(cba:news) 2001 Leonids

Joe Patterson jop at astro.columbia.edu
Mon Nov 19 09:43:38 EST 2001

Dear CBAers,

I thought some of you might be interested in what happened here in the
eastern USA.

We have a remote observing site about 50 miles from New York City, and I
took 18 Columbia/Barnard students there for a midnight-6 a.m. vigil.  Some
light cirrus may have been present (it was at sundown and sunrise), but
the sky appeared generally quite clear.

None of the students had observed meteors before, and the highest on the
scale of sky-awareness knew perhaps 3-4 constellations.  So this gave me
an opportunity to teach some constellations (by berating them to give
useful descriptions of where bright meteors appeared).  We had a C-8 with
us, and the seeing was spectacular - the best I've seen in many years.
I couldn't jack up the magnification too much since I was in a
public-observing mode, but at 200x the images of Jupiter and Saturn were
utterly sharp.  This is really unusual for New York!

I think none of the students had ever spent a night out-of-doors, and I
suspect few had ever spent even an *hour* in a forest at night.  This
caught me by surprise.  It was a somewhat warm night (low of about 40 F),
and most students had many layers of clothing (some looked like spheres)
plus sleeping bags.  Nevertheless, some said they were "incredibly cold".
I kept peeling off layers of clothing to meet these emergencies... which
turned out fine, since I was kept very busy responding to the other
emergency - the bathroom.  My advocacy of the sanitary facilities of the
outdoors was distinctly unpopular, so everyone used the toilet even though
there was no water in it (turned off to avoid freezing pipes).  So I kept
driving down the road to bring back water buckets and keep the toilet and
the humans happy.

Oh yeah... the meteors.  Between 1 and 4 a.m. the rate seemed to rise
steadily, from ~100 to 300 per hour.  From then till dawn, the meteors
just *burst* out of the sky.  We took 10 minute counts, because it was so
difficult to count them.  There was the expected confusion with rookie
observers ("wait, I think I read my watch wrong"... "I thought *you* were
keeping the time") - but between 5 a.m. and dawn, we were counting at a
rate between 1300 and 1600 meteors per hour.  We did a group count,
violating all the rules of course... it worked well for us, because we all
worked together and became aware of the system for counting.  We were not
strategized to maximize the count by any means, because nearly everyone
was looking generally from the SE to the SW, from Leo through Taurus, just
because it was the prettiest part of the sky.  Individually, I was seeing
about 60% of the counted meteors (standing up; since I had given away my
bag and most of my clothes, I was roaming around a lot).

That's about it for my report.  I'm sure CBAers would be interested in
hearing yours!

And by the way, I'm grateful to those of you that kept the faith (on
RX2329+06 and FS Aur at least) on our CVs during all the meteor


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