One week ago today I woke up to activity all around my tent. Abby was ready to get out and investigate. Outside the sky was clear. The 36th annual Okie-Tex Star Party had officially started and people were rolling into camp Billy Joe. My one hope that morning was for decent weather throughout the coming week.
You maybe wondering how it is I woke up Saturday morning already at the camp. Like last year I came early to help setup. I arrived Thursday evening and late that night storms rolled through waking me up as it battered my tent. Abby wanted to retreat to the truck that moment. Friday I was on the field with the crew laying out power lines. Quite a change from how things started long ago.
Twenty years ago I made my first trip out to this star party. While an experienced camper I was still rather new to the star party thing. Looking back its funny to think I packed all my gear in a little 93 Geo Tracker. I was in awe of the pristine night sky once darkness fell. That first year in western Oklahoma began what has become my most anticipated time of the year: a chance to spend night after night with the star filled sky. My yearly trip is more than just a vacation from work and city life. Its become my time to fully embrace the night sky, to shift my daily rhythm from day to night. A place and time where I eagerly wait for the sun to set and the night sky to appear. A week under the stars.
July 23rd was US release day for Alita Battle Angel home media. For the first time ever I went out and bought a Blu-ray copy. In the past I just bought the occasional DVD but this movies CGI is fantastic. This live action movie based on Yukito Kishiro’s epic manga Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita in english translation) took James Cameron twenty plus years to bring to the screen.
The source manga Battle Angel Alita is one of my all time favorite tales. Its fantastic how the movie featured so many pieces from it. While the movies story line deviates considerably from the manga its to be expect given the manga’s violent and outlandish future world.
I won’t go into any in depth comparison here as I’d rather write a longer article for that. But the essence of Alita’s story in the manga’s first three or so volumes is in the movie. Her origin story and first heartbreaking loss. James Cameron’s original plan was to make three movies so it remains to be seen if that will happen, let alone where his version of the timeline goes.
But if I could see a sequel I’d hope for Alita’s battles with motorball champion Jashugan. And I’d be overjoyed to see anything from the ‘TUNED” arc, especially her interaction with Figure Four.
Kansas City International Airport (MCI) recorded the wettest month in KC history this year during May. So far through June its the wettest start to a year in KCever. Now I’m some distance from MCI but I can attest to the fact May was ridiculously wet at my place. Every storm that came by hit me. Usually with heavy rain. My little creek flooded four times in May. I don’t think its flooded four times all year before.
Whats interesting has been the effect on lightning bugs. In May it would be typical to see a dozen or so every night with ever increasing numbers as June approached. For most of May I didn’t see a single firefly at night. By end of month I was seeing one or two. Unbelievable.
The question then became would the lightning bugs recover or would this wet weather completely change their cycle? By the end of May parts of my backyard were like a swamp with water standing on the ground. It had nowhere to go, everything was saturated. Its worth noting that the annual firefly display is a mating ritual and that marks the end of that cycle of their life.
Over the past week or so their numbers have risen substantially around my house. Substantial being a relative term since going from a few to several dozen visible is a big jump. Still, as best I can tell this will not be a magical year with hundreds and hundreds of them visible at once. So it seems the wet weather delayed their emergence from the ground. It remains to be seen if the current nightly display is this years peak or if it will last a bit longer than usual.
I forgot what a normal winter was like around here until this season. Already I’ve had more snow than last three years combined.
All the storms have meant cloudy weather. I missed the Quadrantid meteor shower. Even though it wasn’t favorable timing its still worth watching. Then this last Sunday I missed the lunar eclipse. I was ready but by eclipse first contact the clouds rolled over me and that was it. A real bummer since the moon was well placed and we don’t get another total lunar eclipse until 2021(!).
What a show! This years Geminid meteor shower was fantastic.
I’ve seen all the major meteor showers and the Geminid meteor shower is without doubt the finest annual meteor shower in the Northern Hemisphere. The one factor that keeps many from experiencing this grand show is the weather. Its usually cold unlike its major rival the August Perseids. More importantly this time of year can have unsettled weather with frequent cloudy nights. I’ve missed many a Geminid shower because of that. Not this year.
This year the timing for North America was superb. A waxing moon would be minimal interference. It would set before midnight. By my calculations the Geminid peak would occur near the end of darkness in the central time zone. Maximum activity would happen from midnight to morning for Kansas. North America won’t have this specific moon and peak shower timing for years to come (1).
I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to catch this if at all possible. I planned and prepared for weeks monitoring several possible locations. As the time neared it became clear my observing site would be far western Kansas. Only there could I have some certainty of a clear dark sky. At noon Thursday the 13th I headed out to Monument Rocks.
