Friday, December 14, 2012

Geminid Meteor Shower 2012

It's finally here!  We've been waiting for this particular meteor shower since August 2011.  Back then, we went to see the Perseid Meteor shower in Palm Springs and while it was cool, we were a little disappointed with how bright the sky was because of the moon.  
So after a little research, Theresa found that the December 2012 Geminid Meteor shower would have lots of meteor per hour, multi-colored meteors, plus there would be no moon!

A month ahead of time, Theresa checked out the darkness map of Southern California and found that Barstow (about a 2.5 hour drive) got pretty dark, we could get a decent hotel, and with just a 30 minute drive we could be outside the city in one of the darkest parts of the state.  Here's a light map.  The black areas are the spots with no light pollution. 
Unfortunately after waiting over a year and a half, when the day finally came around, we had showers and the forecast called for clouds all night.  Thursday morning, we made the decision that we were going to head up there anyway.  We carpooled with Jonathan and Lacey and were going to meet Jacob up there.  During the drive up, we were messing around with Lacey about what these multi-colored meteors were made out of.  Jonathan said it was alien poop.

When we finally arrived at 10pm, the skies were still completely cloudy.  The various weather apps we looked at showed it would continue through the night, but we decided that at 3am, we'd wake up and make a game-time decision.  Our plan was originally to head east, where the light pollution was zero, but it was clouded over.  Instead, we drove north east towards Bakersfield.  We drove for about 30 minutes and Jacob who was following in the car behind us was seeing starts out the window and had already seen 2 meteors.  We headed north to get away from the city lights and drove down a gravel road.  

We brought some beach chairs to sit in and watch the sky, but when Jonathan suggested we just lay out a blanket and stare straight up, that sounded like a much better idea.  
We each grabbed a blanket and snuggled close to keep warm.  Oh yes, I should mention that it was really cold too.  The low was around 35F so we were all trying to layer up and keep warm.

We mostly faced west.  I set the camera up to take 30 second exposures continuously.  In this photo, you can see two different meteors streaking across the sky.  There was a lot of activity going on in the sky, but there were a few times where there wasn't anything for a few minutes.  Lacey (who I think was just getting bored of not seeing anything) would suddenly say there's one, to which I would reply Unverified! 

The other thing I really liked doing is stacking my photos.  Here is 15 minutes worth of photos stacked on top of each other. 

And this is 30 minutes.  Those stars are really moving (technically we're really moving)!

It was so much fun just being there with friends all staring up into this huge sky with millions of stars we never can see from where we live in the beach cities.  Huddling up to each other to keep warm under the blankets, we shivered together, told stories, and laughed with each other sometimes until we cried.  
One of the things that really tickled us was when we were trying to point out where we saw a meteor.  Just about all of us were using a clock face to describe where we saw something, with 12 o'clock being our head, 6 o'clock being our feet, 3 o'clock was our right hand and 9 o'clock our left hand.  We were describing this for a few until JB finally asked what in the world we were talking about.  He was assuming North was 12 o'clock (everyone else's 3 o'clock) and East was 3 o'clock (12 o'clock for everyone else).  Everyone's got their own system, and after a while we just said right side, left side, up and down.
We also saw a bunch of satellites streaking from South to North and North to South.  Every once in a while, one of these would flash as it caught the sun just right.  Lacey said they were using the flash to take our picture!

Most of the time, we saw quick little streaks across the sky like this one.

And this one.

But then we also saw some really awesome ones like this!  It really burned bright and even had some color to it!  This one had a greenish tint to it.  We also saw a really bright blue one, and I could swear I saw a purple one that was also really bright.

Polaris (the North Star) is the one star in the sky that doesn't appear to move.  Here's what happens when you stack a bunch of photos on top of each other and you're pointed North.  Everything spirals around Polaris.

Right around 6am, the clouds started rolling in and the few lights we had around us started reflecting off them a little more.  We could only see the brightest stars through the clouds and I'm sure we were missing meteors.  All 5 of us saw a really bright meteor streaking directly in front of us and we figured that was a great one to end it on.  

Earlier when we were driving up with all the clouds, Theresa said she'd be happy if we could only see 15 good meteors.  In the end, we were out there for 2 hours and probably averaged 1 meteor a minute.  We got really lucky and happened upon clear skies for the 2 hours we were really needing it.  I think the only thing we'll do different next time is all bring mummy sleeping bags to be really warm in.  It was totally awesome and it was even better sharing it with great friends!

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