PERSEID WATCH 11/12TH AUGUST 2006
The Perseid meteor shower is perhaps the most famous and reliable of all the annual meteor showers which the earth encounters each year during its cycle around the sun. The meteors originate from short period comet Swift - Tuttle and for several weeks during this period amateur astronomers around the world watch and photograph the sky in the hope of catching a nice display. This year’s peak activity took place on Saturday 12/13th August however good meteor counts can be obtained several nights either side of maximum activity.
Google Earth view of Killylane Reservoir.
Multimap road map showing Killylane Reservoir.
OBSERVING FROM KILLYLANE
The EAAS were holding their own Perseid watch and BBQ at their favourite observing location outside Larne at Killylane reservoir, a beautiful observing location. We were set up in the car park over looking the wide expanse of blue choppy water that was Killylane Lake. Several anglers were busy doing their thing and already breaks were forming in the clouds and things looked promising. We were treated to a beautiful crepuscular ray display with numerous bright golden rays with dark shadow bands before sunset.
We ended up with approx 15 observers waiting for darkness to fall. Before sunset EAAS chairman Mark Stronge set up his 80mm refractor and projected the suns image onto a sheet of card set on the car park ground. The suns' disk was large and impressive with limb darkening and the new large sunspot group 904 which was split into two main groups with complex umbra, penumbra and light bridge. This group would erupt in the days ahead releasing a C3 class coronal mass ejection which impacted the earth causing impressive aurora displays around the world.
The BBQ was lit and we all had a good feed and chat. As the sun set planet Jupiter was the first object to appear out of the twilight and all scopes were turned in that direction. We had a nice view through Neill Mc Keowns' ETX 70 were all four of the gas giants large moons were on show. As dusk fell the summer triangle appeared in the NE followed by the bright long period variable star Chi Cygni which is currently undergoing a significant outburst looking like a true Nova at the centre of the 'cross' asterism.
The sky seemed to darken very quickly as the waning full moon (3 days after full) had not rose far above the NE horizon. We gathered in one corner sitting in chairs with others flat on the ground and immediately we began to see Perseids, Jonathan made the first visual catch of the night and very soon we had 6 within a very short period of time and they kept coming. We could glimpse stars at mag 6.0 and the Milky Way was faintly visible. When a meteor was seen observers would shout and give a quick magnitude estimate, colour and physical description. The majority of the meteors were a vivid orange colour and even the members of the mag 1.0 range left small elliptical short duration smoke trails in their wake. We seen 4 fireballs, 3 of which were mag - 4.0 and one at - 5.0 that left a long blue glowing ion train that pointed along the meridian. Everyone was having a great time as the Perseids put on a good show, the vast majority of members observed meteors while others sampled binary stars and deep sky objects with telescopes while beginners spent their time familiarizing themselves with the constellations using a planisphere. The moon rose above the pine trees brightening the sky but this did not bother us much. As a group we took several hundred images patrolling for meteors, it was a very cool night but we paid the moon little attention as the Perseids were putting in an unexpected performance, the count was already approaching 90.
PHOTOGRAPHIC METEOR PATROL
Mark Stronge came up with the good idea of arranging four SLR cameras at various strategic points to get maximum sky coverage which proved very effective. The group was very successful with many catching one or more Perseids using digital cameras. A special mention goes to Conor McDonald who captured his first image of a Perseid but went one better and got two in the same shot! EAAS member Philip Matchett also got his first Perseid image and went on to get seven in total on the night.
By now the count had reached 100 meteors! The international meteor organization predicted a possible enhancement of activity between 1 and 3 am however thick clouds quickly created overcast conditions. The clouds stayed for several hours so we waited for a while and had a great chat with the remaining 'hardcore' observers until everyone decided to call it a night at 02.00 BST. Altogether we had seen a total of 100 meteors of which 95 were Perseids and the remaining 5 were non shower members. Considering the bright moonlight and the 2 hours of clouds around peak activity we considered this a very good count. In fact this was the best Perseid display I have ever seen to date and would not be surprised when subsequent analysis might reveal heightened activity this year.
The Perseids of 2006 far exceeded our expectations so not only did we set many new personal records but we also caught many meteors with our photographic patrol with almost everybody bagging a ‘Swift’ particle for the record. The night was a complete success and we look forward to next years Perseid meteor shower which takes place under a dark sky.
Until then.. Clear Skies
Martin Mc kenna