Category Archives: Astronomy and SpaceWeather

2016 Perseid Meteor Shower

Frustration – that was a common emotion during the days leading up to and through the peak of the shower this year.  Clouds, clouds, and more bloody clouds.  There were many days that were sunny, and plenty hot, that saw mid and high level clouds develop right after sunset.  A couple of the lead up days were completely cloudy, and the peak day was mostly cloudy.

The end result was a total of about 160 meteors observed across a one week period.  A small break in the clouds near Minco on the peak night allowed me to see 30 small Perseids:

One of my better shots in a lead up day came against clouds (no surprise there) and a bright moon on August 10th:

Perseid captured against the bright Moon during the late evening hours

The best viewing night came early on the 13th, when skies became mostly clear and I observed 65 meteors just one day after the peak:

That night, I saw two meteors that were spectacular!  Both were bright enough to illuminate the ground.  Unfortunately, my camera only caught enough of each one to let me know how good the shot could have been.  One developed out of and moved into frame, the other appeared in frame and moved out:

 

Oh well, the way it goes – most of the time.

 

 

Perseids 2016!

Perseid captured against the bright Moon during the late evening hours of August 10.

Perseid captured against the bright Moon during the late evening hours of August 10.

The perseid meteor shower will be peaking tonight (from the late evening hours of the 11th into the early morning hours of the 12th).  This could be a special display of the perseids as this is a predicted “outburst” year.

From Spaceweather:  In ordinary years, Earth grazes the edge of Swift-Tuttle’s debris zone. Occasionally, though, Jupiter’s gravity tugs the huge network of dust trails closer, and Earth plows through closer to the middle. This appears to be one of those years.

Rates this year could approach 200+ meteors per hour during the peak of the event.  For the amount of light pollution we have in rural areas of Oklahoma, this means you will probably be able to see about 100 per hour, if you have the darkest sky possible, there are no clouds, and you can see all of the sky.  In the OKC metro area, only the brightest meteors will shine through.  One could expect to see 10 or 15 per hour.

Final Perseid shot

At least for this year.  There will be some low numbers of Perseid meteors over the next few nights, but my last dedicated observing of this year’s show came early this morning.  Clouds got in the way at times, but I still ended up seeing about 15 nice meteors in the cloud breaks.

In my opinion, the Perseid meteor shower is the best of the year for several reasons.  Obviously, the shower produces more fire balls than any other shower.  But it’s also nice because it comes in the middle of August, when anything to break up the doldrums of summer is welcome.  In addition, you can usually sit out at night in comfortable air – unlike the Leonids, Geminids, and Quadrantids from November into January where you usually end up needing several layers of clothing.  So, until next year, Perseids!

 

Perseids Peak

Skies ended up clearing off at just the right time and it ended up being a beautiful night for observing the peak of the Perseid meteor shower.  For some reason, I only ended up counting about half of what I usually do for this shower.  But there were still several good ones to observe, including the one above that left a smoke trail which could be seen in several more images.  I’ll have more, including a time lapse of the dissipating smoke trail in the days ahead.

 

Perseids Peak-eve

Ramping up to the peak of the Perseid meteor shower.  Rates have increased to about 20 per hour and will approach 100 per hour Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.  The above composite image contains four meteors that were captured Tuesday night.

 

Ramping up to the peak of the Perseids

Getting a few nice meteors during the evenings leading up to the peak of the Perseids which will occur from evening of the 12th to early morning of the 13th.  With a moonless night, we should be headed toward a 100+ meteors per hour peak.  Latest model data suggests that there may be a few showers and thunderstorms over the High Plains.  These may spill some high clouds across central Oklahoma, but the present thinking is that most of the sky will be cloud free.  If you have the time, this would be the perfect show to head toward the dark skies of the country.  I expect that even in light polluted areas of Oklahoma City, you will be able to see a dozen or so of the brighter meteors.  The image above was shot from the backyard late Monday evening.

 

They’re back!

A small Perseid meteor just behind the edge of high clouds - early on August 7

A small Perseid meteor just behind the edge of high clouds – early on August 7

But it’s not like we didn’t know they would be coming back, or when it would be.  A 1.5 hour sky watching period last night spotted six meteors.  At least two were Perseids, one of which qualified as a fireball.  The Perseid shower will ramp up steadily until its peak from late on the 12th to early on the 13th.  By that time, the average viewing rate should be one a minute in an area with low light pollution.

This should be an excellent year for this shower, due to a totally dark sky as the moon will not be rising until just before sunrise on the peak date.

A different kind of storm…

During an extended storm chase trip to the central and northern Plains, we were treated to a storm different than what we had set out for.

Under the category “timing is everything”, we happen to hit a down day with regard to severe thunderstorms, and used it to position ourselves for a possible aurora display.  Space weather had been active as several coronal mass ejections (CME) were released from solar flares directed at earth.

Everything came together and a severe G4-class geomagnetic storm occurred during the late evening hours of June 22 and early morning hours of June 23.

We took up a position 8 miles northwest of Forsyth, Montana on Highway 12.  To say this is remote is an understatement.  Light pollution was truly near zero, with the only light coming from a brilliant display of the aurora borealis.

The experience was incredible and the lights danced for us for about two hours.  The selected images here have had very little processing.  The foregrounds have been brightened, but the sky color is pretty much straight out of the camera.  This special event won’t be soon forgot.

A special thanks goes out to Vince Miller who suggested this location as a spot for very dark skies.

Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2

Comet Lovejoy has been the target of many telescopes and cameras over the last month.  Apparently it was visible to the naked eye last week, but not to MY eyes.  It has reached its peak and will be losing brightness from here on.

Because it wasn’t visible to the naked eye, I didn’t put a whole lot of effort into this one.  This evening, I decided to step out back and shoot with just my standard 80-200mm zoom.  It came out better than I thought.  The tail was more visible in the images than I figured it would be.  An airplane was passing in this image, it might give a little perspective… might.