(IAAC) Meteors and "the sky in general" (long)

Starr Hernandez wrote on the 'meteorobs' list:

>I'm interested in the sky in general.  Perhaps I'm sort of not on the
>correct list...but on the other hand...this list has taught me so much...

Starr, your comments aren't off-topic at all. As a matter of fact, you've
hit on what may be the most positive, most fun aspect of meteor observing,
especially for newer observers: learning about the night sky!

I occasionally do talks on amateur meteors at local astronomy clubs, in
some cases before people with many, many years of experience in observing
the sky with a telescope. The thing I try to stress MOST about meteors to
these seasoned star-navigators, is how intimately meteor watchers get to
know the sky - far more intimately than even the most expert deep-sky or
variable-star observer is ever likely to...

After all, think about what we're asked to record about each and every
meteor we see, no matter where it happens to appear in the sky: we must
figure out whether it's path can be traced back to one of several active
radiants that night. This means being able to identify exactly where the
meteor appeared among the constellations, and relating that back to other
points among the stars, in no more time than it takes the eye to move.

And often these meteors - or the shower radiant-points themselves - are
in very obscure areas of the sky, with only the faintest naked-eye stars
as guideposts... The whole sky must be an "old friend" to do this well!

Second, if a meteor does align with one or more radiants, we must be sure
that the path length and speed of the meteor are consistent with it being
from one or the other of those showers... This means being able to judge
sky distances - again based on knowledge of the night sky, and "standard"
distances between stars, which very few non-meteor observers share...

Finally, no matter what shower the meteor belongs to - or even if it's a
"Sporadic", not from any known shower - we absolutely have to record its
"magnitude" or brightness relative to the stars... So here again, we've
got to know the brightnesses of stars scattered *all over the sky*, some
thing few astronomers ever have the occasion or opportunity to learn!

And of course, nothing can increase someone's appreciation of the beauty
and majesty of the night sky like spending a good solid hour, lying out
beneath it, and JUST LOOKING UP!

So you see, Starr, you're probably on the right list after all... :)

Clear skies all!
Lew Gramer

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