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Log, Nov 19, 2004

21 people. Tonight was one of those evenings that I seriously wondered if we would see anything but where it actually improved throughout the evening. When I first arrived a high thin cloud layer allowed the Moon and the bright apex stars of the Summer Triangle to appear as glows. Hardly auspicious. I set up just in time for the first family to arrive. In the telescope, the craters on the Moon made a pleasing sight at least for a 5 year boy. His little sister wasn't quite so sure.

Well the Moon made a reasonable starter but then what? Well we could see the apex stars of the Summer Triangle so I turned the scope on Vega. Wonder of wonders, not only was Vega visible but several stars in the area. I quickly turned the scope a short distance and we were looking at Epsilon Lyrae - the famous double double. With more bravery than common sense I turned the scope across Lyra to M57 - the Ring Nebula. Crash - well back to reality, on a Moon lit night with thin clouds, the contrast between the Ring and the sky was so poor that while I could see it, I doubted that anyone without many hours of deep sky practice would have seen the Ring.

More and more people began to come and the clouds thinned a bit more so we did a bit of star hopping in the yard. By now we could clearly make out constellations made up of second magnitude stars. Everyone wanted to see the Leonid Shower. I explained to everyone that it wasn't likely to be very good this year. The Leonids follow the path of Comet Tempel-Tuttle as it makes pass after pass through the inner solar system. In 1999 and again in 2000, the Earth happened to encounter a fresh trail (from the last hundred years or so) at just about the time that North America was in the early predawn hours. This made for the spectacular showers we remember.

After I explained that the height of the shower always occurred when the side of the Earth where you were observing from was the leading hemisphere. This occurs between Midnight and the following Noon with "dead ahead" occurring at 6AM. Those of you who braved the earlier showers will remember that the best shows occurred just before dawn as we approached 6AM but while it was still dark. I had no plans to stay open all night for an expected paltry shower. More to the point, families with small children had no plans to keep the youngsters up past say 10 PM. None the less we did manage to see quite a few early bird meteors. None of these early birds was spectacular but many people got to see one or two or more. Nick Teta was lucky enough to see one cross the face of M42 while he was looking through the 16" telescope.

There was some confusion about the differences between comets and meteors. One lady explained that it had to be a comet because it had a tail. We explained that the streak of a meteor was merely gas heated to incandescence by the passage of a small particle of dust or a pebble from the comet. I guess there must have been extra interest in the sky tonight due to the shower because a lot of first time visitors showed up. The nature of my talks was basic at many points. A few of the people did not know the difference between a star and a planet.

Saturn was not yet up, and any attempt at looking at a setting Uranus or Neptune was stymied by the thin clouds. As M42 began to rise and Saturn cleared the trees, most of the people had left. Wouldn't you know? The sky really began to get dark and clear. In fact by the time Nick Teta and I closed the place (just after midnight when the Moon finally set), the sky decided to really put on a brilliant display of bright stars against a dark velvet background. Grrrrrr!!!!

Weather permitting, we will be open on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Nov 19, 2004
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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