November 17, 2009 4 Comments
Like a fool I got up in the middle of last night and drove out to Lake Mary to watch the Leonids. I have to say, nature could have gone to a bit more effort – they weren’t at their best. Nevertheless I saw 37 meteors in two hours, although at least five of these weren’t Leonids because they came from a wildly different direction, were much slower and had longer tracks. The Leonids themselves were short, sharp and tended to have a blue-green ionization track, but I’ve seen far brighter and better meteors.
The stars however were stunning! I could have read a book by starlight on this wonderful moonless night. Nowhere in the US could have had better viewing conditions than Flagstaff. I could see quite a few nebulae and clusters with the naked eye, and the Orion nebula had a distinct mauve tint.
Only three meteors were kind enough to step in front of my camera – this was the best of the three (the other two I didn’t even see with the naked eye):
In this animated GIF you should be able to see a bit of space junk I captured by accident. I don’t think it was a satellite because it was very dim and wasn’t on a polar orbit. Each frame is a 30-second exposure, so it certainly wasn’t a meteor. The big blob bottom-left is Mars and the cluster above it I’m pretty sure is M44.
It was all very beautiful, but the air was 17 degrees below freezing and so when I started to lose my third toe to frostbite I decided to call it a night. By then it was about 3.30am, mountain time, and I bet you anything the best meteors were just waiting in the wings for me to turn my back!
37 meteors was pretty nice, and not far from the forecast frequency, although it wasn’t quite as good as the 1,000 or more per minute seen in 1833, which must have been stunning. It reminded me very much of the night my son was born. I’d gone to the hospital with Ann in the ambulance – blue flashing lights across the lonely hills to Chesterfield, about 10 miles from where we lived. After Chris had been born it was too late at night to find a taxi (even if I could have afforded one), so I had little choice but to hike home across the Pennines. Once I got to the last streetlight it was like walking into a black wall. I couldn’t see anything at all and had to feel my way with my feet for the next half hour. But by the time I was on top of the fells, the stars were on full form and a meteor shower guided me home as if I was in a scene from the Bible! A memorable night.