Last weekend the Orionid meteor shower peaked. To be honest, it’s a rather weak shower, with a max of maybe 25 meteors per hour. I mentioned it on Twitter and other social media, but it’s usually a so-so shower at best so it didn’t seem worth it to plug it much. Even big showers like the Perseids, Leonids, and Geminids can be fairly variable in what you see, so I usually only plug the bigger ones.
Still, the Orionids can be nice if you have dark skies. Mike Lewinski went out to Embudo, NM (along the Rio Grande river) to do some meteor photography and happened to catch a spectacular fireball from the shower. It even left what’s called a persistent train, a trail of ionized, vaporized material that can glow for quite some time. I combined three of his images into one composite to show you the sequence:
On the left is the fireball, in the middle is the glowing train (as well as a second meteor that fell along the nearly same path as the first), and on the right the trail some minutes after the original meteor. He said the train was visible for over half an hour! He also put together a time lapse animation of it:
[Note: You may need to refresh this page to see the embedded video.]
It’s pretty fast, so you might want to run it a few times. Mike also created a second video that’s zoomed in.
I guess the lesson here is that it can’t hurt to go out and observe meteor showers (here’s a site where you can see when the next one is). You might catch something pretty amazing! And even if you don’t, it’s still a night out under the stars, and that’s still one of the best ways you can spend your time.
Image credit: Mike Lewinski, used by permission
Last year, in early October, he was taking frames of the night sky for a time lapse video when he caught a bright meteor that left what’s called a persistent train: a trail that continues to glow for several minutes. He sent me a note about it, and I wound up writing a blog post about this relatively rare event.
OK, cool enough, But then, just a few days ago, he emailed me again: while out filming at the same exact location, he saw another meteor that also left a persistent train, almost exactly a year after the first one! It’s a funny coincidence.
[Click to ablatenate.]
This picture was taken in central South Dakota. The Milky Way dominates the dark sky here, and the trees provide a nice silhouetted foreground.
You can compare it to last year’s meteor here. Given the Milky Way in the frame, he was facing south to take these, and the more recent shot was taken later in the night, since the galaxy had rotated a bit compared in last year’s picture. If I were really nitpicky I could probably even calculate just how much later in the night it was using the angle of the Milky Way. To my eye it looks like about an hour.
Anyway, both meteors were probably what we call sporadic: just random bits of rock orbiting the Sun that had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this case though one meteor’s poison is another man’s meat. It was too bad for those interplanetary bits of flotsam, but very nice for Randy and for all of us… twice.
Image credit: Randy Halverson, used by permission.
- Raging clouds, near and very, very far
- The Milky Way and the Mashed Potatoes Mountain
- Temporal Distortion
- Reflecting on the ISS
- Another jaw-dropping time lapse video: Tempest
- Gorgeous Milky Way time lapse
Randy Halverson is a photographer who makes stunning time lapse videos of the night sky (like Tempest Milky Way and Plains Milky Way; seriously, if you haven’t seen those, go watch them now). He’s currently in the process of making a new video, and in one of the frames he happened to catch a bright meteor, a bit of cosmic fluff burning up as it rammed through our atmosphere. What’s neat about this particular incident is that the meteor left behind a glowing streak that lasted for over half an hour!
You can see it there, the red twisty worm at the upper left, across the glow of the Milky Way [click to enbolidenate.]
Technically, that’s called a persistent train, and it’s not actually smoke. As a meteoroid (the actual solid chunk of material) blasts through the air, it ionizes the gases, stripping electrons from their parent atoms. As the electrons slowly recombine with the atoms, they emit light — this is how neon signs glow, as well as giant star-forming nebulae in space. The upper-level winds blowing that high (upwards of 100 km/60 miles) create the twisting, fantastic shapes in the train. The actual details of how this works in meteor trains are not well understood, mainly because they are so difficult to spot and study. It’s hard to point a telescope at a position in the sky when you don’t know where or when a meteor will pass through!