TERRE HAUTE —
August should be national hammock month.
The night sky turns into an astronomical kaleidoscope in the year’s eighth month. And, there is no better way to gaze at it all than supine (flat on your back) in a hammock. No remote control or iPhone is necessary. Humans are powerless to start or stop celestial displays, anyway. Just exhale and look up. The heavens will take care of the rest.
The best moments to be a hammock-bound amateur astronomer arrive during the overnight hours of this Friday and Saturday. That’s when the Perseid meteor shower — the largest and most reliable annual meteor shower — reaches its peak. Thin flares of light streak across the sky, adding movement to the still glow of the stars. On average, 90 meteors per hour are visible, in the right conditions.
“The Perseid is probably the most spectacular and the most famous,” said Richard Ditteon, professor of physics at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and director of its Oakley Observatory.
Thus, it’s worth staying up late to see. Brew some coffee. The optimum viewing times for this year’s Perseid are estimated to be around 2 a.m. both nights.
To the first-timer, the term “meteor shower” may conjure images of Armageddon. Rest assured, boulders do not hurtle toward Earth, raining fire down upon us this weekend.
The streaking images during the Perseid are indeed meteors, but as tiny as grains of sand. “If you get a boulder,” Ditteon said of meteor sizes, “you’re going to get something that’s visible [even] in daylight.”
Instead, the August event involves much smaller objects. “What you’re seeing is debris left over from a comet named Swift-Tuttle,” Ditteon explained. “It just so happens, the Earth passes through that debris cloud every August.” The debris from the comet’s tail gets more dense as the planet bisects the middle of the cloud, which is why the monthlong Perseid sparkles brightest in mid-August.
Despite their granular size, those space particles enter Earth’s atmosphere at 40,000 to 50,000 miles per second, burning along the way and then vaporizing. This particular meteor shower gets its name because it appeared to radiate from the constellation Perseus, according to the popular astronomy website www.space.com. In Greek mythology, Perseus beheaded Medusa, whose snake-filled hair was so hideous it turned to stone anyone who laid eyes upon it. Eyeing the Perseid meteor shower involves no such danger. A few tips help, though.
This year’s Perseid peak might be a bit less brilliant because the moon will be full and bright. “That [lunar illumination] makes it more difficult to view the fainter objects,” Ditteon said. Nonetheless, meteor-gazers likely will see more activity than on any other nights in 2011. The ideal locations would be miles from pervasive artificial lights, especially around downtown Terre Haute or commercial areas. “Get as far away from Kmart as you can,” Ditteon said, suggesting spots in the countryside.
Once you’ve chosen a location, look toward the northeast (because they tend to come from that direction), but don’t focus on one point, he added. Rather, stare at the sky as you would the entire field from a top-row seat in a major-league baseball park. Rely on your peripheral vision to spot the meteors, which occur randomly in various parts of the sky and often in bunches. Binoculars make it easier to spot fainter meteors but limit a broader field of view.
Backyard astronomy is tougher in the 21st century because artificial lights are stronger and more prevalent. “That’s one of the bad things about our modern society,” Ditteon said. “We’ve got a lot of light pollution. The average Joes don’t know how beautiful the night sky can be.”
Ditteon has studied space extensively. A native of Anderson, he worked on NASA’s Viking program, which sent an unmanned probe to Mars in the 1970s. He’s taught at Rose-Hulman for more than a quarter-century, and has guided the observatory since the early 1990s. Inside that facility is a Ritchey-Chretien telescope sporting a lens a half-meter in diameter. When the college’s classes resume Sept. 1, Ditteon will be educating young engineers on the activity in space.
For us average Joes, the August meteor shower gives us our astronomy lesson and catches our eyes. (If we keep them open late enough to see it all.) “People are just curious,” Ditteon said of fascination with astral phenomena, such as Perseid. “They want to know what’s going on.”
My layman’s advice — find a hammock and just open those eyelids.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or email@example.com.
TERRE HAUTE —
August should be national hammock month.
- Local & Bistate
Purdue shooting leaves one person dead
A Purdue University engineering student opened fire inside a basement classroom Tuesday, killing a teaching assistant and prompting officials to put the campus on lockdown, police and the university said.
Vigo County high school team in FIRST Robotics’ Crossroads Regional
Drivers of remote-controlled robots will match skills, similar to those used in basketball and soccer, to score in the FIRST Robotics’ Crossroads Regional on the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
THS grad Miller among students in adjacent building when shooting occurs
Kris Miller and his roommate were in a computer lab of Purdue’s mechanical engineering building Tuesday when they received a call that a shooting had occurred next door.
