Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Orionids

Satellite moving through Orion

 Last night was the peak of the annual Orionid meteor shower, and I persuaded some friends to go star-hunting with me very early this morning. There were three reasons for going in the morning:
1. It rained all day Saturday so the evening sky was invisible.
2. The moon set around midnight, and you can see stars better without the moon.
3. The scheduled peak of the shower was just before dawn.

So at 3:30 this morning I peeled myself out of bed to check the sky. It was a warm night for October, with a light breeze. There were clouds on the horizon but the sky was clear, so I woke my daughter (everyone else in the family flatly refused to wake up that early) and we went to get our friends. I had hoped to watch the display from the top of Cadillac Mountain, where we would have had a 360• view and as little light pollution as you can get on the East Coast, but as we turned onto the access road we climbed into a thick fog. Given the height of the mountain, it could have been a low-lying cloud. I'm an optimist, so I dragged everyone to the top, hoping it would clear, but in the end we turned back and settled for the view from Kebo golf course, where there was too much light, but at least a wide view of the sky.

The Orionids are called that because they originate near the constellation Orion, which here in Maine in October is in the southern part of the sky. We set up our chairs, the kids huddled into blankets, and began watching. It certainly isn't about instant gratification - meteors go so fast you usually see the movement, not the light. Stare into the part of the sky where you expect to see them. Eventually there will be a streak of motion, and everyone will gasp, "Ooh!" while the people who blinked just then will say, "Drat, I missed it!" We probably saw a dozen over the course of half an hour, by which time my daughter was ready to go back to bed.

The streak of light in the photo is probably a satellite, not a meteor, but it is going straight through Orion (it's just below his belt.) I'm still trying to figure out what the five-star constellation is up there in the upper right of the photo. Canis Major, maybe? or  part of Taurus? Constellation maps always make it look so simple, but when I'm staring at the sky there's just so much more there!

Astrophotography notes for the curious:
ISO 200
28 seconds
(tripod and wireless shutter trigger)

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