Leonids Observation and Catching Venus in the Predawn Sky
Due to a busy schedule, I was not able to observe the peak of the Leonid Meteor Shower last Nov. 17 to 18. According to Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the best time to look for these fast moving meteors would be around two to three hours before dawn when the waxing gibbous Moon has already set and the constellation Leo is high in the Eastern sky.
I planned on observing the following night. However, I realized that aside from missing the peak of the meteor shower, I would probably have less chances to see the Leonids because the light from the nearly full Moon will wash out the fainter meteors. The angular difference of the plane of revolution of Earth around the Sun and that of the Moon around the Earth causes the Moon to rise and set about 50 minutes later each successive night, so I would have an even smaller chance of seeing a meteor every night I wait after the peak.
Nevertheless, because of my eagerness and keen determination to see even a single Leonid, I tried my luck during the night of Nov. 19-20. 🙂
Together with some friends and fellow orgmates, we drove home to Marikina City at around 2am. While on the way, I noticed the Moon shining brightly in the west. Jupiter was nowhere to be found as it has set earlier along with Uranus.
After arriving at my friend’s house, I immediately told her of my plan and we prepared to set up at the topmost part of the house. It was cold and a bit foggy outside during that time. We took a sleeping bag with us so we could lie down on the floor of the roof deck as we watch for meteors. Unfortunately, the floor was already wet – probably because of the dew – when we climbed upstairs. So instead, we spread out the sleeping bag across the roof just below the topmost deck and began our quest for that night. Below us, all the little houses and buildings stood silent as the little spots of light coming from the street lamps appeared to twinkle just like the stars above us.
We found the very conspicuous Leo, the constellation where the meteors seem to radiate from, lying high in the northeastern sky. As we started out to look for zooming meteors from other parts of the sky, we were stunned by the total beauty of the night sky surrounding us. Luna was already low and obstructed by a building to the west, which allowed the stars of the bright constellations to shine brightly against the dark sky. In the west, the Winter Triangle – which is composed of red Betelgeuse of the mighty Orion, Procyon of Canis Minor and Sirius of Canis Major – stood out together with Castor and Pollux of Gemini, Aldebaran of Taurus, Capella of Auriga, Mirphak of Perseus and Arneb of Lepus. Of course, the heavenly sisters, Pleiades and Hyades, could be easily noticed as well. In the south, bright Canopus greeted us with the other stars of the former Argo Navis. Looking northwards, I was surprised to see the famous seven stars comprising the Big Dipper in Ursa Major again. It has been a long time since this asterism, which serves as a guide in finding the North Star, became visible once again. The eastern horizon was practically covered with dark, low-lying clouds so it remained blank for a few hours.
After several minutes of searching the sky, I saw my very first Leonid – a swift yellow meteor with a long trail. 😀 As I traced back its path, it appeared to have come from the sickle of Leo which confirmed that it was indeed a Leonid! After that I saw 7 more meteors, 3 of which were big yellowish-orange with long trails. We were so astounded by their beauty that we screamed with delight every time we saw one. The best one I saw was very bright with a long, lingering, smoky tail behind it which lasted for about 5 seconds.
Meanwhile, we also saw several artificial satellites moving across the northwestern sky from 4am-5am.
At about 5:15 am, we decided to end our meteor counting and go inside because it’s getting too cold and our sleeping bag was already wet due to the morning dew. But before we went downstairs, we noticed this very bright apparition in the eastern sky. At first, we thought it was an airplane because of its intense luminosity. However, we noticed that it wasn’t moving at all. I thought that maybe it was another celestial object. Was it a big meteor that was about to hit Earth or a UFO? Or, was it a star that had just risen? I know that there’s only one celestial object that could shine that bright then – the planet Venus. After undergoing inferior conjunction with the Sun, Venus was now back to being a morning star. However, I wondered why we didn’t see it rising. I suddenly recalled that maybe it was covered by the thick clouds in the east that we saw a while ago as it rose up in the horizon.
Upon checking Stellarium, I realized that Venus was also perfectly placed near Saturn and the star Spica of Virgo then. My friend, Bea, had her Canon 400D DSLR camera with her that time so we decided to capture this remarkable view at that moment.
Though I caught a cold, got no sleep, and had itchy mosquito bites all over my arms and feet during this observation (such is the life of an amateur astronomer, ha ha), seeing all those beautiful sights of the heavens would always be more than enough for me to go to great heights for astronomy and continue on this passion of exploring the cosmos and sharing it to everyone . 🙂
“For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God.” – John Calvin