Bosma moves gay marriage ban bill to friendlier committee
Republican House of Representatives Speaker Brian Bosma sent a bill that proposes a constitutional ban on gay marriage to a more conservative-leaning legislature committee Tuesday, because it lacked support on the first committee to which it was assigned.
We enter the deep freeze again
If you had to step outside to get your newspaper this morning, you might have noticed it’s painfully cold once again.
Levy redirects school funds
If the new “protected levy” legislation goes into effect later this year, it would mean “a substantial reduction” in revenue for Vigo County School Corp. bus transportation, capital projects and bus replacement funds, according to the district’s chief financial officer.
School debt levy redirects funds across Indiana
School officials and state legislators from around the state are searching for ways to keep the school buses running — and children safe on the streets — pending the loss of millions of dollars for school transportation.
More than 50 school districts in Indiana stand to lose at least 20 percent of their revenues for transportation, new buses and other big-ticket projects under a new law that requires them to first pay off their debts.
VIDEO: Sen. Donnelly updates T-S editorial board
Passage of a long overdue U.S. farm bill could be completed by the end of this month, Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said Tuesday.
Vigo coroner tries again for salary increase
After being denied last year, Vigo County Coroner Dr. Susan Amos is again seeking to have her county salary increased to match that of several other county office holders.
Benefit planned for daycare fire victim
Veronica Gray never met 19-month-old Emma Lloyd, but when she learned about the child’s tragic death in a Sullivan day care fire, she had to do something.
Winter’s costs add up for Vigo
While still within county and city budgets, the snowstorms of January and February were more costly than a year ago.
Mayor Bennett threatens veto of consultant funding
Mayor Duke Bennett is threatening to veto a measure before the Terre Haute City Council that would transfer money into the council’s budget allowing the body to again hire a financial consultant.
Semitrailer fire slows eastbound traffic on Interstate 70
Traffic on Interstate 70 was slowed Thursday afternoon by a semitrailer fire just east of Terre Haute.
Tests show Skittles had no unusual chemicals
The Indiana State Health Department has given Skittles a clean bill of health.
No problems reported in early 10-digit phone dialing
Just be grateful you (probably) aren’t using a rotary telephone these days.
Cloverdale woman sentenced to 10 years in molestation/neglect case
A Cloverdale woman received a 10-year prison sentence Thursday after pleading guilty to child molesting and neglect of a defendant in Vigo Superior Court 3.
Youth orchestra performs March 9
Crossroads of America Youth Orchestra will present its "Spring" concert from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 9, in Central Presbyterian Church at 125 N. Seventh St.
Gun stolen by Dillinger gang returning to Nortern Indiana
AUBURN, Ind. (AP) — The FBI plans to return a .45-caliber Thompson submachine gun stolen by members of the John Dillinger gang from a northeastern Indiana police station to the department.
Indiana workplace safety agency addressing issues
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration spokesman says the agency has cooperated fully with federal investigators who found the agency mishandled complaints, put its inspectors under strict time constraints and didn’t help whistleblowers.
IHSAA looks into complaint of racial behavior
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana High School Athletic Association is investigating complaints that students engaged in racially charged behavior at a girls high school basketball semistate game.
Indianapolis police ID man officers fatally shot
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis police have released the name of a man fatally shot by officers after he allegedly opened fire and wounded four SWAT officers serving a warrant.
Indiana lawmakers approve police education bill
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — New standards for police cultural sensitivity training and reporting of bullying-related suicides could become law pending the governor’s approval.
Vigo County Jail Log: March 6, 2014
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Wednesday and Thursday, based on jail records.
College students spend alternative spring break helping in Vigo County
Pruning in the orchard and preparing plants for the garden has been part of the experience for a group of Minnesota students who are spending this week as an alternative spring break at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
MARK BENNETT: How you approach the day will influence if you are a ‘morning person’
I can still see the stacks of coins, 40 cents in each, arranged on the dining room table.
Area Plan Department considering raising fees
The Vigo County Area Planning Department is exploring the possibility of raising the fees for its services.
Tuesday night crash leads to arrest on drug charges
A Terre Haute man was arrested on drug-related charges after a one-car accident Tuesday night in Clay County.
Clock ticking on downtown TIF district
The sun is setting on Terre Haute’s downtown tax increment finance district, which city economic development officials say has been crucial to downtown revitalization, following action this week from the Indiana General Assembly.
Lay pastor files guilty plea in child sex case
A Terre Haute man has pleaded guilty to seven felonies in connection with a child molestation that allegedly involved the man’s wife as well.
Man gets 1 year probation for child, animal neglect
A Vigo County man has been sentenced to one year on formal probation after pleading guilty to housing children and animals in a filthy house.
- More Local & Bistate Headlines
- Purdue shooting leaves one person dead