Thursday, August 16, 2012

Star Party

The second week in August is a week I look forward to every year.  This is when the Perseids Meteor Showers are viewable. What makes this even more interesting is that our local public radio station throws a star party.   They gather on a mountaintop in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont with an astronomer in tow and broadcast for an hour answering questions and just chatting about the night sky.  If it is a clear night, we make a fire in our yard then move our reclining deck chairs and radio out to the fire pit and listen in amazement. 

Here are some of the things I learned at this year's star party:
  • Every school kid knows the old folk song "Follow the Drinkin' Gourd."  If you don't know it, I suggest checking out Sweet Honey and the Rock's version.  It describes a route how to find your way north, two of the stars in the Big Dipper (the drinkin' gourd) point toward Polaris (the North star).  If you follow it, you will be heading north.  Apparently, it was popular with conductors of the Underground Railroad.  North meant freedom from slavery. 
  • The only real difference between asteroids and meteoroids is size.  The cut off is 33 feet.  If it is larger that 33 feet in diameter, it is an asteroid.  Most meteoroids are much smaller, merely dust that makes a big streak when it brushes across our atmosphere.  
  • We could see a lot of satellites running across the sky.  We were viewing at 9pm in the evening.  The reason they are viewable is because it is early and the sun's light is still hitting them.  They don't give off much light so it is the sun's reflection that you are seeing.  If you view the sky later in the evening, you will see a sky without the satellites.  With the exception of an occasional plane going by, it will be the same sky that the natives of the continent saw centuries earlier.

I look forward to next year's star party. 

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