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Come along now, let's start shooting stars - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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November 19th, 2002

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03:04 am - Come along now, let's start shooting stars
ConSummation this weekend was very good. I may write a longer write-up at some point.

A bit of excitement this evening: the Leonid meteor shower is at its peak with regard to the year tonight and this is expected to be rather a peak year with regard to at least the next thirty, possibly the next hundred. Furthermore, the sky is apparently the clearest it has been on a peak night for years, according to my parents who regularly go looking for the Leonids and Perseids a couple of times a year. It's rather cloudier to the west, but unoccluded to the east.

The Dickson family got wrapped up warm (not too different to a family of Bibenda) and went out in the car to the local dark, clear place - about four miles south of where we are and six miles south of the centre of Middlesbrough, so the light pollution isn't too bad. We looked for about 45 minutes or so; I saw one dramatic, definite meteor - that is, one which was brighter than everything else in the sky except the moon and appeared to travel possibly 10 degrees through my field of vision, taking perhaps three-quarters of a second to do so. I also saw four possible ones which were much less bright and didn't travel anything like as far. They were probably indistinguishable from peripheral vision tricks brought on by the darkness. Unfortunately, my parents didn't see the big one and returned home disappointed. (Not too disappointed, though - we made a detour down Linthorpe Road to the studentier parts of Middlesbrough and picked up a box of hot chips. Evidently the kebab shops stay open until at least 2am even on a dull Monday termtime night in studentland. Midnight feasts are always fun.)

Peak activity is expected at 4:03 am GMT, or about an hou's time, so we're going to strike out again a bit later, possibly heading north to the station end of the Castle Eden Walkway (a former disused railway) where the local astronomers hang out in order to have another look. If there's anyone else in Europe who's reading this and still awake, the next 2-3 hours are basically expected to be particularly good. Start looking now! For those who are in North America, a secondary peak is expected at about 5:30am Evil / 2:30am Pacific.

The BBC offers some top tips to would-be stargazers. Look ENE, a bit to the left of the planet Jupiter, probably roughly at the same level of elevation, then wait, wait and wait and wait some more. The full moon will make things harder to see, but we should still be able to see several meteors per minute, with good luck and a following wind. The meteors will tend to appear to come from the middle of the constellation Leo, hence the name, but if you're interested enough in stargazing to be able to identify the stars which make up Leo then you probably know all about the meteor shower already.

Good luck and happy gazing!
Current Mood: starcrossed

(8 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 18th, 2002 07:29 pm (UTC)

Look! Now! Look now!

Have seen at least one dramatic one and one smaller one which didn't leave a trail from just outside the house.

This is about the only one time of year when I wish we had a sports car, just so we (we being everyone but the driver) could be looking for them even while we're driving out to our favourite dark location...
[User Picture]
Date:November 18th, 2002 08:34 pm (UTC)
I work at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

And you know I have no interest in seeing the meteors this year.

I'll look at Astronomy Picture of the Day tomorrow.

[User Picture]
Date:November 18th, 2002 09:31 pm (UTC)

I'm sure you've seen it all before plus much, much more :-)

So what would you recommend as an accessible second step to someone who might like to get interested in the prettier shows that astronomy has to offer?
[User Picture]
Date:November 19th, 2002 07:52 am (UTC)


Do you mean looking at pretty pictures? or do you mean actual observing?

Astronomy Picture of the Day is a cool site:


The Hubble Space Telescope has lovely deep field images:


For local observing you should check out the nearest University - they may have public lectures and observing nights for the public. We do.

Do you live near Cambridge? They have an Observatory.

The newspapers (The Times for you and the NY Times here) almost always have articles regarding upcoming celestial phenomena and it's visibility, as well as what constellations are in the sky.

If you haven't done much naked eye observing - it is kind of fun to take a book out into a relatively dark place - a field or something away from ambient light. H.A. Rey has a wonderful book on Stars. It is simple and practical.

I was a history of math student (well, classics actually) and we used that book in college during our intense study of Ptolemy. Doing lots of geometry was interesting - but sitting on the side of a mountain in the dark and identifying the ecliptic, constellations, and a few planets was spectacular. Ptolemy was much more concrete after that.

Date:November 18th, 2002 09:41 pm (UTC)

Do you think the star directions and placements are the same in Detroit area as they are in England? *loffs stars*

[User Picture]
Date:November 18th, 2002 09:57 pm (UTC)
Wouldn't have thought that a mere 4,000 miles would have made that much difference in the astronomical scheme of things, but the curvature of the earth probably will make things at least a bit different. Also not sure how far North MI is compared to the UK and whether that will make much of a difference: probably some but not very much. (I haven't thought about this very hard, as you can probably tell.)

I'd check with the usual suspects for local information: Scientific American, NASA, Google, newspapers and so forth.

Tired now. Bed beckons.
[User Picture]
Date:November 19th, 2002 08:50 am (UTC)

I wanted to see it . . .

But several things conspired to keep me from enjoying the view:

1. FOG! It was very foggy here last night.

2. LIGHTS! The Sacramento Metro area has about 1.7 million people in it, and I live almost literally right in the geographic center of it.

3. SLEEP! I was exhausted and didn't feel like getting up at 7:00 a.m. like I normally do, much less 3:00 a.m.

4. FULL MOON! (Obviously a problem over there, too.) But it's too dang bright and washes out much of the show.

So, I missed it this year. My loss, evidentally.
[User Picture]
Date:November 19th, 2002 10:50 am (UTC)

Glad you had fun at your weekend events. Longer post, longer post! *poke poke*

I watched the meteor shower last night! Was outside the dorm for about an hour with some of my kitchen mates. It was gorgeous. :) Not quite as spectacular as last year, but still most impressive. And it was SO COLD out! *brrrrrr*

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