I’ve been to Monument Rocks a few times but never in December. Driving I-70 across Kansas one is reminded it can be a challenging time of year. Out west past Salina there are gates on the highway exit ramps that are closed when the weather is bad. Like the blizzard that happened early this month shutting down the highway. There were still remnants of that along the road.
Five and a half hours later I arrived at my destination. It was sunset, the winds were still strong but starting to ease a bit. On the way out the gusts were over 50 mph. Fortunately Monument Rocks is a bit lower than the surrounding area. A slight bowl that would help reduce the wind. Temperature was dropping fast without the sun. The sky was crystal clear.
After scouting around the rocks I decided to be on the north west corner of the formations. I waited for darkness to arrive, the waxing moon to get lower. The soft moonlight illuminated the rocks, I’d never seen this pretty sight before. As the stars came out I could better judge where I wanted to be so I could capture a few pictures. Jeff and Noah arrived as I was finalizing my spot.
It was still early, still not fully dark, but the meteors were already falling. Standing there Jeff and I caught a fantastic Geminid earth grazer than took five seconds or so to streak across the sky. Show time! Time to get the chairs and sleeping bags ready. The temperature was down to 18° F, I was dressed in many layers. I even brought chemical hand warmers.
When its this cold you observe for awhile then take a break in the car to warm up. As the radiant for the Geminid meteor shower got higher and higher the meteors started raining from the sky. The meteor rate was intense for awhile, this is my official count:
Time Range (CST)
Thats a total of 319 Geminids recorded over 3 1/3 hours (199 minutes) observing time. Its entirely possible I under counted the Geminids in the time frame from 1am to 3am. There were moments with many meteors streaking across the sky simultaneously. And note I probably saw a hundred meteors during my breaks in the car but those were not counted (!).
While I intended to go until the end of darkness the cold, wind and physical wear got to me by 5:40am. I didn’t do my last planned 30 minute session. The meteor rate was down to less than 70 per hour by my estimate. Crazy to say that is low but it certainly looked and felt like activity had dropped significantly from our amazing numbers earlier. Had it been even 30° I would have pushed on but the temperature was around 14° F and still a bit of wind. I was done, what a night it had been.
Peak Geminids was an incredible sight. The only time I’ve ever seen more meteors was the 1998 Leonids (year of the fireballs, unbelievable display words hardly do justice).
1. The particular circumstance where the Geminid shower peak will occur near end of darkness for the CST zone and the moon will be of little interference will not happen again for years. Here is a peek at future dates, approx peak time and moon conditions:
Changed out my theme here and I’ve got a bunch of little bugs and formatting to clear up. Since I’ve been tweaking and reviewing I see many text format issues with past posts. Can’t blame that on the theme change, that happened when I migrated to this hosting provider a year ago. Just never noticed until now.
The Okie-Tex Star Party ended a week ago running Oct 6th through October 14th. Timing couldn’t have been worse for the weather this year. And I’ve been to almost every Okie-Tex since they moved the event to Camp Billy Joe in 1999. This being my 18th trip to the Oklahoma pan handle its never been so bad weather wise. Cloudy, drizzle on many days, rain and lightning storms on some, hailed one afternoon, and just more clouds day after day.
There was not a single night that it was clear for more than a few hours. I have to base some of that on my friends reports as I left early. Really early, like Monday evening. It was obvious after two days of drizzle and rain it wasn’t going to get any better. And it didn’t.
That said I did get to experience the reason I drive out here every year. As part of the setup crew I arrived Thursday evening and that night was one of the best I’ve seen in some time. It was a visual treat, the sky was crystal clear, the milky way blazed in all its glory, meteors darted across the sky. As I had nothing setup I just laid back in my chair and enjoyed a pristine night sky for hours and hours.
Was that Thursday night special simply because I hadn’t been in a class 1 Bortle sky in a year? No, not exactly. This is the water vapor image for Thursday night, about 4am Friday morning:
There was an exceptionally dry air mass sitting over the region. So dry the next day as we setup the field the temperature shot up to the low 90s with a relative humidity of 14%. Desert like conditions, I couldn’t drink enough water. Friday night was pretty good, almost like Thursday but with a few more clouds, black shapes in the sky, floating through getting thicker after midnight.
Its unfortunate those that came Saturday never experienced the Okie-Tex skies. After talking with Tim and Chuck it seems this year’s star party was much like 1998, that year was cloudy the entire week also. Lets hope this cloud out only happens once every twenty years.