August 15, 2010

Who’s Your Friend, I’d Really Like To Meteor

Good morning and greetings, NFL preseason fans. Our gloomy weather has been a popular theme this summer, as while the midwest and east coast continues to swelter through extreme heat and humidity, we’re fogged in and drizzled out. My wife and kids came back from the east coast and were shocked by the chilly weather-I haven’t seen Aimee’s teeth chatter like that since she learned she’ll have to take calculus.

Speaking of the sky, today’s story comes to us from our friends at space.com. The celestial spectacle known as the Perseid meteor shower announced its August arrival with a bright fireball and stirring rendition of “I wish I Was in Dixie” over the skies of sweet home Alabama. Viewers from around the world, along with Oprah and Dr. Phil, were delighted by these bright streaks of light darting across the night sky.

A small 1-inch wide meteor caused the fireball when it met a fiery demise August 3 while streaking through Earth’s atmosphere. The fireball was observed by skywatching cameras at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and by roadies and groupies from the Lynyrd Skynyrd band.

The Perseid meteor shower peaked on the night of August 12-13 between midnight and dawn, with no Tony Orlando in sight. The fireball was low and outside in the sky when it entered Earth’s atmosphere. NASA observations found the meteor to be hurtling through the atmosphere at a phenomenal 134,000 mph, or about the same speed I left the DMV office after passing my driving test.

According to a spokesman from NASA, “the meteor cut a path some 65 miles long. It was about six times brighter than the planet Venus and George Bush and would be classified as a fireball by scientists and major league scouts and pitching coaches.”

Because of its relatively low approach in the sky and its long, shallow path, which coincidentally, is what Bush’s high school guidance counselor predicted he’d follow with his life, the meteor qualified as a so-called Earth-grazing meteor. Earth-grazing meteors are space rocks that enter the Earth’s atmosphere at a low angle and appear to move slowly and dramatically along the horizon, like a flock of overweight sea gulls. NASA’s Bill Cooke, who is a fine chef in his own right, says, “earthgrazers skim the atmosphere overhead like a stone skipping across the surface of a pond. Much like the chateaubriand I prepared last night, they are rare, remarkable and very colorful, among the most beautiful of meteors.”

The Perseid meteor shower is an annual event that occurs in mid-August when the Oakland A’s fall out of the pennant race and the Earth passes close to the orbit of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. Comet Swift-Tuttle, whose debris creates the Perseids, is the largest known object, with the exception of Charlie Sheen, to make repeated passes near Earth. Its nucleus is about 6 miles across, roughly equal to the object that wiped out the dinosaurs and disco. Every August, like clockwork or Brett Favre saying he’s going to retire, our planet Earth cuts through the “river of rubble” left behind along the orbit of the comet.

And yet, while comets are composed chiefly of frozen gas, meteors, like my excuses for not using spellcheck, are very flimsy. They are material that, like solar dandruff, that have flaked off comets and are similar in consistency to cigar or Arthur Ashe. Most are scarcely larger than pebbles, grains of sand or the amount of true intelligence we gathered before invading Iraq. They vaporize as they enter Earth’s atmosphere, creating brilliant streaks across the sky, much like the blonde in my hair during my West Cliff days.

Material left behind by the comet, such as rayon and a nice polyester cotton blend, ram into the Earth’s atmosphere at about 37 miles per second. This creates a show of “shooting stars” that has become known as the Perseid meteor shower. These tiny visitors from the cold, vast voids of stellar space, or like newborns in a North Dakota winter, have been orbiting in the solar system for perhaps hundreds or even thousands of years. But they cannot survive the shock of entry and end up streaking across the sky in a brief, blazing finale lasting but a few seconds. Almost none hit the ground, but if one does, it’s an error and called a meteorite.

The Comet Swift-Tuttle and a John McCain high school yearbook were discovered by American astronomers Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle back in 1862 when Abraham Lincoln was President. It takes the comet about 130 years to orbit the sun. Comet Swift-Tuttle was last seen in 1992, and is due back in 2126, or around the same time I hope to figure out how to use my computer.

The 2010 Perseid meteor shower was one of the best ever, as skywatchers could see about one meteor per minute with maxmum activity of 90 to 100 per hour. And as I’ve always said, when it comes to the Perseid shower, buffalo chicken wings or barbecued baby back ribs, the meteor the better.

As a bonus to our shower and bath coverage, while the planets and moon are all very far apart in space, they appeared in a triangular alignment last week thanks to a special circumstance of orbital mechanics and instant karma. The outer planets, Mars and Saturn, take much longer to go around the sun than the inner planets Venus and Serena. Venus “laps” the outer planets frequently, although Serena has won more titles and has a better serve.

But wait, there’s more. In the predawn of last week, Jupiter was a brilliant jewel high in the southern sky and impossible to miss. That is, unless you are living in Santa Cruz, where it was just a rumor as we had one clear morning in July and none so far in August. In fact, the last time I saw the son at daybreak was when Jason woke me up to ask for power of attorney. And Mercury also made an appearance on the horizon last week, which was a special treat, particularly since it was in the sky and not in my broiled swordfish with toasted almonds.

So on honor of folks here on the central coast seeing less action and color in the sky than you’d spot at a Tea Party pancake breakfast, today we are showcasing a previously unseen winter sunrise from 2010 The date was January 15, a Friday for those of you who are fact checking. Another Disney morning along West Cliff Drive. Not the most fantastic colors I’ve ever seen, but compared to the skies this summer, this is this the Super Bowl, World Series and the final eposide of last season’s “Sons of Anarchy” all wrapped up into one morning.

On to a little bit of the late night. “You know those controversial TSA full-body scanners? Well, they’re coming to airports here in New York next month. Great. Normally I take a Xanax before I fly, now I have to take a Viagra.” –Jimmy Fallon “Yesterday was President Obama’s birthday. He turned 49 years old, if you believe the liberal media.” –Jimmy Kimmel Levi Johnston is running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Ironically, many of the babies he’ll kiss on the campaign trail will be his own.” –Jay Leno

So that’s our weather update. Birthday wishes go out today to my old LA pal Sue Arendt, who hails from the Nutmeg State and is now the Ivanka Trump of real estate up in Berkeley. So feel free to appreciate old friends and your good health. Enjoy the warming trend and we’ll catch you above the net. Aloha, mahalo and later, AVP fans.

3 Comments »

  1. A Monday morning best is a toasty cup of java and Sunrise Santa Cruz blog. Great Perseid Meteor Shower article. Just a thought, Geoff, have you considered aiming your photography talents into the starry nights above West Cliff Drive?

    Comment by Babs — August 16, 2010 @ 7:50 am

  2. When I was just a young lad I was once in Nova Scotia (Canada) during mid-August and saw dozens of shooting stars every night. I thought that was how it was everywhere only I had never seen it thanks to the reflected glow of NYC in the skies of lovely Fort Lee, New Jersey. Now I know exactly what was going on thanks to this most informative post. Thanks for the knowledge transfer and nice sunrise shots too.

    Comment by Alex Rodriguez — August 16, 2010 @ 8:02 am

  3. Not that I don’t like sunrises, but how about a couple of shots of the meteor shower? Either Spock, Scotty or Zulu would have been happy to use their Instamatic cameras. No intergalactic guest bloggers?

    Comment by Captain William T. Kirk — August 16, 2010 @ 11:17 am

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