November 19, 2002

Usually I try to update these letters a little more often than every ten days, and almost without fail I do NOT try to write an entry at 4:30am local time.

The Leonid meteor shower was very cool. This is the first time I've really gone out of my way to see one, and it was worth it. Trying to watch from the porch is a virtual guarantee that you'll go back to bed after 5 minutes. Driving up the canyon ensures that you'll stick it out long enough to see something impressive.

Orion was high in the sky, and a little to the south. Leo, with Jupiter sitting just off-center, was to the high south-east. Luna was to the west, and from where I was standing was just about to set behind Robert's Horn, which is part of the Wasatch assembly known as Mount Timpanogas.

A layer of cirrus cloud was blowing eastward as I arrived, and had just begun occluding the moon. Natuarally, I felt that it was threatening to spoil the fun, but it never really occluded much, except right around the moon where the clouds picked up all that light and shone really brightly.

There must have been 100 people up where I was. There were at least 30 cars, and during some of the more impressive meteoric events you could here "oooh!" and "yaaay!" from all over. For the first 5 minutes or so I think I saw maybe 15 meteors -- that was from 3:30 to 3:35am. It picked up a little bit then, and I decided to re-park my car so that I could a) run the engine, b) lie across the seat with my head hanging out the driver's-side window, and c) have the heat blowing on me.

Did I mention that it was cold? On the drive up I passed the Sundance Ski Resort, and their snow-making machines were blowing clouds of water a hundred feet or more in the air. Sure enough, it was coming back down as genuine artificial Utah powder, just like the kind they had at the Olympics.

So, re-parked and warmer, I hung around 'till right around 4am, when the clouds got a little too thick (and I realized that I had no desire to wander back out of the car and find a remote tree to fertilize, especially not since I'd almost driven over people in sleeping bags lying out in the middle of the parking lot on the ice, and I had no idea what I might end up painting urea-yellow in the shadows). I lost count, but I saw at least 50 meteors and trails, and saw several clusters of meteors, in all cases with trails pointing back toward Leo.

On the drive back down I saw the one exception, and I wish I could have been out of the car to see it. A very bright meteor ran from Orion clear down to 30 degrees above the south Horizon, traveling perpendicularly to the leonids I'd seen moving toward Orion earlier. I stopped the car and checked my bearings (and checked for those pesky reflections inside windshields that can play tricks on the eyes) to confirm what I'd seen. Weird. Given the length of the flight (long), the lack of a long trail, and the origin point I'd say this one was unrelated to comet Tempel-Tuttle (or whatever comet it is through whose tail we passed last night), and was instead some inner-system wanderer opting to burn up in collision on a night when someone was likely to notice.