Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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Perseid Meteor Shower: August 11 and 12, 2008

Well who would have thought it possible? On the late night of August 11 into the wee hours of August 12, 20 intrepid explorers took to the top of Inwood Hill Park to see the Perseids. Now, it wasn't going to be a good night. The day before there was a massive thunderstorm all over New York. Donna and I were returning from London where I was on work, and Donna was on holiday with me. As we flew into JFK, the weather was so bad on the 10th, that we circled many times over Boston and Long Island. I was discouraged.

And during the day on the 11th, it oscillated between an overcast downpour and sunny skies. Well, the sunny skies won the night. I nearly wanted to bag the night. But out we went at 11PM, fully anticipating having to send everyone home. It was not to be!

The skies cleared and stayed clear until 3:00 AM. Most people had read over the website or just knew what to bring. After a brief meeting at the park entrance to wait for a few people, up we went into the park. Our group was chatty and nice. We took our places on the ground. I had brought up tho 6" to the top. And then the skies kept getting better and better.

We could easily see a few hundred stars naked eye. You could almost see M31 without a 'scope. We saw many meteors, as well as a lot of deep-sky. We saw M51, H & . Persei, Albireo, Jupiter (with Ganymede at first contact with the planet, as it would passing in front). But the telescope was not the centerpiece. You just could not believe how excellent the skies were. Almost every night in NYC, you can only get 10-50 stars at best. But we were seeing all the stars of Ursa Minor, and many minor stars in Cygnus. The Milky Way density of stars (if not the Milky Way itself) was clearly evident on the sky. I just was astounded at what were able to see.

The meteors flashed, and we could see numerous meteor "hairs" just on the edge of visibility. we saw quite a few bright ones, and even three that left discernible lingering trails. We had a good, clear view of Perseus, with all the streetlights being blocked by the tall, leafy trees.

I gave away goodies to all, and even helped one young astronomer to learn quite a bit more. Hopefully, he'll be back.

There was even a sweet couple who BIKED all the way from Brooklyn just to come to the event. As soon as they arrived at 2:00 AM, the brightest fireball of the night occurred. They had the luck of the Irish on their side. We pretty much packed up by 3, and said our good-nights. It had been a wonderful evening with new friends, and hopefully some new astro-buffs!

We need to do this weekly, if at all possible. Now I have to try to see Algol wink. And I really want to do a Messier Hunt from NYC. That'll be a trick.

Watch little meteors dash across the night sky, exploding in cosmic fire. We go out after midnight into the Park and up on the hill when there will be known meteor showers. Bring coffee, a jacket, and a lawn chair. It is a great time just to look up and watch them buzz on by. Maybe you'll see a meteor burst overhead as it tumbles all the way to Earth!

Notes from last year.....
Update: 5:00 PM, August 11, 2008

The weather today has been REALLY strange, but we are going for it. Make sure you bring a chair so you are not on the wet ground. Tonight, please bundle up and bring layers. Do not think that it is Summer. It will be colder than you think. If it looks like we might have to cancel, we'll just get a beer at Piper's at the same time, but not so late. Glad to talk astro-shop over a Smithwicks! Please look at the forecast to the left and the Clear Sky Clock. Meet at the entrance at 11:00 PM tonight. We go up at that time. So be a bit early. We won't be able to wait around very long. If you are late, walk towards the flagpole in the park next to the dog run. Take a left behind the tennis courts. Go up the completely unlit stairway. When you get to the top of the stairs and the therefore, the hill, take a right off the path towards a clearing. This will be a quiet-like-a-library outing. NO ALCOHOL.

General Information

We will be making a night of it on the 11th into the morning of the 12th. They are up late, with the peak starting at 1:30 AM. So, we'll meet at the entrance of Inwood Hill Park (Seaman and Isham Streets) at 11:00 PM on Monday the 11th, and stake out a place in the Park. It will be a very late night, going until roughly 3:00 AM. It is all weather-permitting, with no rain date. I will post on this website if we are a go or no, so check in on the 11th right here. You can also gauge our chances looking at the Current Weather and the Clear Sky Clock links to the left. If it is about 50% cloudy, then I will bring the telescope to the Park entrance for about an hour and show off the night skies, such as they are.

What to bring

Please bring someting to sit upon, where you can look straight up. A beach towel is not enough, since the ground up there is rocky and uneven. A tarp down first is OK. The best bring a lawn chair or something to sit upon that allows you to lean back and look straight overhead. Please do not bring alcoholic beverages. The parks people will shut it down instantly if they see that. Also, since we are in the park after midnight, it will be a quiet party. iPods with Space Music are perfect. Surprisingly, a long-sleeve shirt and jeans are not a bad idea. If you bring a flashlight, please make sure you color the lens red or put red cellophane over it so all can preserve their night vision. Walking shoes are a must, since we might migrate during the night. If you have a small telescope, please bring it. The summer overhead skies are gorgeous, and if we are lucky, we'll see more than just Meteors.

What Is a Meteor Shower?

In the meantime, here are some links to help you learn about meteor showers and what to expect. You'll notice that the dates range a bit, but we are going with NASA's estimate. Please go to the calendar page to add it to your Google Calendar.

NASA has a great little writeup about the shower. Visit Science@NASA for more details about this exciting event: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/22jul_perseiddawn.htm

Here is another resource from an avid Meteor Shower Group. http://www.meteorshowersonline.com/perseids.html

StarDate from McDonald Observatory has a good writeup about observing them. Also, they have a daily webcast program on astronomy that is pretty cool. http://stardate.org/nightsky/meteors.

Inwood Hill Park Hilltop

Our lovely hilltop got treed over in May 2009...

Above: The Meeting Place

View Larger Map on Google Maps

About Jason Kendall

I am currently adjunct faculty at William Paterson University teaching astronomy. I hold a Master of Science in Astronomy from New Mexico State University. I am also a board member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Since 2008, I have led the Inwood Astronomy Project which brought over 200 events of stargazing and public astronomy outreach to upper Manhattan, including the historic Inwood Star Fest, where Inwood Hill Park lights were turned off as part of the 100 Hours of Astronomy event in IYA2009. This was the first time in New York City history when park lights were turned off for an astronomy event. I've also focused on park safety due to an uptick in sexual assaults in Washington Heights and Inwood during 2011. I've worked to make our parks safer by encouraging public use of parks at night through night-time events with Park Rangers. I have led numerous "starwatching parties" and astronomy events in New York City, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas. I am also proud to have been part of the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Program from 2009 to 2012. It all started way back in the fourth grade by the encouragement of two noted astronomers, Charles Schweighauser and Bart Bok. I saw Saturn through Charlie's telescope at then Sangamon State University on a clear Illinois night, and Bart encouraged me under those stars to study hard to come visit him at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I finally did make it down there about a decade after Bart passed away, and I found the favorite spots in Tucson, Arizona, where Bart and his wife Priscilla would spend when they were not gazing at the stars. Bart and his wife were pioneers in the study of the Milky Way, and their studies of the starforming regions called Bok Globules. It's even in my family. My great-grandfather was a Midwestern minister who used to preach his sermons out under the dark, cloudless nights. He always believed that getting out and experiencing the wonders of the natural world was a central part of being human. My family has always been inspired by his words: "We look up to look within." I hope that you'll join me under the stars or at one of my talks.

Come see what's up in the sky!

Jason Kendall

We look up to look within

William Paterson University Department of Physics American Astronomical Society Astronomical Society of the Pacific Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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