(meteorobs) Quads and Questions

bmccurdy at telusplanet.net bmccurdy at telusplanet.net
Wed Jan 4 06:14:43 EST 2006

   My luck continues to run very cold. I don't have to tell the denizens of 
this fine list about the havoc wreaked by moonlight in 2005, as the Orionids, 
Leonids and Geminids all featured a very fat, very high Moon. But beyond that 
I had very poor luck with observing conditions:  the Perseids spoiled by cloud 
within an hour; the Draconids wiped out; the others yielding low, 
scientfically worthless counts under various thicknesses of cloud, haze, and 
cirrus, all illumintaed by brilliant moonlight. I'm not sure I logged a 
hundred meteors in 2005, whereas I easily had ten times that in 2004 in a 
similar number of sessions.  

   With the turn of the calendar I hoped my luck would change. Luna would not 
be a factor for the 2006 Quadrantids and I was raring to go. With the peak 
scheduled to occur at 11:20 MST on the 3rd, I figured that if I waited into 
the wee hours I would at least be climbing onto one of the shower's narrow 
shoulders as the radiant climbed the sky. So I waited during a beautifully 
clear evening, and finally headed out after 1 a.m. with my son Kevin. By the 
time we finished the half-hour drive to the site southwest of Edmonton, the 
cirrus was already building ominously in the west and passing overhead in 
layers ranging from almost transparent to annoying. There were also patches of 
ice fog in the chilly (minus 11 C.) conditions. We could see the brighter 
stars in most directions, but the limiting magnitude could be 5 here and 3 
there and something different in both places a minute from now. So 
unfortunately, our counts were very low, and again useless.

   I did have the pleasure of spotting my very first Eclipticid, within a 
minute of starting my first bin at 09:00 UT. Am I the first to report one? :) 
But beyond that, pickings were very slim indeed, three Quadrantids (mags 3, 1, 
and -2) and two sporadics in 90 minutes of Tiff (INeffective observing time). 
By son was lucky enough to spot an orange fireball with two explosion points 
soaring parallel to the SW horizon, in the treetops about ten degrees up, 
which was accompanied by an exactly simultaneous outburst from our car radio. 
Otherwise his counts were as desultory as mine. The radio burst into song once 
a minute or so to confirm there was something happening up there, visual 
evidence to the contrary.  

   Now the question, which concerns perception and which I am almost reluctant 
to bring up. My visual acuity has really gone south in the last few years (I'm 
50), to the point where I can't read anything but signs and headlines without 
optical aid; I'm seriously handicapped at the Observatory when it comes to 
focussing telescopes for the public. But I'm also beginning to doubt my mental 
focus as well. In many of my recent meteor observing sessions, especially the 
slow ones with low counts (which is to say, most of them) I have registered a 
few faint meteors in the "past tense". It's like they're so natural, I simply 
don't react to them; then a couple seconds later I (might) go "hey wait a 
minute ..." By then I'm seriously doubting whether I saw a faint meteor or 
simply an internal reflection of the death of another faint neuron! 

   Often the delayed-perception memory is linear, and frequently enough it 
points back to that night's radiant. In last night's case, it was a sporadic 
coming in towards the Twins; after a couple seconds I simply said to Kevin "I 
think I'm seeing things", but he surprised me by describing it! Even though he 
too hadn't reacted to it at the time. Which was reassuring to some extent, but 
I'm sure I miss or discount more of these than I convince myself to count, and 
I'm seriously beginning to wonder if I need to recalibrate my personal 

   I wonder if others on this list have experience with what I call "deja vu 
observing", and how do/can you deal with it? Can I simply blame it on 
deteriorating vision, or is the only cure a full frontal lobotomy? 

   24 hours later, after an evening filled with determinedly clear skies and 
other commitments, I went out on to my back deck much later tonight (2:15 
local time on the 4th) hoping to catch the receding shoulder of the Quads. The 
clouds returned within 15 minutes -- did I mention my luck has been terrible? -
- but I did catch one beautiful zeroeth mag Quad streaking above the Little 
Dipper. A small but much-appreciated reward of my fourth Quad for two 
evenings' aborted efforts. 


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