Sword of Mars: A bright Perseid meteor streaks to the left of planet Mars. You can see constellation Sagittarius just above the glow along the treeline.
This year’s Perseids meteor shower peak bridged two nights and sky conditions promised to be better Sunday than Saturday’s cloudy mess. So, off I went again to wait for meteors. On the recommendation of fellow skywatchers, I headed to a nearby Ohio state park which has a spot with the reputation of distant horizons and darker skies than we’re used to; that turned out to be true.
It was a long night at Findley State Park. The Perseids didn’t seem particularly active and really didn’t become noticeable until after 11:00 but there were a few showy fireballs to be enjoyed. I managed to capture a couple of bright meteors over the several hours I spent standing on the dam, looking up — my neck is still sore — and having all of my equipment getting covered in heavy dew. I finally left at 1:30 AM when all of my lenses had become fogged up and showed no sign of clearing.
Here is an extremely bright, and very slow fireball just within the right edge of the frame. I remember the streak appearing warm in color, yellowish, but the camera recorded the spectral colors you see here. The lights near the bottom of the picture are artificial lights onshore, not reflections of stars.
Finally, I packed up my dripping-wet gear and headed to the parking lot at about 1:30 AM but made the mistake of looking up before getting into my car. There was an amazing patch of stars surrounded by the black outlines of trees — the path of the Milky Way directly overhead. I grabbed a few shots with a lens that had somehow managed to defog, and reluctantly left for home. The experience, overall, was worth being tired and sore today.
Looking up from the parking lot: “My god, it’s full of stars” is a phrase associated with a scene from the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey” spoken by David Bowman as he entered an alien-created “stargate.”
Catching up on postings, I’ll start with last night’s efforts watching for meteors. While waiting for the sky to darken, I enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the lake at Letha House Park West, a Medina County (Ohio) Park System property. (I have after-hours access.) I’m glad I arrived early even if the wait for darkness was all the longer.
A Showy Sunset made Waiting for Meteors a Pleasure.
The annual Perseids meteor shower was highly-anticipated, not only because it reliably produces many bright “shooting stars,” but because Moon was in its new phase August 11 — no natural light pollution! Unfortunately, with thin haze and clouds overhead, human-produced light pollution from Medina, Ohio was quite bad! Still, we did see several “fireball” meteors — flashes brighter than the planet Venus — and I did capture a few. Best of the night showed two, yes two (2) meteors glowing at the same time! This is a stack of two sequential 15-second frames and both meteors appear in both frames at different stages of their burn! Close-up viewing of the streaks shows faint lines leading to the flares of these little fireballs heading generally left to right (east to west) in this crop from a 15mm fisheye lens field of view.
Pretty Pair of Perseids: Two Perseid meteors glow high in the southern sky over constellation Sagittarius.
Now, I’m assuming these are meteors; there’s something odd about the timing and appearance of the streaks and flares. There would have been a one- or two-second delay between the end of the first exposure and the beginning of the second, which seems long for a meteor. No Iridium satellite flares were predicted via Heavens Above. Time was 10:30, Saturday, August 11.
Meteors became a bit more frequent around midnight, which is typical, but the atmosphere was playing havoc with our observing. We left the observing site at about 1:00 AM with clouds building ever-thicker and lenses fogging up. It was a fun night watching for meteors… even if, or maybe because, they were a rare sight!
Orion & Co. Photograph (left) and Identification Chart. No meteors showing!
Curious about how the Geminid meteor shower was going, I stepped outdoors at around 10:00 last night. In the five to 10 minutes I stood in the cold air, I spotted three bright meteors and that’s under our light-polluted suburban skies! Reports were coming in from other areas of North America remarking on the quality of this year’s crop of meteors. And so, despite my fatigue, I set out with camera and tripod for points farther away from city lights. A dark parking spot along a road in Hinckley looked mighty good: there was no ambient light and I was south of a layer of thin, city-lit clouds. Not long after I’d set up, a car drove up, its lights bothering me. The car pulled into a nearby parking spot and the driver started a conversation. I thought it might be a policeman about to tell me to move along or a not-so-nice person out to pester me or worse! Turns out it was another would-be meteor watcher/photographer seeking darkness and a bit of reassuring companionship. This was good. So there we stood, out in the cold, quiet darkness comparing notes and experiences, snapping shutters, spotting a meteor here and another there. Now and again a sound was heard coming from the woods — deer? Occasionally commotion came from the direction of the lake — ducks and geese. Not creepy if you aren’t alone. Photographic efforts continued. Thing is, if your camera doesn’t happen to be aimed at the spot where a meteor zips by, you’re not going to get a picture of it … no matter how bright it was. I saw a Geminid cover half the sky, in the portion of the sky opposite where my camera was aimed. My companion and I suffered the same frustrations … aimed at the wrong space of sky at the wrong time to record bright streaks. So after maybe an hour, with cold feet and 117 photo exposures done, I said goodnight and we headed in our separate directions. I had seen more “falling stars” than I’ve seen in a good long time. Although I got no meteor images it was a beautiful night. From the southern horizon, up, was the brilliant star Sirius, then the grand constellation Orion, and up from there was planet Jupiter floating just above the Hyades star cluster. Above them all (though not in the photo I am displaying here) was the lovely Pleiades star cluster. Those pesky thin clouds, illuminated by street lights, formed patterns in the sky even where they did not completely cover it. That was my little midnight meteor-chasing adventure.