Friday was snowy, Saturday was foggy. Sunday was sleety. On Saturday, the Clear Sky Chart showed some possible clearing early Monday morning. By Sunday, this had been pushed back to about 4am Monday. When I looked at the forecast maps the chart was based on, they showed broken cloud bands rather than a definite clearing spell. I wasn’t too optimistic, but decided to prepare anyway.
On Sunday evening, there were a few cloud breaks, but all proved to be short-lived sucker holes. I stood outside for a while and saw a couple of Geminids in the breaks, but nothing spectacular. I decided to try to get some sleep but set an alarm every 75-90 minutes to get me up to look out. The first few alarms yielded more clouds, but when I got up at 1:45 I saw clear sky. The only question was: where to go?
My main close-in meteor observing site was a no-go after the recent snow, as it involves a very steep and narrow access road. My main quickie observing site in winter is a wildlife area that is officially closed between 10pm and 4am (I usually use it for evening observing, and by 10pm I’m frozen or dewed up anyway). There was a site about 25 minutes to the SW where I had observed Comet NEOWISE, and I thought it would be a good meteor observing site due to the good horizons. I had closer alternatives to the west, but they had poorer horizons and more skyglow. I also had a farther alternative to the South, but since it was technically closed after sunset and also technically over the border in California I decided against it. I hit the road just before 2am, headed SW. After I cleared the city, I started seeing Geminids. I forget the number I counted, maybe as many as 10. That was really impressive since I was watching the road and could only see a small part of the sky near the horizon. I saw a couple of fireball-class meteors.
The last few miles to my site were packed snow, so I took about 30 minutes to get there. Skies remained clear, although I could see a faint glow of distant lights off some clouds in the south. I also saw a low cloud bank to the west over the Cascade Mountains, and just hoped that it would stay put.
I set up my sleeping bag and started counting meteors at 2:36am. Rates seemed decent, and the Geminids were bright without producing any more fireballs. Skies could have been a bit more transparent, but generally the limiting magnitude was around 6.5. Trouble hit about 10 minutes in with a passing cloud band, but that went away fairly quickly. Big trouble hit 30 minutes in with more clouds, enough to make me quit counting for 20 minutes. After that, it would clear up for a few minutes and then cloud up for many minutes. The clouds were coming from the south. Only my first 30 minutes were really productive data. In those 30 minutes, I saw 28 Geminids and 6 other meteors. Mean Geminid magnitude was 1.6. An equivalent ZHR would have been about 62, so the Geminids were likely already on a steep decline from their peak.
I left for good at 4:30 after a light snow started falling. After a few minutes on the road, I emerged into clear skies. I’m not sure; maybe the clouds only picked on the immediate vicinity of my observing site. I saw fewer Geminids on the way back—about 4. One was really neat as I looked up to see it streaking in the direction I was headed. It felt close and 3-dimensional. I decided to pull in at my close-in site at the wildlife area, since it was after 4am. If the skies stayed clear, I could get in an hour of counting before twilight became too bright.
I started my hour at 5:06am. There were a few clouds early, and then I had unobstructed skies. Transparency wasn’t great, and my limiting magnitude was 6.3. For the hour, I counted 30 Geminids and 6 other meteors. I saw a couple of near-fireballs, and a bunch of Geminids from Procyon-bright to Sirius-bright, but none of the ground-lighting fireballs I was hoping for. Mean Geminid magnitude was 1.3, and the ZHR was about 47.
In a way, it was a stroke of good fortune for me to see anything from this year’s Geminids. It is just so rare to get good weather conditions this time of year. In another way, it was frustrating because I know I didn’t see the shower at its best. If only the clearing had happened a few hours earlier … But maybe I should have tried a closer site, or set my alarm for 30 minutes earlier, or just gone out and camped somewhere and called in sick to work. In any case, it looks like the Perseids won this year for me .
Klamath Falls, OR (aka Oregon's "City of Sunshine")