Perseids Meteors 2016

12/08/2016 - 12:08




With welcomed spontaneity, my partner Sarah suggested the idea of heading out as a family to Dartmoor National Park to hopefully see the Perseid meteor shower. Warm clothes, jackets, hats, blankets, duvets, picnic rugs, hot drinks and snacks were mustered. We drove towards the moors in the late stages of the golden hour, mackerel skies gilded in beautiful light. As we approached the base of Top Tor, near Widecombe, the sun was setting in a stunning display of hues and the pinker tones of the afterglow greeted us as we reached the summit.




Afterglow and twilight tones converging above Top Tor - with Bonehill Rocks, Chinkwell Tor, Honeybag Tor and Hamel Down beyond.




Our first base on the summit was good for a while…








… though the evening breeze started to chill the kids a bit, so we found a sheltered leeward spot just 3m below the top. Ensconced in duvets and blankets we could lay against the gently angled granite slabs and gaze up into the North Eastern & Eastern areas of the sky.




Illustration ©NASA


 These meteors are composed of tiny pieces of space debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseids are named after the constellation Perseus. This is because the direction, or radiant, from which the shower seems to come in the sky lies in the same direction as the constellation Perseus, which is found in the north-eastern part of the sky in the Northern Hemisphere.


This year the shower ranges from being able to see between 60-200 meteors per hour. The best time would be between the moon set (about 00:20) and before the pre-dawn light/ nautical twilight around 04:30am)


It was wonderful to spend time outside gazing at the stunning cosmos and realising how small we really are in the scale of things.




The view from Top Tor over the Becka Vale, towards Holwell Tor and Smallcombe Rocks




We stayed out until 11:45 pm, which the kids thought was very exciting! Despite the waxing gibbous moon (more than half-lighted, but less than full) and some passing fretworks of mackerel cloud clusters we managed to see 18 meteors with the naked eyes. I tried a series of 15 second long exposures (at ISO 800) using my Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens at f/4 and managed to record a couple of meteors. The better of the two is below (with the meteor trail in the upper left).



It would be great to have a more recent Pentax camera such as the Pentax K-3 II - with it's pixel shift / noise reduction and the GPS based built-in Astrotracer function to make much less grainy photos at high ISO sensitivity. But it was pleasing to have some photographs to remind us of a great night spent outdoors looking up to the cosmos from where all of our atoms have come from, to watch the meteors race across the sky & to be with the great company and enthusiasm of my family.


A meteor approaching from the left side of the photo - looking out from Top Tor towards Saddle Tor, Haytor and Rippon Tor



Our kids thought it was “awesome!” to have seen meteors for the first time, to have spent a late evening gazing at the stars and to have done so from one of their favourite places. A delight to hear their squeals of excitiment!



The Milky Way from the car park at the base of the Top Tor footpath, a last photo before the drive home.





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