This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.
Not too long ago I was holding a star party for a group of people in my backyard. I would always start off with a short talk on astronomy, the night sky, and what we would be observing that night through the telescope.
At the end of my talk I would always ask if there were any questions from the group, with the instructions that they are not to ask me questions where I don’t know the answers. That would always throw them.
It would usually amaze me of the questions that were asked of me, though. Some very interesting, and then again, some maybe not so interesting. You must understand that many of these people knew very little when it comes to the subject of astronomy, which I understand completely.
But this night one sweet lady raised her hand and asked a question that made me want to laugh, but I didn’t. But that didn’t stop the few from the audience from laughing for they understood that the question she asked was a little bit off the wall, bless her heart.
She asked, “There have been so many shooting stars through the years, why are there so many stars still left in the sky?”
I answered her question the best I could trying not to embarrass her. Now some of you reading this might say what was so funny? Well let’s go over the subject of these bright little streaks of light traveling through our night sky.
Growing up, meteors had always been an intriguing subject for me, as well as with many other people, I would imagine. From time to time I would see flashes of light that people would call “shooting stars” or “falling stars.”
They are not really stars at all, and the proper word for them is meteors. If the meteor is big enough to withstand the fiery friction of the Earth’s atmosphere and make it safely to the Earth without completely disintegrating, it is called a Meteorite.
Meteors have been flying around our solar system for thousands of years in between the planets and in time some of them reach our planet Earth. These wondering object of mostly iron and copper can show up anywhere in the sky. Then there are these showers of meteors that seem to show up at a particular location in the sky at the same time each year.
Why are these meteors packed together?
They are actually remanence from a passing comet depositing fragments from its tail. These fragments remain in Earth’s orbit revolving around the sun to be caught up in the Earth’s atmosphere as fiery shower of embers. There are 10 major showers throughout the year which eminent from different areas in the sky. For instance; the shower we call “Lyrds” will show up from the constellation Lyra in the month of April each year.
It is always amusing when you are out with a number of people admiring the night sky, and one calls out, “wow, there’s one.” A split second later everyone looks toward that section of the sky and together they all yell out “where? I don’t see it.” Well of course these meteors pass by so quickly that by the time everyone reacts the streaking meteor has gone on its way.
The way to catch one of these streaking embers and be able to show it off to everyone is to take a long exposure of a part of the sky by setting your camera on bulb. Depending on the time of the year and your exposure time you should get one or more of these shiny meteors.
If you are lucky, or unlucky, you may get a streak of an airplane going through your photograph. And that is a whole other subject.
So get out some night this month and see how many “shooting stars” you can see emanating from the constellation Orion, called, you guessed it, “The Orionid.” Unfortunately the moon will be full that night, which will limit the amount of activity you will see. They peak around the 21st of this month. And don’t forget the planets, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus, they are still going strong this month.
Good luck and Clear Skies……
Up and coming events in October
Oct. 6: New Moon
Oct. 6: Pluto is stationary
Oct. 7: Mars is in conjunction with the Sun
Oct. 8: Moon is at perigee (225,797 miles from Earth)
Oct. 9: Moon passes 3 degrees north of Venus
Oct. 12: First Quarter Moon
Oct. 14: Moon passes 4 degrees south of Saturn
Oct. 15: Moon passes 4 degrees south of Jupiter
Oct. 16: Venus passes 4 degrees north of Antares