Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Watching for a Perseid

The annual Perseid meteor shower was just a good excuse to get outside this evening and enjoy the clear night air. For August, it was even a little crisp. About 9:30 p.m. (too early, really; the Perseids peak about 2 a.m.) I mosied out into the backyard, PJ and robe-clad, and set up my camera on a tripod. About halfway across the yard, there's a good opening through the pines where I can see to the northeast. That's also the direction of Dayton from here so it presents a bit of an undesirable glow for astronomy. Anyway, here's the wide view I saw.

If I crop along the bottom right of that picture I get the one I've posted below. That may be a Perseid streaking across the frame or it may be an airplane. In either case, I didn't see it while standing there. Why? I set the camera up, tripped it for a 10-second exposure and then proceeded to marvel at Jupiter and the moon, both brilliant in the southern sky. I aimed the camera northeast because that's where the constellation Perseus will rise later. At this early time, any meteors should be traveling across the sky (rather than seeming to flow down) and that's what the one pictured seems to be doing. So it may be a meteor but it may also be an airplane.

But what got my attention was Jupiter and the moon, sharing a section of the sky's southern real estate. The meteors - if there were any - were probably washed out by the brilliance of the moon.

Finally - and this picture was actually taken first - is a view looking roughly northwest through the row of Scotch Pines that I planted 22 years ago as a windbreak. The sun has set about 45 minutes ago but the western sky is still glowing close to the horizon. This picture realistically shows what I actually saw. Even with the slight glow, the stars were poking through the darkness and the far-off dogs had started their nightly barking. Very little traffic passed.

This is what I most enjoyed about camping, looking up and enjoying the night sky. At Bear Lake, I'd take a pillow out in the boat and lie there for hours, bobbing on the lake, marveling at the stars above. It's too bad that the sky glows so unnaturally by all the lights we've littered around the landscape. Give me a dark night!

A couple of days later, I took the picture I've posted below. It was partly cloudy and the moon kept drifting behind banks of clouds. A nearby rain missed us to the north. I walked to the north side of the yard and shot to the southeast, capturing the outline of Pinehaven in the moonlight, it's windows aglow. You can see the outline of the pines and in the center of the picture, the chimney for the fireplace.