Bit Tired of Hyperbole

This year my annoyance with astronomy exaggerations started off with the years first meteor shower, the Quadrantids (QUA). I ran across an article on LiveScience that starts out:

How to watch the Quadrantids – one of the best meteor showers all year – on Jan. 2 and 3

I’m going to need a citation for that, except there isn’t one because its not true. One could say its potentially one of the strongest meteor showers but its certainly not among the best. Not this year with a nearly full moon out on the peak night. I get that the headline was derived from the linked NASA article but maybe the author should consult more resources like the IMO article when writing. At least the author later writes “short-but-spectacular show” because that is true and one of the big issues with QUA is it is typically only highly active for a few hours.

My big issue with this article is it sets up unrealistic expectations for readers. It says the shower is great but fails to qualify why it could be and more importantly fails to highlight the difficulties of viewing it. Unlike the IMO article I linked above. Maybe a better headline would have been: “How to watch the Quadrantids – first meteor shower of the year”. Because this years Quadrantids were weak.

About the same time as the Quadrantids I started see headlines like “Dazzling Green Comet”, “Rare Comet Approaching Earth”, “Closest in 50,000 years”, etc. Oh boy, you know this isn’t going to go well for the general public. Talk about setting up unrealistic expectations! Seems the more hype the less the event lives up to it and unfortunately that was true again for the general public (1) .

Comet 2022/E3 ZTF is an interesting comet from the perspective of its age and orbit. As 2022 progressed it became clear in the amateur astronomy community the comet might, just maybe, reach naked eye visible. If you were outside the city in dark skies. But even that was a bit pointless when the comet was closest to Earth the moon was out for most all of the night.

I did have some clear skies the night ZTF was closest to Earth and I can say that the average person would never see this with their naked eyes. I certainly did not and I knew exactly where to look. It was easily visible in binoculars but very washed out with the moonlight. That is it was just a faint smudge. With a telescope the comets core was well defined but the rest of the detail was lost in a moon lite sky.

Around the 10th of February comet ZTF was approaching Mars and fortunately my skies were clearing as well. Over the next few nights I imaged ZTF by Mars. Examining the images on screen as they were downloading I was struck by wonderful paring of a this green comet with a reddish orange Mars against a dark sky.

This may have been the best time to share the comet with the general public. To have a live digital feed for people to see (usually called EAA – Electronically Assisted Astronomy). By itself the comet would have looked nice on a screen but when it was near Mars the sight was very pretty.


  1. I was impressed with this authors reflection on trying to view the comet.

Tau-Herculids: Observing Report

In 1995 The comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann suddenly increased in brightness and broke up. This event was unexpected and due to its orbit being close to Earth the possibility of a future encounter with its debris could result in a meteor shower. Joe Rao wrote one such paper back in 2020 and many of us meteor observers were interested in the conclusion we could see something in 2022. As the time drew closer many more articles like this one in EarthSky further fueled the anticipation that something might happen.

Fast forward to Saturday May 28th and I was facing a problem: the weather forecast looked poor for eastern Kansas. During the week before I was carefully watching the weather and the Clear Sky Chart(s) for my area. By Sunday it was clear the models were predicting accurately and my area would be cloudy. Monday the 30th was the latest and last model run I would check on the Clear Sky Charts. South-central Kansas looked good with no clouds forecast through 1AM. Fortunately I had been researching a destination and had a spot picked out.

Late Monday afternoon I headed down to Kingman Kansas, about 45 miles west of Wichita. Outside that town to the west is Kingman State Fishing Lake and Wildlife Area which has its own Clear Sky Chart. It took about 3 1/2 hours driving to end up at my chosen spot. Thirty minutes later I was setup and waiting to observer the Tau Herculid (TAH) meteor shower. It could be just one meteor or it could be much more.

Waiting for darkness. Two cameras and SQM meter ready to go.

As true darkness neared, before I was officially observing, I saw three TAH meteors. This was a good sign! Any other year that maybe what one would see all night out of this practically unknown meteor shower. Once astronomical darkness had started I was officially observing. The night sky was reasonably good with a lot of moisture and atmospheric extinction near the horizon. My overhead SQM readings averaged 6.4 visual limiting magnitude, certainly a decent location despite the light domes from nearby towns.

The meteor shower was good but there was not an epic outburst of meteors that could have been possible (but was unlikely). For the Tau Herculid meteor shower this was an exceptionally active night, an outburst. And that was the point of this adventure, on this night Earth passed through a stream of debris from a very recent comet breakup. The model predictions that we would encounter some material from the 1995 break up turned out to be correct.

My actual observing report is filed here at the IMO. I recorded a total of 32 TAH meteors that night. Its possible I under counted the TAH meteors as I was a bit uncertain in some cases as the radiant area seemed pretty large. Meteors most often had short trails but I was surprised how bright many were compared to what I expected. During my night out I had two cameras running and based on @JAtanackov’s suggestion I ran one camera with a narrower FOV lens than I normally use. This 50mm/f1.4 lens was stopped down to 1.8 and captured a number of Tau Herculid meteors that likely would not have shown up very well using my wider angle lens. A quick review of the 700+ images captured on that camera shows one very bright meteor with an interesting sequence of images which I will post later.

