Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Perseid Hunting Grounds

Perseid Hunting Grounds
Originally uploaded by dmourati

Tonight I took off on a quest to see the Perseid Meteor Shower and it did not disappoint. I did some research this afternoon to help plan my stargazing for later that evening. I loaded up my camera, tripod, flashlight, warm clothes and some food and headed out on my bike at around 10:00 PM.

By 10:15 I was at my designated viewing spot and my eyes had adjusted to the dark conditions from the bike ride over. I laid down on a park bench right next to the San Francisco Bay and turned my attention to the sky above. It was a bit strange at first realizing how vast the sky was and not knowing where specifically to look for the meteors.

Within 10 minutes, I had seen the first signs of the meteor shower. The blue glow lasted for just an instant and traveled from my right to my left high in the sky. At the time, I wasn't sure I had seen a meteor at all. Perhaps my eyes were playing tricks on me?

If the average Perseid meteor is the size of a pea, what I saw next must have been at least a golf ball!

A vibrant red glow appeared off to my right. There was no mistaking this one, it was a meteor for sure! I literally whistled as I saw it appear as one might upon seeing a fantastic soccer goal or exotic sports car. It was beautiful. The meteor shone brightly for nearly a second then fizzled away leaving me breathless. Scientists call it an Earthgrazer.

"Earthgrazers are meteors that approach from the horizon and skim the atmosphere overhead like a stone skipping across the surface of a pond," explains Cooke. "They are long, slow and colorful—among the most beautiful of meteors." He notes that an hour of watching may net only a few of these at most, but seeing even one can make the whole night worthwhile.

The next half hour brought two or three more meteors. One other noteworthy sighting came into view directly above me. It appeared blueish in color and lit up nearly as brightly as the red one I had seen earlier. It solicited yet another whistle.

As the night wore on, I bundled up with a ski jacked and hat to keep warm. I was determined to see more and more meteors. There were just so beautiful I couldn't resist.

After the first four or five meteors, the Moon made its first appearance. My research earlier in the day indicated that the moonlight would diminish visibility of the meteors and should be filtered out by positioning yourself behind a tree or building. This was not possible in my case and I realized later that my stargazing window was rapidly shrinking. Adding to the decreased visibility, fog started to roll in and further put a damper on the night sky.

I managed to capture a few shots with my camera which I set up initially with the tripod and some long exposure settings. I tried desperatly to record one of the Perseids with my setup but it was not meant to be. The only time the camrea was rolling when one appeared, it must have been out of frame as I could find no evidence in the shot.

By 1 AM I decided to wrap it up for the evening. By that time I had counted 13 meteors, five of which I would say were brilliant. It was truly an awesome experience. I hope the photo above gives you at least some sense of what it was like to be out there.

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