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Reflections on a night with the Perseid Meteor Shower 2013

August 18, 2013 Leave a comment

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Photo courtesy of Rod Trevaskus from Middletown in Powys who took this image of the Milky Way on the 12th August, complete with two meteors! Click to enlarge…

Last Monday night (12th August) was the peak of the Perseid meteor shower when the dust trail left over from the passage of Comet Swift-Tuttle crosses Earth’s orbit and the debris, reaching speeds of up to 132,000 mph,  burns up in our atmosphere. It is the most impressive of the annual meteor showers with the highest number of bright fireballs (meteors reaching a brightness of magnitude -3 or brighter at the zenith) and at it’s peak, in good dark-sky conditions, you can expect to see up to 120 meteors per hour across the whole sky.

We had almost forgotten the shower here in the early evening as the weather had been very cloudy, there was a low quarter phase moon in the west and the prospects for good visibility looked poor. The inclement weather, combined with the need to get up early for work the next day, made us rather apathetic about the whole event. Fortunately my wife poked her head out the back door just before we headed off to bed and I heard that familiar little gasp of awe as she called me out to look at the amazing clear sky.  The clarity of the sky on Monday night was astounding here, one of those really rare nights when the stars are rock steady with no furious twinkling going on. The Milky Way was so bright overhead that it looked like moonlit cloud passing over. Within a minute we had seen our first small Perseid flash by and decided to stay out for a while. The Ikea Poang chairs were brought out, which lend themselves perfectly to visual astronomy as they are low and gently reclined with good back and neck support. We covered up in light duvet jackets and a fleece or sleeping bag over the legs – we were all set for the show.

In the end we were out there for just over two and half hours from 10.30 -1.10 with a good dark view of the western sky and saw a total of 60 meteors. Most were faint and white with a yellowish tinge, but some were greenish and one large fireball heading down through the constellation Hercules was quite magenta in colour, with a long persistent glowing tail burnt onto our retina’s which lasted a few seconds. We had a nice bright pass of the International Space Station around 11pm and there were two really bright iridium flares from the Iridium telecoms satellites passing over. We had at least three bright fireballs in that time and something really big flashed over in the north, out of our direct line of view, which briefly lit up the thin cloud cover building up at that time. We both came in buzzing from everything we had seen and that excitement lasted right through to the next day.

With all of our expensive modern equipment in amateur astronomy these days it is comforting to know that the simplest and most companionable form of visual astronomy can still give you that sense of wonder and buzz of excitement. It was one of those unplanned events in our life that we will always remember and cherish.

Categories: Meteors