Monday, April 19, 2010

I Love Weather

...but the weather doesn't love me!

My life as a Groomin' Human, Graveyard Variety could be seen as my journey to the Dark Side.

Not Luke Skywalker's Dark Side, but the Dark Side as in Night Life, Not the Nightclub Variety.

Three decades of Graveyard Shift atop the Sierra Crest in the dark of night give one ample opportunities to cultivate some Dark Sky interests. For me, it's astronomy and Manned Spaceflight. I came to the party already armed with my love for all things NASA, astronomy come organically...graveyard osmosis really. When you're up all night, with the Starry Heavens shining down, it's impossible not to wonder what all those points of light are, and where do all those Shooting Stars come from?

Several Meteor Showers recur annually as our blue marble orbits the Sun and passes through the debris streams left by comets that visited the Inner Solar System in antiquity. Many of these showers happen in winter months, and they can be spectacular...provided the skies are cloud free. Therein lies the rub...and why the weather hates me.

The Leonid Meteor Shower is the Super Bowl of meteor showers. Every November, Earth flies through the debris stream of Comet Temple-Tuttle. The Leonids can show up to 3000 meteorites per hour! The 1833 Leonids featured 100,000 meteorites per hour! That one spawned novels and popular songs, not to mention the scores of artworks of the day.

Now I hate to whine, but the November weather has fouled up every Leonid Shower I can remember over the past few decades. Storms or high clouds have obscured every decent shower except when there's a big Moon to obscure the action...Oh sure! Full Moon washouts are never obscured by clouds! I can't win.

This morning the weather over Florida put the kibosh on my nocturnal ambitions. A chance of rain over Cape Kennedy Space Center caused NASA to postpone by one orbit the reentry of STS-131. Space Shuttle Discovery was to be visible from the DaveCave as it burned it's way through the Earth's atmosphere on it's way to Florida's Space Coast. It was the last opportunity to view a Space Shuttle reenter at night. Only three more Space Shuttle Missions are scheduled before NASA retires the program.

Up for the occasion, I found the next orbit's Ground Track would have the Shuttle visible from Tacoma, WA during reentry. My friend KirkVallus is in Tacoma for a few days visiting with his sister from Boston. I thought about giving him a call...then thought better of it. What are the chances that there'd be clear skies over Tacoma with another Winter Storm headed our way for tonight? Not to mention how much I appreciate O-Dark:30 phone calls!

Now NASA has postponed the landing until Tuesday! There may be hope yet. I've seen the Space Shuttle reenter twice. Once in the Summer of 1996, and in 2003 when the doomed Columbia came over my Mountain before she broke up over Texas.

In a few hours, updated orbital data will make available new ground tracks and viewing times. NASA will announce which orbit they will de-orbit from and maybe, just maybe I'll get to see the show one more time.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!


  1. Well, the numbers are up. No joy for West Coast Shuttle Geeks.

    Viewers in the Plains are favored by Tuesday's Ground Track:

  2. I had to give up amateur astronomy about five years ago when cataracts and other eye anomalies had me seeing three moons. There just wasn't much point.

    Now that I am facing lens replacement, I hope it works well enough so I can operate a telescope again. If this were another century (or even just 50 years ago), or if I were in one of many other countries, I would be totally screwed.

  3. You'll be fine Chico...It's the 21st century!