While most people watched Tom Daley win Olympic Bronze for Great Britain in the 10 meter diving event, a remarkable achievement, seventeen souls gathered under a cloudy sky on a dark site in Kent.
Mike Meynell and I had studied weather maps and with conditions set to worsen on Sunday, we decided to give the go ahead at 5.30pm. We arrived early to check parking availability and set up on the adjacent sports field. I looked repeatedly to the east in the hope of seeing the break in the weather so clearly defined on the forecast earlier.
Flamsteed members started to arrive at around 9.30pm as Mike was making final adjustments to his camera. The wide angle lens gave a magnificent view of a tree line to the North and the blanket of cloud which covered the entire sky. Despite this everyone was in buoyant mood and by 10 o’clock we had formed a makeshift camp of chairs, blankets and tripods.
We didn’t have to wait long for the first object to appear. A gentle breeze separated the cloud just sufficiently for us to see the International Space Station. From high above the Earth it reflected light from the Sun brilliantly, cleaving a path as it crossed the night sky. This seemed to herald a change in the weather as further gaps in the cloud reluctantly appeared.
Individuals chatted while all watched the heavens intently. For the next hour or so we were rewarded by the appearance of several infrequent meteor trails which were very long and delighted the assembled group. These streaks of light were sufficiently bright to reveal themselves through the light cloud. They tended to appear toward the east and west horizons some distance from the radiant point which was to the north, just below Cassiopeia, near Perseus; hence the name of the shower.
As midnight approached and following a period of inactivity, several enthusiasts decided to call it a night although admitted they would probably regret their decision to leave. They were to be proved right although initially the only thing to float into view was a high altitude weather balloon. Once again a manmade object reflected the sunlight brightly as it moved indecisively across the night sky toward a large break in the cloud to the south.
At last the gap we had seen on the weather maps earlier had arrived, things were looking up. Encouraged by this, those who remained became more attentive and looked up with renewed interest. I don’t think I have ever seen cloud move more slowly as together we willed this window on the heavens northward.
It was almost one o’clock in the morning before the stars finally shone brightly overhead and we were able to witness several spectacular meteors streak across an inky night sky. With several of these large trails captured on camera the clouds closed above us blocking our view once more.
Although conditions were by no means perfect, I hope everyone left feeling content having witnessed an annual event that has been recorded for almost 2,000 years. The earliest record of Perseid activity comes from Chinese records, where it is said that in 36 AD “more than 100 meteors flew thither in the morning.”
Mike and I would like to thank everyone who attended for making the evening so enjoyable.
A time-lapse video of the (cloudy) sky conditions over Cudham can be found here.