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Click the images above to see a larger image of the Geminids.

The Geminid 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.

The forecast 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. 

Sky Observations:

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.

Meteor Observations:

Several bright 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 shower. 

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. . .meteors. 

 Mark Egan's Meteor Count

 

 


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