Monday, October 22, 2012

The Orionids (not)

 It's 2:55 am on Sunday (10/21/12) morning and my clock radio has come to life. Appropriately, "Coast to Coast" is playing. I wake up quickly, swing my feet over the edge of the bed, pull on my robe and gather up a few items I've arranged on my desk the night before.

 I'm down the creaking steps in the middle of the night and I find Mom is already awake in the living room, expecting me and not sleeping because she's worried I'll miss getting up.

 At the back door I grab my camera, already placed on the tripod and manual settings made. I step into the darkness of a country night as the 38° air tickles my face. I've got a winter coat pulled over my robe and a knitted stocking cap on my head.

 I'm startled by a barn lot light to the southwest ... probably Coffman's. It's enveloped in a thick ground fog and looks like a full moon setting. But the moon never sets there.

I slide along the edge of the garage, careful to not trip to infrared sensor on the lights. I want the darkness to stay undisturbed and I want my eyes to continue to adjust. I've come for the sky. I've come for the Orionid meteor shower.

 I've chosen this time purposely. Orion will be just east of south and the debris from Halley's Comet should be pelting the atmosphere with its ancient debris. The rate of meteors is expected to average around 20 per hours near dawn. This is close enough, I'd say.

 Close up (above) Orion's belt is brilliant. Angling down from it is fuzzy M42 (the Great Nebula of Onion) and M43. I can see a wisp of color but the camera does a better job of discerning details. I need no telescope. My eyes and this telephoto lens are sufficient.

There, in the opening between the trees which line Sam's driveway, is Orion. Betelgeuse, bright red, command a apex of the parallelogram. Down in the tree branches is Sirius, rising already. It is a marvelous view. The stars stand out as brilliant pinpricks of light, colorful and bright and I feel lucky to be standing here alone.

 Here's a wide view of what I see. Orion commands an open place of respect and I have a front seat view of the potential action.

 And then I wait. And wait. Forty minutes later I have watched Orion slowly step westward but I have not seen a single flash of light. While I stand there, no dogs bark and only two cars thread there way along Clayton Road.

 Here's a 15 frame movie of Orion sliding westward. It covers 3:07 am to 3:16 am. Imagine how far the stars move in a mere nine minutes! Is it any wonder that the earth revolves?

 By 4 am I'm a bit dejected and pulling the electric blanket back over my shoulders. I haven't seen a single meteor ... and neither has my camera. In the 40 minutes I stood in the chilly (and damp) night air, I took 48 time exposures. Not a one shows a single meteor in that part of the sky.

 But who's complaining? I had the sky to myself and it was a lovely sight. Where is the loss in watching majestic Orion and Sirius sliding up through the branches of our ash? Time viewing the sky is never wasted. A meteor would have just been an extra gift but the gift itself was already given.

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