Perseid Meteor Shower - 8/11-12/2012

posted Aug 12, 2012, 10:17 AM by Jim Twellman
The attraction of this meteor shower to the public was amazing.  Despite partly cloudy skies (up to 90% cloudy at times, down to as little as 20% cloudy at others) the cars coming in had exceeded Broemmelsiek Park's paved parking capacity by 9:15.  Amy White, Steve Boerner, and myself did overflow parking duty for about 35 minutes until park rangers arrived. We were very appreciative of their help. When I left around 12:30 I estimated that there were still about 70 cars there.  Probably double that number of vehicles had come and gone prior to my departure.  Estimates of attendees were 300+, and I would say it was closer to 350.  It very well may have exceeded 400.  Many that arrived had around 4 people per car, which was good.

We had posted on our website that we would begin hosting this event at 10pm, partly due to our monthly meeting on that evening at Weldon Springs, as well as favoring higher meteor counts at later times.  I left our meeting early and was probably the 12th car on the lot when I parked around 9pm. Amy had put out the 'lighted' sign at the park entrance already, and did a lot of "welcome wagon" duties throughout the evening (Thanks Amy!).  Many (20 or so?) of our members came over after our meeting and shared info with the public.   Most guests arrived with lounge chairs, folding chairs, and blankets.  Jealousy was expressed to the few that had 'zero-gravity' lounge chairs and inflatable mattresses!

Only a few scopes were active, and views were shared early on while folks were settling in and it was getting darker.  Once the first bright meteor was seen though ("ooh", "ahh") folks curtailed the chit-chat and settled down on their lounge chairs and blankets.  Several "circles" of observers were seen, as this configuration allowed each in the group to be duly informed of the ones they missed, behind our heads.  Surprisingly, the heat wave that we had suffered with in the past 6 weeks subsided, and no fans were needed.  Temps were in the 70's early on, and dropped into the 60's as time progressed.  One benefit of the recent heat wave and drought was that bugs were hardly noticed at all.

It did not take long to fill the grass and concrete pads in the scope area, and then the grassy field to the west (near the restrooms) became fully peppered with blankets.  Like a fireworks show, whenever a bright meteor was seen you could hear the crowd noise, occasionally topped off with applause.  Despite the clouds, I personally observed 18 meteors over my roughly 2 hours of observing (not quite 10 per hour) pre-peak, and I "heard" the observations of others on the ones that I missed at over twice that.  This park can be fairly dark, but when there are a few clouds the light pollution tends to "bounce" and reduce transparency greatly.  As a result, few meteors dimmer than mag 4 were observed.  Thankfully, this shower provides a good number of bright meteors.  Several that I observed left smoky trails, one "short" Perseid left a trail for around 8-10 seconds.  I observed no bolides or fireballs personally.  Approximately 4 of the meteors that I observed were not from the Perseid radiant.  Most of these were determined to be from the Kappa Cygnid meteor shower, which over-laps with the Perseids.

My observations ended at 12:30 and I packed out.  Tom Richards reported that quite a few hung out as late as 4am, and were rewarded with clearing skies in the wee hours.  The clearing was partly due to having reached the dew point, and I'm sure quite a few blankets had become slightly soggy.   It was worth it all, as the Perseid shower was rewarding, even thru the plentiful cirrus clouds.

Jim Twellman