Lunar Eclipse: May 15th

Sunday the 15th was a wild weather day as a storm blew through my area in the morning knocking out power for myself and a lot of people in the metro KC area. However, as forecast, the sky cleared later for the lunar eclipse. This is the last ‘complete’ total lunar eclipse visible at my location for several years to come (1) so I was anxious to watch it. For me this was an exceptionally nice eclipse and hopefully I have a few pictures to post later. Pictures are nice but truly experiencing a total lunar eclipse is where its at.

What made this total Lunar eclipse particularly great was how dark the moon got. Probably the darkest I have ever seen it. I am not alone in thinking that as others commented on the darkness as well. It truly was a spectacle with the dark orange-red moon floating among the stars. This is something I feel requires darker skies to fully appreciate.

For me one of the most interesting and exciting characteristics of a total lunar eclipse is experiencing the changing moonlight as the hour from first contact (U1) to eclipse (U2). At first as the Earth’s shadow takes a small bite out of the moon its not significant but each passing minute slowly reduces the moonlight until its gone. Even then the moon is going through a transition from the dark of eclipse start to maximum darkness at greatest eclipse and back to slowly brightening again as it heads towards the eclipse end.

Certainly one doesn’t have to sit outside watching the entire time. Lunar eclipses are fairly slow so one can enjoy the view for awhile and take a break. However just coming out once to see the moon at maximum eclipse isn’t watching an eclipse. Its just taking a peek, you lose the magic of going from a bright full moon illuminating the landscape to the eerie scene of a dark moon. Something that doesn’t happen regularly and only during a total lunar eclipse.

RMS Station Online

Composite image of meteors captured last night at my station, center meteor looks like a nice one!

Over the past weeks I’ve been finishing up a long running project to build a station to be part of the Global Meteor Network (GMN). Its been an interesting project that I will be posting more about soon. The short summary is the GMN is a network of inexpensive cameras that collect and report data for use in meteor research. Up until today I’ve been finalizing the configuration and testing its operation but I’ve not been a contributing station.

Tonight it will watch the sky and collect data as an official part of the GMN.

December Showers

In the October 2021 issue of WGN, the journal of the IMO, it was suggested meteor observers submit observations from meteor showers with moon light present. Moonlight, something must of us meteor observers try to avoid, significantly affects how many meteors you can see. The aim of the project is to:

  • obtaining complete activity profiles of shower (maxima)
  • deriving reliable peak data for events occurring under poor conditions
  • improving value of daytime shower data (twilight observations)
  • determining the effect of sky background illumination quantitatively

This years Geminids offered a good chance to do that as will the 2022 Perseids. I reported on two showers:

Geminids (GEM)

Wasn’t planning on going out but the weather was ok and the chance for an hour in real dark skies was too alluring. So I went to the Flint Hills to observer the Geminids on 12/13. The hour from midnight to 1am had the sky full of moisture, thin bands illuminated by the moon. Moon was about 79% illuminated and I recorded 34 GEM even with that, bit surprising. As the moon got lower in the sky more and more meteors were visible. Total GEMs counted during nearly 4 hours observing was 190, a bit surprising. Temperature was so mild I could observer for long periods. The last hour or so the sky was nice and dark, well worth the trip. Clearly the Geminids are so strong they power through moonlight.

Ursids (URS)

The Ursids are not a very active shower but it certainly would be heavily affected by the strong moonlight. I did not travel for this opting to observer from my local area. The nearly full moon was out so why bother going anywhere! I got up early and observed starting about 03:45 on the 23rd. Cold morning but crystal clear. The moon was very strong being nearly overhead and 85% illuminated. I’ve never observed in such a moon light sky. Saw very few meteors, just two URS, with the sky around magnitude 4 naked eye limit.

Dark Sky Pilgrimage

Friday October 1st I drove across Kansas to the 38th Annual Okie-Tex Star Party. It has been two years since I made this trip, one I usually do every year. But 2020 wasn’t a normal year with everything everywhere being disrupted. I had gotten out to some dark skies in 2020, notably comet NeoWise. But this trip was different; out to a place more remote than most. Where the night sky is ablaze with countless stars, a place where there are no visible light domes in any direction, a place where those of us that treasure the night sky go.

Every Okie-Tex star party is different. Despite being held in the same location for 22 years each event has its own weather pattern, different blend of people that attend and unique night sky conditions. When the star party is scheduled depends on the moon, when it will be closest to new. This year that meant the start of October and for the first time the official starting day was a Friday.

My drive out that Friday was cloudy, something I like as it keeps the sun off me. It took a little under eight hours to travel out this year, just one refueling stop. Coming over the last hill to see camp Billy Joe full of people was a pleasing sight. Yet for the first time in many years I was arriving after most had already setup. For the longest time I had setup in the same spot on the field, as many other regulars do as well. But this year I moved a bit and setup differently. Not far from my old spot being close to several groups I know. This year would be a bit different though: new spot, new neighbor, and new things to try. Starting with power.

Continue reading “Dark Sky Pilgrimage”