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by AAAA Member
Brenda Culbertson

Read about the Aurora No One Saw

The Leonics - Photo by AAAA Member Brenda CulbertsonA Perfect Weekend for Astronomers

How many times have we asked ourselves what the perfect weekend would be? What would the perfect weekend include? How would we know it was perfect? Many other components of the perfect weekend come in the forms of questions.

Since the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower was expected on August 11/12, I set my goal to do some meteor observing after I got home from running a studio camera for KTWU. I figured that after work it would be late enough to be dark except for a near-Full Moon, and I could get in some watching when I got home. 

My shift was over around 10 p.m. and I watched the sky from the KTWU parking lot with one of the other camera operators. We talked while we watched, but we didn't see any meteors. We went our separate ways and I arrived home on the reservation around 10:45 p.m. where I saw the Big Moon outshining almost everything.

After sitting on the deck for a while, looking up, I didn't see any meteors to keep me interested. I looked for about half an hour and saw nothing that even resembled meteors, so I went in, set my alarm for 3 a.m., took a shower, and went to bed. It had been a long day and I was ready for some rest.

The alarm told me, "The time is 3 a.m." and I got up. I went outside to see what I could see, and I saw meteors shooting across the sky almost in swarms. The Moon was still up, but very near the western horizon and was soon to set, so I went in and woke up Mike. Then I got the camera gear ready and sat down on the deck to get my bearings again for the shoot. 

While I was looking around, as is my habit I looked to the north. Was it? Could it be? It would be perfect if only the aurora would show. 

Leonid Fireball - Photo copyright by Robert Reeves, San Antonio Astronomical Association

Aurora it was, as big and bright as I have seen in a long time. The Moon was still up and I could see pillars and curtains of glow all along the northern horizon. I didn't see color in it, but I could sure see the glow. Mike and I watched between the aurora and the meteors for a while, when both subsided a bit. Mike went in and back to bed for a while, but I stayed out and kept watch. The Moon set around 3:30 a.m., which provided a much more perfect night sky. Meteors zoomed, blew up, and zinged all over the place. The brightest one went overhead and exploded bright enough to cast shadows. I saw my shadow on the ground because I happened to be bending over my camera case at the time and missed the big guy. Bummer! As I told Mark Cunningham via an e-mail report, "I could hear God laughing at me for that one, so I had to laugh too."

I began shooting both the aurora and overhead sky in hopes of getting a Perseid bolide. The results are not all in yet, but I may have one bolide photo to show. I know definitely that I have aurora photos to show. I shot between 3 a.m. and 5:30. Even after daybreak I could see auroral pillars shooting up into the sky. It was awesome. They coyotes' welcoming in daybreak was awesome, too: hundreds of coyotes all howling in unison, beginning and ending at the same time...eerie!

The aurora began before Moonset and lasted well after daybreak. The pillars extended past zenith at about 110 degrees up from the northern horizon. The range along the horizon was from NE to NNW. I saw pillars, curtains, and diffuse glows, but only once did I see the hint of color. Photos show colors: red, yellow, green, violet, blue, and white. Photos also show color extended into the Pleiades region of Taurus.

Many of my associates across the country have sent me reports on their aurora/Perseid viewing. I would be happy to share these reports with anyone requesting them. 

That isn't the end of the story, though...

Sunday night we had a lightning storm. I like to shoot lightning photos, too, so I set up my camera and shot off two rolls of film. The display was so intense, I stayed out until around midnight shooting the cloud-to-ground bolts that seemed to hang around the energy center NW of Topeka. (Jeffries?) 

What is a perfect night for an astronomer? We will all have different definitions of that, but the weekend of August 11-13 was pretty close to being perfect for me. Meteors, aurora, and lightning bolts; warm temps, slight breeze, dark skies; Milky Way overhead, Moon set, and a bunch of other stuff to look at; and God's grace in showing me all this.

Photos can be seen on my personal web page (if it is still up and running) at: geocities.com/ksstargazer/

Brenda Culbertson

P.O. Box 7981
Dallas, TX 75209-0981


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