Monday, August 13, 2018

Deja vu (Perseids wiped out again)

As is a tradition by now, our local centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada helps out at
Aldergrove Lake Park for viewing the Perseids every year. It is a big event for the Parks Board and the public, and matches the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's mandate to promote an interest in astronomy and associated sciences to the public.

I wrote this last year in my post about viewing the Perseid meteor shower (August 13, 2017, in italics):

Aldergrove Park near Abbotsford is used for public viewing when the Perseid meteor shower peaks annually on August 12. The park administration sets up a tent for us (the RASC), and reserves some space nearby to set up telescopes. Some of our members, and sometimes invited speakers, give several talks regarding astronomical events (past, present, and future). It's a rain-or-shine occasion. If it rains, telescopes are not set up outside, but may serve as exhibits inside the tent.

The Aldergrove Park administration promotes this event. This is the only time in the year at which overnight camping is allowed in the park. Many people usually attend.

This year, an unfortunate fire on a barge carrying old, recycled cars, docked in the Fraser river on the day before this event created a lot of smoke. This affected much of the Lower Mainland, both on the day before, when we were involved with the "Starry Night" event at Simon Fraser University's Trottier Observatory, and at Aldergrove Park. "Perseid" day itself was cloudy, with local rain showers. Toward evening, the smoke had cleared, and some large, blue stretches appeared in the southwestern sky and drifted east to where Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars would be located at dusk. I made my way to Aldergrove Park, found our assigned area (same as last year), decided that chances were reasonable for viewing, and set up my telescope.

Our RASC Vancouver centre librarian William happened to spot Venus with his binoculars well before sunset, so he and I trained our telescopes on that brightest of our planetary siblings. I got a couple of minutes view of it, a couple of members and the public had a chance to view it as well, and then a cloud covered Venus. That was the last view I had of it for the evening.

Well, as the weather gods would have it, it turned more cloudy just as the evening approached and eventually some rain began to fall. I packed up my telescope. There was another break in the clouds about 45 minutes later and a number of people had a chance to see both Jupiter and Saturn through a couple of our other members' telescopes. Clouds then turned really heavy, and it started raining seriously towards 11pm.

After the a number of days of wildfire smoke, which covered our area during all the preceding, sunny days, and which was finally cleared out by wind from the south-west, this was a disappointment.  We are told by the park administration that fewer people than last year showed up. During the short periods when the view was worthwhile, several dozen of them came to visit our telescopes. Attendance at the talks in the tent was fortunately much higher.

Our activities ended just before midnight; had it been clear, we would have stayed all night for the public to have a look at interesting astronomical objects - the Perseid meteors especially, of course. Well, we hope that next year's Perseid meteor date will have a clear night sky. This is the same sentiment I expressed last year.

As I write this, the smoky sky has returned. The cause appears to be some fairly large forest fires on Vancouver Island. So the night from August 12 to 13 (which was when the actual maximum of Perseids was expected) turned out to be a bummer, too.

Maybe "deja vu" of smoky skies is turning out to be the new normal.