Perseids 2014

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Everyone brought reclining chairs to catch a few Perseids after sunset.

Last Wednesday evening, the local Astronomical Society club that Amy and I belong to held its annual Perseids Party and Picnic at Parmentier’s Observatory.

About 35 club members attended and brought spouses, kids, dogs, and plenty of dishes to pass. The weather was perfect for our annual get together at the foot of the dome.

The hobby of astronomy can be a solitary obsession that often finds one alone in the stillness of the night with only mosquitoes and crickets for company. But it’s the social events like the picnic that bring us together as friends, and remind us of our common passion for the wonder that endlessly drifts overhead.

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The picnic started at 7 p.m. with enough food to feed a small army of star gazers.

If you’re going it alone, good for you. But if there are clubs in your area, don’t miss out on the opportunities to observe with others, attend star parties, volunteer at public outreach events, go to swap meets and picnics, and hang out with the gang for public observing and the Messier Marathon. Having friends that share your excitement and your enthusiasm makes the hobby of amateur astronomy all that much more satisfying.

Gerry, the NPMAS club president, did all the cooking.
Gerry, the NPMAS club president, did all the cooking.
Since the party started before the sun set, a few club members set up solar telescopes.
Since the party started before the sun set, a few club members set up solar telescopes.
Amy gets a hug from the club president.
Amy gets a hug from the club president.

 

Lynn

 

The Omen

Last Saturday, a handful of us gathered for the Kroes Observing Weekend, which is an organized event hosted each year by one of our club members. It gives us a great opportunity to observe a dark western sky close to home. I didn’t take advantage of that horizon though (my neglected to-do list included every direction but west) but I still had a mission in mind.

After we arrived and gathered our stuff from the car, we hiked around the barn to get to the viewing area. It didn’t take me long to find him. The eastern horizon there is relatively flat, so it was easy to pick out my old friend Orion, already scraping his knees along the horizon an hour before midnight. I plopped my lawn chair down facing due east and spent the last hour of the day looking for Orionid meteors.

Although you can record meteors at any time for the Astroleague’s Meteor program, it seems to me that it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if there wasn’t a full-blown meteor stream going on. After all, only one meteor out of six during that hour that was not an Orionid.

As I sat there looking in his general direction, it didn’t take long for that old anxiety to return. See, I have a big problem with Orion. Just like the Robins and the Daffodils announce the arrival of spring, in our neck of the woods, Orion’s appearance each fall heralds the beginning of a long, cold Wisconsin winter. I think the trees agree with me too, because once he gets his head and shoulders over the horizon, they immediately drop their leaves and go to sleep. I don’t blame them.

Come mid-winter, Orion hovers over my house like a frozen angel. In the last few weeks of the year, he fits quite nicely within the only open area in the dome of trees that covers our yard. I see him chuckling as I scurry from my frozen car to my frozen front door across my frozen ice-covered driveway. Real funny.

I suppose I could take solace in the knowledge that, in early spring, he’ll quietly disappear below the horizon and all the leaves will return and the ground will warm. But from here, that time looks a long way off. Brrrrr.

Lynn

A Night With the Perseids

Last night was another opportunity to go out to Parmentier’s Observatory in Luxemburg, WI., which is operated by our astronomy club. And although it was the night before the peak of the Perseids meteor shower, Amy and I went out to see the show. Tomorrow may be the peak, but in Wisconsin, you go when it’s clear because you never know what the weather may bring tomorrow.

The club hosts Parmentier’s Observing Weekends (POW’s) once a month for most of the year (usually around the time the moon is a crescent, or will be rising when it won’t interfere with our observing).  Amy and I usually drive out before it gets dark so we can socialize and get our gear organized, but last night we didn’t arrive until well after dark at around 10:00 p.m.

The first thing we noticed when we stepped out of the car was the Milky Way right overhead – something we never see here in town. We could tell immediately that we’d picked a good night to go. I had been concerned that the ground might be mushy and that it might be humid because we had received over two inches of rain the day before, but sunshine and a windy day had created a beautiful sky with very low humidity.

Fortunately we both thought of bringing warm clothes, and immediately bundled up in our winter coats, hats and gloves despite the fact that it was August 10th. In addition to the 64 degree temperature, we were just a few miles away from Lake Michigan, and the wind was blowing steady from the North at about 12 mph.

We grabbed Amy’s reclining lawn chairs and our backpacks and headed towards the small group that was already nested at the base of the dome. We found Gerry lying on the ground snuggled up on an air mattress, Gary fiddling with his camera equipment waiting to snap a good picture, and Wayne just kicking back and enjoying the sky. Normally, if the weather’s good, there’s a much bigger crowd, but the wind meant the dome wouldn’t be opened and small scopes would be jittery.

We set up our lawn chairs facing Cassiopeia, piled on a few blankets, and settled in. Amy was also just there just to watch, but I took the opportunity to finally get started on the Astronomical League’s Meteor program. Recording meteors was very clumsy at first,  but it didn’t take me long to get the hang of it. I managed to record 20 meteors between 10:45 p.m. and 12:45 a.m. And since everyone would Ooooo and Ahhhh in unison every time one whizzed by, I know I only missed two or three while I was busy recording.

I personally usually find observing very stressful. I know my way around the sky a little, but get lost when I’m trying to find things in an unfamiliar area of the sky while juggling heavy binoculars, sky charts, pencils, red flashlights, watches and clipboards in the dark – all this while battling mosquitoes, ticks, dew and feet that are frozen in the snow. It is not a hobby for the faint of heart.

But last night it was wonderful, just relaxing on a reclining lawn chair and admiring all the stars. The companionship was warm, the jokes were funny, and all the while we listened to 70’s music playing softly on Gerry’s radio, trying to be the first one to guess who the artist was. It turns out that Wayne is quite the 70’s trivia master, and we learned all sorts of little-known facts about Neil Diamond, Elton John and Billie Joel  – I guess there’s more to learn on an astronomy outing than just about the night’s sky.

But by 1:00 a.m. Amy and I were feeling cold and sleepy so we packed up and headed home. And as I fell asleep in my warm, cozy bed,  I thought of all the meteors I would miss as they sparkled across the sky all through the night.

Lynn

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