Shooting Stars

Not a sign of Bob, Vic or George Dawes. Instead we were treated to a great celestial display for once! In what is possibly the dreariest summer ever experienced, this year??????s Perseid meteors put on a lovely display until spoiled by the ever present rain clouds.

Allan Trow, Cath Tryfona and Martin Griffiths were joined by students of our successful community course for a fantastic evening of stargazing at the National Park visitor centre in the Brecon Beacons National Park.

The evening was very clear around 10:30PM with the Milky Way clearly visible as a shining ribbon of broken light extending right from the northern to southern horizon. It was quite breathtaking to see the MW in such detail, binoculars came into play to scan every star cluster and dark cloud. We felt quite sorry (briefly!) as most city dwellers will have never seen our home galaxy due to the ever pervasive glow of street lights. The Brecon Beacons is probably the best area in South Wales to view this elusive wonder. The dark lanes of the Cygnus rift were clearly visible and the knotty condensations of star clouds were clearly etched, almost like real clouds on the sky. The occluding patches of Barnard??????s dark nebulae were visible in profusion as was the fantastic ??????cut?????? across the Cygnus Milky Way of Le Gentil??????s nebula. A wonderful sight under such clear and still air as we enjoyed that night.

The Perseids are one of the years best showers. It has a regular meteor count of between 30-50 per hour, the meteors having bright, yellow trains, many ending with a brief flash of light as the tiny dust grain explodes on our upper atmosphere. These dusty remnants are all that is left after comet Swift Tuttle visits the inner solar system every 120 years, its last visit being in 1992. Cometary dust makes up the vast majority of micro-meteoritic particles which rain down upon the Earth totaling some 40,000 tonnes of material per year. Given recent scientific speculation regarding life elswhere in the universe, this cometary dust gives added impetus to the idea that the earth was “seeded” with primitive life in the distant past; such material either coming from comets or being bourne on small particles through deep space.

Martin Griffiths of the centre for Astronomy & Science Education at the University of Glamorgan went on air on BBC radio Wales to let the nation know of this forthcoming celestial display, and again the following morning to broadcast the results of the observing session. It seems that most of Wales missed it as they rigorously followed the advice that the shower would peak about 2:00am, just as the clouds rolled in! Needless to say, the night was a huge success and Glamorgan astronomers anticipate the next meteor shower; the Geminids in December, to provide an enjoyable display. The accompanying shot was taken by student Graham Hurley.

written by Martin Griffiths

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