Monday, June 3, 2013

Meteors and Mistakes

I believe it has been ten years since I first started making public presentations on behalf of my astronomy club. My first presentation was at a Lake Skinner star party. The event coordinator, their park interpretor, asked for presentation, so I cobbled together 40 slides that I had taken and made a show. After the show, a family approached me and said their son would like to think me. I looked down, and their 3-4 year old son hugged my leg. Presentations would become one of the worth while activities I'll do.

I recall another great act of gratitude when a child approached me after a show and gave me a quarter. First he said, "here's a nickel" and put it in my hand. Not looking at it, I said, "yes it is". Then he said, "no, I mean, it's a quarter". I looked more carefully and corrected myself. "Yes. A quarter." Then the boy said, "It's for you. Thanks for the show." I accepted graciously. One doesn't turn down a gift or reject a gesture of thanks. At the time, this was the most I'd ever been paid for show, and my friends assured me that I was probably worth every penny.

My one regret in shows is that I don't have an opportunity to correct my errors. I try to present my own photos so that I can show people honestly what I saw, though sometimes I'm mistaken as to what it was. Such was the case with a photo I took on slide film around ten years ago. I was tracking the asteroid Ceres, and on one of the nights, something passed through my field of view (click or double click to enlarge the image):

At the time, I thought that whatever caused the striek (a plane or satelite), I was impressed that it happened to intersect three stars, and I made this comment in a few presentations. Later, I realized my error: the plane or satellite also created the bright white star-like images on the film. Notice how evenly spaced and of similar brightness they are, and that two appear to have a dimmer companion at the same position.

With this lesson in mind, I dismissed a photo taken last month as a result of the same effect.

Faint erratic meteor, or blinking object?

Highlight of area containing meteor or blinking object

Here's a close up. Notice that the striek passes through several stars -- I was very suspicious.

Fortunately, I took more than one image. By switching the view between these last two images, I could see that the stars crossed by the meteor appear in the picture below taken a few minutes later:

It is a meteor!


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