Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pull up a Chair for the Celestial Dance

This time of year, the we are graced by the Perseid meteor shower, which occurs when the Earth passes through a field of debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle. Luckily, I work at night, and my job entails spending quite a bit of time outdoors. On Saturday night, I was lucky enough to see a spectacular fireball that left a brief, incandescent smoke trail blazoned across the Big Dipper.

There are some obstacles for the urban stargazer, specifically, the light pollution from nearby New York City. Not quite two hundred years ago, Washington Irving wrote of the celestial phenomena visible in the Hudson Valley, about thirty miles north of midtown Manhattan:

From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of SLEEPY HOLLOW, and its rustic lads are called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the neighboring country. A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a high German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his pow-wows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs; are subject to trances and visions; and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole nine fold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.

It's harder to see the shooting stars and glaring meteors these days, but I figure I'll see a fair amount of meteors if I hunker down outside for a few hours. I'll just hunker down with a a couple of good friends in a comfortable spot, and I'll watch as much of the skyshow as I can.

1 comment:

mikey said...

As much as I have always loved astronomy and cosmology, meteor showers have always left me cold. Stuff that happened in our own atmosphere? Not terribly interesting. And since I did a LOT of observing, I saw meteors every night, so a shower was just an increase in volume.

I was always partial to Globulars - M13 in Hercules is just stunning in a 6" scope at low power - and nebulas like M20, which is every kind of nebula there is - emission, reflection, dark - all surrounding an open cluster. In that same 6" scope, this time with a high power eyepiece (say, a 6.4mm Plossl or a more common 25mm Plossl with a Barlow Lens) you're going to see something that will haunt your dreams and make you feel like a citizen of the galaxy...