A lesson in science
|By Jared Tennant via Wikimedia Commons|
Sitting in the middle of the green outside my house armed with a hoodie, fold-out chair and a glass of wine is one of the more unusual ways I’ve spent a Saturday night. And it was well worth it.
The challenge I picked out of the Hat on August 10 for the following week was to create and name my own cocktail. But the next evening, while I was sat in with my boyfriend and a bottle of wine, my ‘I want to be an astrophysicist’ youngest brother told us that there was going to be a show in the sky at around 1am.
A quick update from Brian Cox on Twitter (thank you technology) confirmed that a meteor shower was due to pass over the country that night (not that I ever doubted George was right). I’m not sure whether it was the alcohol or the geek in me that got me so excited but I decided that I would be staying up to watch the meteor shower and that my first for the week was actually going to be stargazing, and not the indulgence of more alcohol.
I found it extra exhilarating that I could share my experience with people around the world via Twitter (whether the world wanted to know about it or not) and that I could use other people’s tweets to work out where we would stand the best chances of seeing some shooting stars.
And I learnt a lot in the hour or so leading up to midnight, when the streetlights are turned off in our area, and most of it came from the Meteorwatch site. So, FYI, the Perseid meteor shower occurs every year through July and August, reaching a peak at around the August 12 – 13. During their peak time, the rate can be up to 100 per hour. The Perseid shower is brighter than most and, because it happens during the warmer nights of August, it make them a good starting point for the budding astronomer. The Perseid meteors are tiny particles of debris which fall from the tail of the comet 109P/Swift Tuttle (I know you are impressed). When they collide with the Earth’s atmosphere they burn causing the streaks and flashes in the sky known as shooting stars (therefore shooting stars are actually not stars at all).
However, my own smart-sounding tweets about #ISS and #perseid were slightly undermined by my visit to kidsastronomy.com and my failing to learn to recognise a single constellation. Oh well, thanks to Men in Black, I’ll always know Orion’s Belt. I can live with that.
|We also got to see the ISS pass overhead|
But, after all the build up, 45 minutes of sitting out, we had seen nothing. Nothing but an orange glow of streetlights coming from the town centre (in the direction I’d been expecting to see the shower).
And then George piped up with a “oh, I think I just saw one.” Then boyfriend Glenn did too. Then it was me sat there, the only one not to see a shooting star, while these two tried to explain it to me as proof that they weren’t just trying to wind me up.
And then nothing again for ages. Just me sat there, the girl 20/20 vision next to two spectacled guys and I was the only one yet to see anything. As the girl who really wanted to wear glasses as a teenager, only to be told that she had perfect vision and could go years without revisiting the optician, I didn’t think it was fair that they got to have the cool glasses and the chance to see the meteors first.
Add to this the creepy noises coming from the bushes, and talks about how centrifugal forces are ficticious (apparently it’s centripetal. Yeah, it went a bit over my head too) I was just about ready to give in. I’d seen a few stars and I could just make a cocktail. It would be fine.
Then an unmistakable bright flare fell down the left side of the line of houses in front of us, looking a little bit like the falling embers of a firework.