insidethisissue - The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

was anticipated through 2009 (Sato & Watanabe 2007).Alas, the only observing for me involved reading mycomputer monitor. Four nights my alarm woke me in themiddle of the night, and four times I looked out my window toheavy clouds. The last time I determined to go out regardless:clearing was forecast from the west before dawn, the Orionidwindow was slamming shut, and there was the attraction ofthe remarkable new Comet Holmes that compelled me toleave my warm bed on a cold Thursday morning. A day before17P/Holmes was completely unknown to me...but in that day,it brightened by a million-fold to suddenly achieve naked-eyeprominence, bright as Mira at its finest. More surprising still,the “nova comet” was a recurrent nova, having had a similareruption in 1892, back around the time its namesake (Sherlock)was taking the plunge at Reichenbach Falls — a seeminglycatastrophic event from which he too survived to shine anotherday.The sky looked unpromising to say the least. The onlything shining through the low cloud was the towering Hunter’sMoon, which hours later would be the biggest, baddest FullMoon of 2007. But, as I headed for a secondary observing siteto the southwest of the city, the back edge of the cloud archedabove the western horizon, and by the time I was comfortablyensconced in my sleeping bag and observing chair, the skieswere opening up as promised. I had positioned myself on the leeside of the car, which also shielded me from direct moonlight,and surveyed a most remarkable sky.Guest luminaries highlighted three constellationsfamous for their meteors: Saturn and Venus fresh off theirtriple conjunction in Leo; Mars gleaming red in the heart ofGemini; and the nearly stellar Comet Holmes high overhead inPerseus. Orion, host of the present meteor shower, was standingstraight up in the south. Within seconds, my persistence wasrewarded as the Hunter also hosted a bright, brief visitor, a firstmagnitudemeteor that flashed near Betelgeuse and droppedright by Mintaka. A true Orionid, my first of the year, short, butvery sweet. I thought of Halley’s Comet and of my Dad.The goose egg broken, I turned my attention and my1570 binoculars to the astonishing new comet for an extendedexamination, followed by an hour’s meteor count in the risingtwilight. Of course, I gazed in the direction of Perseus Plus One,which also enabled me to keep the radiant within my field ofview. I was pleasantly surprised to get no fewer than 5 Orionidswithin 20 minutes, indicating that the radiant still had some lifein it well over 3 days past the peak.The standout Orionid was a bizarre coincidence, a particlefrom that most famous of comets whose fiery demise appearedby chance line of sight to spark directly out of the amazingnewcomer. I was staring right at it, a truly astonishing sightthat suddenly and unexpectedly moved me to tears for a fewmoments.That weekend I phoned Victoria and spoke with my Dad.I mentioned the remarkable new comet, my observation ofthe extraordinary Orionid meteor and its true origins from anentirely different comet. We briefly reminisced about our trip tosee Halley’s Comet over 20 years before.It was the last time we spoke. A week later, as sudden as ameteor, as quiet as a comet, Dad slipped away in his sleep to notungentle death. I grieve him still, but his guiding light shines onin my mind like the memory of a Great Comet.So I go out: my little treatise done.Dedication:This column is dedicated in loving memory of SherburneMcCurdy (1924-2007), family man, educator, community leader,veteran, music lover, sports fan, and stroke-unit volunteer. Hisdetermination and undiminished joie de vivre in the face ofserious disabilities inspired all who knew him.References:Kronk, G. 1988 Meteor Showers: A Descriptive Catalog, EnslowPublishers Inc., Hillside NJ, p. xixSato, M. & Watanabe, J-I. 2007 “Origin of the 2006 OrionidOutburst,” Publications of the Astronomical Society ofJapan, 59, L21-L24Bruce McCurdy marked the return of Comet Halley by rejoiningthe RASC in 1985, and has since represented the Society with pridein many aspects of public outreach. In 2007, he was honouredto receive the National Service Medal, Edmonton Centre’sGeorge Moores Award for Excellence in Public Education, anda permanent star in Telus World of Science Edmonton’s Galaxyof Fame recognizing 20 years of volunteer service. He observedtwo spectacular comets and hundreds of meteors from dozens ofradiants. It was almost a good year.WEB ACCESS TO THE 2008 ISSUES OF THE JRASCAccess previous and current versions of the Journal on the Society Web site at are posted immediately after the production version is complete and at the printer. You can see the images presented here in fullcolour.Username and password are sent by email to RASC members, so it is important to keep National Office up-to-date with your current emailaddress.Archived Journals from 1998 to 2007 are available to the public at Building for the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009)JRASC April / avril 2008

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