August 20, 2008 #034 - Meteors

As I was standing in the yard looking for Perseid meteors last week my mind traveled back to 1966. That fall the news media was hyping a Leonid meteor shower that could rival the 1866 and 67 peak. Astronomical predictions for showy meteor showers and comets tend to be overblown. Halley was a big disappointment after months of news media hype. It is the surprise event which usually turns out being spectacular. The peak which is associated with Comet Tempel-Tuttle was to occur that year on November 11.

I talked my sister into taking the army cots out in the back yard to count meteors. The sky was fortunately clear that night. It was, needless to say a little cool out so we both wrapped up in our sleeping bags and began looking for trails as twilight ended.

We were a little disappointed as early on things were slow. Then as the night wore on we began to notice more, including some very bright trails. My count reached about a hundred an hour. Then something fantastic occurred. The sky opened up and meteors began to rain on us. We lost count when we saw several at a time. The bright ones kept pulling our eyes to different parts of the sky. There were a lot of wows and look at that! Then a fantastic sight occurred! Literally hundreds of meteors began to be visible at any glance. It reminded me of driving through a snow storm with the flakes shining in the headlights, coming at you. It turned out to be the meteor storm of a lifetime. We just lay there and tried to take it all in. I read later in Sky & Telescope that it was estimated that the peak reached an estimated 10,000 per hour at some western locations in the U.S.

We finally left the yard for our beds late that night, cold but filled with wonder at what we had seen.

Clear Sky - Rich

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