San Diego Region Weather
The weather throughout the San Diego region has not exactly cooperated with the viewing of the 2015 Perseid Meteor Shower. I had stuff in the car to bug out to northeast San Diego county late last night to observe the meteor shower, when I got wind that the skies were cloudy, and expected to remain that way. Alas, the San Diego Astronomy Weather forecast says tonight is “Very Good” for stargazing. The forecast for Julian and inland environs says it is, “Excellent.” A website I often refer to is Clear Dark Sky. I have used this resource for nearly two decades to help me predict where and when the skies will be suitable for stargazing. With a combination of temperature, darkness, cloud cover, light pollution, humidity and other factors entering its algorithm, Clear Dark Sky is the most reliable resource I have found for stargazing conditions.
Tent Cot and Zero Gravity Camp Chair
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Now that we have weather addressed, let’s consider some other factors for your meteor shower viewing comfort. A couple of months ago I ran across this product: Tent Cot, which I think would be an INCREDIBLE addition to my own set of observing gear. For the record, I currently own, amongst many others, a Zero Gravity Camp Chair.
It is, very seriously, not possible for me to adequately express the difference that this chair makes.
I have a bad back, courtesy of being hit in several car accidents (none were my fault), and I cannot comfortably sit upright for more than about five minutes. So, imagine my pleasure when I discover that the Zero Gravity Camp Chair enables me to recline all the way back, view a meteor shower or other celestial wonders, collapses down to fit in my very small trunk (OK, I have to leave the trunk lid up. Still, it fits). I snuggle up in this chair with a snuggle sack and my warmies. Yes, even in August in Southern California you need your warmies for observing. Stand outside for a couple hours in 60 degree temps and see how warm YOU are.
Cold Weather Gear
I am a native of the Midwest, aka The Frozen Tundra. I have a reputation for showing up for stargazing events, regardless of time of year, with enough warm clothes to keep me comfortable in Antarctica. Several years ago, the Saddleback College Astronomy and Physics Club rented telescope time on Mt. Wilson Observatory. There were about 40 or 50 students, and a few professors in attendance as chaperones. I showed up with a couple collapsing camp chairs, three comforters, and my full complement of cold weather gear. It included Snowboard Overalls, Down Jacket, Sorel Boots, Thinsulate hat and mittens, and wool scarf. You can imagine the looks and remarks I received from the “traditional” college students. Expecting 40 degree temperatures for our late-March trip, most dressed in a flannel shirt, hoodie sweatshirt, or, maybe, a combination of the two. Several said to me, “Sandy, we’re not going to Antarctica!! You’ll be roasting in that.” To which I replied, “Just wait.” Sure enough, one by one, almost all of them came over and asked to snuggle up in my comforters and camp chairs, as they were freezing. Just as I expected. Moral of the story: however many warm clothes you think you might be needing for a stargazing trip, regardless of the time of year, bring more. I have worn the Snowboard Overalls, Down Jacket, Sorel Boots, and more in August, when you’d think it would be warm enough to avoid them.
Why do we have the Perseid Meteor Shower?
The Earth, as we know, takes 365.25 days to travel around the Sun. As it orbits the Sun, it travels through different parts of the Solar System. Remember, the Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun, that would be the RADIUS of the Earth’s orbit. As it travels around the Sun, the Earth passes through various debris fields and places in its trek. That trek often puts the Earth in contact with debris leftover from a comet traveling to the inner Solar System.
In the case of the Perseid Meteor Shower, the comet that created the debris is Comet Swift Tuttle. A comet is a, “dirty snowball.” As it approaches something hot, like the Sun, the “snow” melts, the rocks and the rocks and debris separate. These rocks and debris remain in the orbital path of the comet and, when Earth passes through it every year around August 11-14, we get the Perseid Meteor Shower. The meteor shower is simply the result of this leftover debris from Comet Swift Tuttle interacting with the Earth’s atmosphere. When the debris hits the atmosphere, it burns up, causing a spectacular night show. We call it the Perseids, because the meteors appear to emanate from the constellation Perseus.
Perseus is one of the great mythological constellations, inhabiting the Northern Sky. It is just below the “W” constellation, which is Cassiopeia, the Queen of Ethiopia. Conveniently, the long arm of Perseus points right to the Pleiades, aka the Seven Sisters or Subaru, which rises in the fall sky.
Perseus rises late in August, around 2 am, hence the reason why the meteor shower peaks so late at night. Perseus is also the home of the very famous Double Cluster, an astronomical delight viewable at dark sky sites through moderate sized telescopes.
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