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Hanford Observatory

Perseid Meteors Light up the LIGO Night Sky



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Another episode in the LIGO Hanford - Tri-City Astronomy Club public event collaboration unfolded on the night of August 11, 2004 as nearly 300 area residents reclined on the LHO grounds to watch the annual Perseid meteor shower. Mother Nature cooperated to the fullest extent, providing a warm cloudless night and a thin waning crescent moon.

[getting ready]

The viewing scene was eerily festive, with families and friends grouped together on blankets or lawn chairs or chaise lounges, chatting quietly and picnicking in near total darkness, faces turned skyward. LHO staff member Bartie Rivera's blinking red LED's, set out to mark the paths and viewing areas, provided local illumination while the distant lights of Hanford and Energy Northwest facilities glowed on the horizon.

[the talk]

The Perseids, named for their apparent arrival from the constellation Perseus, fall into our atmosphere as the earth annually intersects the debris trail left by comet Swift-Tuttle on its 120-year journey around the Sun. The night of 8/11 and morning of 8/12 represented the peak intensity of the shower; predicted rates for the shower were 50 - 70 meteors per hour, and this range compared reasonable well to counts taken by several viewers. Particularly vivid episodes were marked by "ooh's" and "aah's" from the crowd of all ages, mixed in with occasional notes of frustration from those who missed "the big one" because they were looking elsewhere in the sky.

The evening's program began at 10:00 PM with a talk on meteors by the TCAC's Dr. Roy Gephart in the LIGO auditorium. Roy, a PNNL scientist by day and Tri-City Herald astronomy columnist by night, has observed showers for years. His knowledge of "shooting stars" and his obvious enthusiasm for observing the sky primed the audience for the evening's work. The sky reached maximum darkness during the talk, leaving the meteors and their trails nicely visible against the haze of the Milky Way.

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A couple dozen hardy viewers were still on the job at 4:30 AM, at which time the sky began to lighten and the songs of birds brought the event to a close. Those driving back into town were treated to several final jets of light in the dawn sky, prompting a farewell that is always appropriate for the Perseids: "See you next year!"


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