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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
2 bodies found in Pimento home
Police were at the scene of a death investigation on Sunday in southern Vigo County.
“It’s a double death investigation,” Vigo County Chief Deputy Clark E. Cottom told the Tribune-Star at the scene.
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.
BOSTON MARATHON: Not intimidated
One reason Mike Morris — and many runners can relate — has been a distance runner for 30 years is it’s restorative powers. Not to the body but to the mind.
Even when he was in grade school, it was obvious Justin Huxford was a special kid.
He was the first at Rio Grande Elementary School to walk 100 miles around the school grounds over the school year, one of just a handful of kids to meet the goal.
Answering the call
Static was the only thing on TV or radio. People were on their knees as they prayed. It was, as if for three whole days, the world stood still.
TH wins 8th Tree City USA ‘Growth’ award
Terre Haute was named a 2013 Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation in honor of its commitment to effective urban forest management.
ISU hosts Ukraine panel today
In Ruth Fairbanks’ morning commute to work recently, she heard two news stories on the radio about Ukraine. Considering her drive-time is just five minutes, it demonstrates how unstable — and newsworthy — Eastern Europe is these days.
Their dream rises: Mother-daughter duo team up to expand eastside bakery
As she gently formed a round sourdough, Marta Shelton seemed to hold her dreams in the palm of her hands.
Church resurrected: Prairie Creek church that burned in the midst of a winter storm ready for rebirth
From the ashes of a devastating winter fire comes out a church reborn.
Vigo School Board to approve central pool bond resolution
On Monday, the Vigo County School Board will receive an update on a planned, $9.8 million aquatics center that will be built in Voorhees Park.
Inconsistent help: FEMA’s disaster decisions frustrate state, local leaders
Pamela Jackson thought she was lucky to escape harm as a tornado bore down on her neighborhood last November. She huddled in a bathroom with her two disabled sons, critically ill husband and six other family members as the twister blew out windows and tore the roof off her house. Hers was one of scores of homes and businesses in Howard County that were damaged or demolished by the storm.
A team of Vigo County high school students — and its robot — are gearing up to compete against 127 teams from throughout the world in an upcoming international robotics competition.
VCPL to install free ‘little libraries’
Coming soon to a neighborhood near you: A Little Free Library.
Flaws in new ed standards ‘too substantial’
A State Board of Education member formally requested Friday that an education panel abandon a proposed overhaul of Indiana’s education standards and instead recommend that the state’s previous benchmarks be reinstated in classrooms this fall.
Spike in mumps cases reported across Illinois
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Public health officials are investigating a sharp increase in the number of mumps cases recorded in central Illinois.
Police: Fatal fire began with dropped cigarette
SANTA CLAUS, Ind. (AP) — State police say a fatal house fire in a southern Indiana town began when a disabled woman dropped a cigarette.
Board member asks for old Indiana school standards
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A State Board of Education member is calling for a proposed overhaul of Indiana’s education standards to be ditched and that the state’s old benchmarks be reinstated in classrooms this fall.
A real page turner
Victory was sweet for the Franklin Elementary teammates, who won their first ever Battle of the Books competition Thursday at Meadows Elementary.
Rep. Bucshon leads discussion on minority care in Vigo County
The list of problems seems endless: Lack of health insurance, mental illness, cultural barriers and stigmas about routine medical check ups, to name only a few.
Vigo County students, educators recently made a 2-week trip to Terre Haute’s sister city of Tajimi
Six Vigo County high school students and two educators, including superintendent Dan Tanoos, recently returned from a two-week cultural exchange trip to Tajimi, Japan.
Tribune-Star columnist named company’s best
The Tribune-Star’s Mark Bennett has been named CNHI’s Columnist of the Year for 2013 in its large newspaper division.
Clay man arrested on drug charges
An eight-month investigation by the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies resulted in the arrest of Wednesday of a Clay County man on meth-related charges, authorities said.
Drug raid leads to arrest of siblings
Siblings were arrested Thursday after police said they discovered an active meth lab in a Terre Haute home, authorities said.
- More Local & Bistate Headlines
- Purdue shooting leaves one person dead