky). Then the
latter instructs to keep going in the same arc until
you find the bright star Spica in the constellation
of Sagittarius (bluish-white, 15th brightest in
the northern sky). Cygnus the swan's bright star
Deneb (meaning tail) easily identifies the constellation
that is said to be "Flying down the Milky Way" because
it stretches directly along the thickest part of
our galaxy's milky white background haze of stars.
The Summer Triangle, composed of Cygnus' Deneb,
the bright star Vega in Lyra the lyre, and Altair
in Aquila the eagle, was a sight to behold against
the backdrop of the Milky Way. Once Pegasus and
Andromeda had climbed out of the city light, the
binoculars easily fond the Andromeda Galaxy - always
an awesome sight.
It all brings back memories
of when I would climb through the access hatch to
the roof of barracks at Robins AFB, in Georgia,
when my interest in astronomy was first kindled,
and use my star maps to learn the night sky. Unlike
up north, from Georgia I could see a few of the
southern constellations. I really wanted to catch
a glimpse of the Magellanic Clouds (Large or Small),
but they were just too close to the southern celestial
equator to see. I'll have to settle for pictures
since I doubt at this point in life I will ever
find myself below the Equator.
it was a good night. Next year I vow to take a pizza
with me and spend more time.