Partying with the Perseids

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Monday, August 12, 2013

While vacationing in Maine for the past two weeks, this photographer took time to image from the Washburn-Norlands Historical Center in Livermore. He captured some early Perseids punching through, including this beauty above a church. He used a Canon T2i DSLR with a ProOptic 8mm fisheye lens at f/3.5 to take a 30-second exposure August 5, 2013. // photo by Steve Coates
This year, the peak of the Perseid meteor shower occurs August 12/13. Conditions will be ideal because the Moon won’t be a factor.

As happened last year, my wife, Holley, and I received a nice invitation from our friends Jim and Tammy Rufener, who live north of Milwaukee in Slinger, Wisconsin. And once again we took them up on their hospitality. Did I mention they also offered breakfast? For both my eyes and my stomach, this is quickly becoming an annual event.

Rather than head to their house on the peak, which falls tonight — on a Monday night/Tuesday morning — we decided to observe in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday the 11th.

Last year, the observing group included the four of us plus two of Jim and Tammy’s children, Quinn and Bryce, and three of Quinn’s friends. Nine. The same number as set out in the initial Lord of the Rings movie.

This year, Tammy rallied the neighbors! About 20 people showed up to observe. The gathering once again included two of the Rufeners’ children, although this year they were Wyatt, who attends college at the University of Wisconsin (UW), and Bryce, who will be a freshman in high school this fall. (I think Quinn, who starts at UW this fall and was at last year’s session, had to work in the morning.) Oh, and in case you, like me, wondered where Jim and Tammy would come up with enough food — this Perseid party was a pot-luck!

The group started observing even before Holley and I arrived, which was about 2:30 a.m. Once again, we set up near the pond west of the Rufeners’ house, but we had to move somewhat north of last year’s location because of unshielded lights from a neighbor’s home.

Because our 2012 session had featured a bone-chilling combination of low temperature and high humidity, Holley and I came prepared. Along with our usual observing recliners, we brought two thick blankets and a tarp to keep off the humidity. These would prove plenty to keep us comfortable throughout the viewing. Oh, yeah. Let’s start the show!

Our Perseid pot-luck breakfast began at 4 a.m. at the home of Jim and Tammy Rufener. Jim stands in the background, centered, with his hand in an empty monkey bread box. Tammy is to the left of center displaying her trademark smile. One of the loaves of monkey bread sits on the left side of the counter. Yum! // photo by Michael E. Bakich
Because we chose a date two days from the peak (so we didn’t impinge on the work week), the shower was good, but not great. Early thin clouds moved off, and the session was clear pretty much throughout. We observed for about an hour and a half. Holley — again the only one of us keeping track — counted 26 meteors, a combination of Perseids and sporadics. A sporadic is a meteor not associated with any shower. Others, myself included, called out about two dozen meteors she didn’t spot.

As with any meteor shower, some “Ooohs” and “Aaaahs” erupted from our small contingent. But the highlight was a fireball (a meteor bright enough to cast a shadow) that blazed at a brightness I estimated as at least magnitude –6. This beauty, which shone brighter than half a dozen Venuses, streaked through the Milky Way for 20° and then displayed a short smoke trail. As I said to the group at the time, “THAT’S why we’re here!”

Finally, just before astronomical twilight struck (at 4:03 a.m.), we all headed up to Jim and Tammy’s house. More specifically, to their kitchen!

Jim had made quiche, and oh, my, was it good! Others brought a great potato dish with a tantalizing crispy top layer, a blueberry-oatmeal dish that people raved about, and lots of fresh fruit. And like last year, Tammy oven-heated two loaves of the sweet, sticky concoction known as monkey bread.

While others retired to the table or the dining room, I made the mistake of standing in the kitchen next to Bryce, who sat at the large island. At one point, I wondered if there was some unspoken competition between us to see who would eat the most. Unfortunately, I think I won. I know I ate half a loaf of monkey bread and two servings of everything else. At least two.

Once again, my heartfelt thanks go to Jim and Tammy for being great friends, great hosts, and for having an interest in the sky. Next year, sadly, features a nearly Full Moon when the Perseids peak. But we can still get together for breakfast, right?


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