Log, Nov 17, 2000

52 people. wow...Wow...WOW...WOOOOW! DIDJASEETHAT! I'm not sure what type of wildlife makes these strange calls but there was an awfully large number of these cries coming from somewhere just east of the National Wildlife Preserve in Charlestown last night. There is a rumor that the sounds are generated by an unusual form of nightlife called amateur astronomers, but this must be false. Astronomers are dignified sedate mature adults. Certainly they wouldn't be the cause of all that commotion. Little does the public suspect that under those mild mannered exteriors lurks the wild untamed interiors of METEOR PEOPLE!

We'll get back to the Leonids in due course, but for now lets talk about what we viewed. I arrived at just before official opening hours (6:30) to find that I was very nearly the last staff member to arrive. Joe, Doug, Robert, Tom and Barry already had the 16" scope looking at Uranus, Neptune, M2, M15 and were on the Helix Nebula [NGC7293] (with an Oxy-III filter) when I came in. The weather had bedeviled several people coming from the west and north. Our friend Ernie Evans had driven over, ran into bad weather and had headed home only to have it clear. He headed back to FDO. Doug had passed through a shower. However at the Observatory, it was clear, cooling rapidly and very windy.

We looked at the Saturn Nebula and I was surprised that the seeing was as good as it was given the windy air. I would have expected a great deal of turbulence but there was only a modest amount. The wind must have been traveling in laminar flows rather than chaotic eddies. When we turned to M27 we got a real surprise. The Dumbbell as most of you know is composed of two gas/dust blobs connected by a thinner bridge - pretty much like a dumbbell. Not last night. The area around the bridge was glowing brightly. The "weights" were now the edges of a football with points in the area that normally seem empty. This effect was very noticeable with the Oxy-III filters.

Outside Joe has set up the Observatory's Questar and Barry had set up a Dobsonian. Several people wanted to know what type of telescope they should buy and this let us compare and contrast various telescopes. A visiting Boy Scout Troop (from Providence) were soon lined up at not only the 16" but behind the Questar and at the Dobs.

Inside we looked at NGC6823 and NGC6960 (the famous Veil Nebula). The Veil was stunning. We turned to the always beautiful Albireo (Beta Cygni), the Ring Nebula [M57]. We also saw M35 (and it companion galaxy NGC2158) M36, M37, M38, M41, M42, M46 (planetary) and M79 (globular). M79 is unusual because most of the globulars are in the Summer sky. However, M42 was a real stunner. Not only could the Trapezium be seen [including E and F] but I caught glimpses of three stars in the gas clouds I normally never see. It really depended on waiting for moments of steadiness between heavy gusts of wind.

We looked some famous doubles. We split the companion of Rigil and we looked at the quadruple star Sigma Orionis. Throughout the night we looked at Saturn and Jupiter (and a total of nine moons) over and over as more and more people stopped by. What a nice group too. Lots of thoughtful questions and general interest was shown by person after person. Doug turned the scope on the Moon, but yours truly decided to save his eyes for meteors which were just beginning to pick up.

A Great Leonid Year at Last! Yeaah! Holy Cow! Over there!!

We had though about planning a Leonid Party , but naw, it didn't make much sense. Last year there was a prediction of a wonderful shower, perhaps even a full meteor storm (when the sky looks like the climax of a fireworks display). Well, last year was a real disappointment. We weren't going to get anyone's hopes up too high. Besides, the Moon was in Leo (right where the meteors come from) and the predictions from the professionals indicated that the meteor swarm would hit the Moon more than it would hit the Earth. Logically, this was a lousy year for meteor watching. Then again, what do meteors know about logic? Nada! Nichts! Nothing! This was a great Leonid year!!!

It was windy and in the 30s so people looked for a wind shelter. The first place was in the Lee of the Dome, but the Dome is cylindrical and winds managed to whip around the edges with little to stop them. However, the Nature Center is a big rectangle with a gable which blocked the winds well. Soon the watchers had moved onto the deck at the Center, many with hot Chocolate supplied by one of the members. The deck was protected, dry and had a great view. The Chocolate was tummy warming, tasty and had the desired effect. We were in Meteor watching heaven (or almost except when your feet got cold).

Overhead, the meteors began to pick up in intensity as the Earth moved from facing away from the shower to directly into the shower. By 12 the rates were up to perhaps 50-60 decent streaks per hour with an occasional major streaker. One by one people left, but by 1:30 the rate suddenly shot up. Rates were now several hundred meteors per hour with 10-20 major streaks. In spite of the sky show, people bid a yawning good night and finally it was down to the hard core nut cases of Joe and Les.

Have you ever had a conversation with a good friend interrupted by frequent screams by either or both? Sort la la la la WOW!!! la la la YES!! la la la. Well that is what Joe and I were doing. Eventually, about 2 PM it became simply scream after scream of delight. However, the piece-de-resistance didn't arrive until just before 3. We were sitting with our backs to the Moon which was by now nearly overhead. The radiant (the point where the meteors seem to originate) was just to the "left" of the Moon.

Suddenly a true bolide flared across the sky. It was largely greenish blue (stony iron meteor?) with a wide band of light and a fiercely glowing blue white incandescent globe. It streaked overhead from the area near the Moon into the north north west, a streak easily half the sky long. Brilliant as it was, what was amazing about it was that it didn't fade to nothingness. We started to count 1-thousand 2_thousand ... 90_thousand. At 90 seconds I simply started up my illuminated watch. Five minutes later we could still clearly see the trail, although by now it was irregular as the winds blew it apart. Very much like winds blowing a plane's contrail. Admittedly the Moon was illuminating the streak, but I've never seen the like.

Joe was going strong but by 3:30 I was so tired that I didn't dare stay much later. Running off the road because you fall asleep at the wheel is a real party pooper after a night at FDO. We got to the main gate just in time for the Charlestown Police patrol. We waited for him to make his tour and when he came back, the policeman said that he had been watching the meteors all night. He also said that a group from Brown University were over at East Beach with special wide angle sky camera's filming the event. I hope Joe managed to find them, because that is where he headed. I headed home and tumbled into bed just at 4 AM. What a night!!!

An Addendum from Joe

In fact, the meteor photographers at East Beach were none other than our friends Hank and Jack from Skyscrapers, along with a third gentleman. All were photographing the shower, with the unnamed fellow using a setup with 5 different cameras loaded with different speed films. We talked about the shower we'd seen, and all agreed that the peak was at least 200 per hour. They'd all been looking at the right part of the sky for the 3:00 fireball, and confirmed the 5 minute train.

Les fails to convey the number of meteors visible at about 2 AM. It was impossible to look at any point in the sky for more than 4-5 seconds without seeing a meteor there. It was truly spectacular. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It underscored the need to bring lots of extra cold weather gear to FDO, just in case!

-Les Coleman, Joe Hartley

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Nov 17, 2000
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
Subscribe to Leslie Coleman's Log RSS Feed