Tuesday, December 14, 2010

100 meteors

Meteor-watching is the wide-angle form of astronomy. No optical aid, just lie flat on your back with a good all-sky view. On 2010-12-14 from 0058 to 0230 I observed 100 meteors of the Geminid shower, plus three sporadics. That's better than one a minute. Two of them were brighter than Sirius, and one had a strong blue-green color. Several of them left trails visible for a few seconds.

The Etscorn Observatory here on the NM Tech campus is not a bad place for meteor-watching. There is a berm surrounding the observatory compound that cuts off most of the nearby light sources. However, it was pretty chilly out there tonight: the thermomenator in the car read 25F when I was heading back home, and there was frost on the roof of the car. My hands were so cold after packing up that I had hand cramps. I had to stick my hand in my armpit for a while just so I could operate the car key.

Equipment: foam pad; sleeping bag; heavy coat; fur hat with the fur on the inside where it will do the most good; gloves; water; flashlight. If you do this sort of thing in the winter, keep in mind that you will not be moving much, not generating much heat.

For comfort, I much prefer the Perseid meteor shower in early August. My friend Elinor the astronomer uses the term “sucker holes” for those gaps in the clouds that make you hope it will clear up, but then it doesn't. For the Perseids this year I was lured out to the observatory by some sucker holes, but before I'd been out there an hour, it was socked in.

Tonight, though, the sky had that diamond-hard clarity that we often get in wintertime here on the altiplano. Nothing like staring at the entire sky for an hour or two to give one perspective.

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