images above to see a larger image of the Geminids.
meteor shower of 2001 was a wonderful show. My friends Mark
Egan, Hannah Lange, and I viewed the Leonid Storm of 2001 a month
before. We were curious what our reaction would be to a meteor shower
that was not a storm, after seeing such a great display at the Leonids. The curiosity and the desperate need for starry skies were enough
to plan a trip to some dark skies for the Geminids.
The Monday before
the trip my mind was on nothing but the meteor shower. The
meteor shower occurred on December 13/14th and later on the 14th Houston
would have a solar eclipse of
which 40% of the sun would be covered. It could be a wonderful
time. . . if the weather held up.
predicted rainy days, but clearing two days the 13th and 14th. Thursday
came along and it rained and stormed just about all day. The forecast
for Houston and Columbus for that night was decreasing clouds. Then
Friday's forecast was increasing clouds. Such an odd forecast with all
the rain, I was afraid we would miss out on the meteor shower and solar
eclipse. Just after 3:45pm I left work to find clearing skies to the
North. My heart beat quickly as I realized it was indeed clearing. I got
home and called Mark. . . we were still on for the meteor shower!
I headed over to
meet Mark and Hannah. We packed the car with several jackets, cameras,
tripods, and Mark's very nice large telescope.
We drove out to Columbus,
Texas and set up our observing station. The skies were magnificent
as the Milky Way cut across as a silver lining of the starry
heavens. Several naked -eye objects immediately caught my
attention. M31 was easy to spot, as was the double clusters NGC 869 and
884. Mark setup his telescope and focused in on M42, the Orion Nebula. I
had only seen M42 through my 4-inch scope and this view through his
large scope was fabulous. Light wisps of clouds surrounded the
center stars, which formed the Trapezium, which cause the nebula to
glow. Then we viewed the double clusters NGC 869 and 884 in Perseus,
which were also stunning. With my 10x50 binoculars I caught a great view
of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. While viewing the night sky through
my binoculars I was treated to a meteor that crossed swiftly through my
field of view. . .excellent! As the night rolled on Cancer's Beehive,
M44, caught my eye. Canopus rose just above the trees for us to
view. Canopus is the second brightest star in our skies at -.072. For us
in Houston we get a brief view of it during the winter, farther up north
they never get a glimpse.
Mark and I took
some shots of the skies. Mark was using a
medium format camera. I was using a camera Mark had given me (thanks
Mark), a good little Minolta Z with a 28mm lens at f/2.8. There were a
couple of small groups of people spread about at the Astronomy site in
Columbus. We watched meteors and enjoyed each otherís company. Mark
left to meet up with Mike and Miranda to show them to the site. Hannah
and I hung out and watched the skies. They returned along with Marg and Frank from the Houston Astronomical
Society. We all watched the show, braving the cold. Mark, Mike, and I
took several shots of the skies.
meteors graced our skies. There were a few trains, but not like those
observed during the Leonids of 2001. There was one that lit up the area
with a dazzling flash. The rest were very good meteors. We saw several
sporadic meteors that were pretty bright. The meteors were intriguing
because of the various speeds at which they traveled. I noticed several
that slowly danced across the sky while others were extremely fast.
There were a few that I observed that were green and yellow/orange. Most
seemed white or a tint bluish. Curiously enough Mark and I viewed some
very unusual meteors. At one point, maybe around 3 or just after 3, I
saw a meteor above the tree line, South of Ursa Major, close to -1
magnitude that shot across the sky about 2 1/2 degrees then curved
real quick for about another degree and a half. I was the
only one that saw it and I dismissed it. Then some time later Mark
viewed one that behaved the same way. Of course we enjoyed those little
oddities of the sky. Mark made 15 minute counts during the meteor
It was really cold
out there too. When Mark was putting his telescope in the car he called me over to
show me that ice covered it! Mark said the temperature was 34 degrees Fahrenheit
that night. Yikes! We certainly felt it through the several layers that
we were wearing. Hannah brought a thick sleeping bag. . .good idea I'll
have to do that next time.
It was a wonderful
event! I found that I was not jaded about meteor showers after viewing
the Leonids of 2001. I believe that my friends would agree with my
feelings about the meteor shower. We just love starry skies, especially
if they are graced with some of God's brief, but dazzling guests. .
Egan's Meteor Count