Of cavemen and comets

Out of this world show at Glen Helen

By Lisa Bennett

They travel, sometimes for millions of lonely years within our solar system, weaving about the planets unnoticed until heat from the sun’s radiation begins warming up the ice particles of their core, creating brilliant tails.

Comets, otherwise known as “κομήτης” in Greek meaning “to wear the hair long,” have been recorded for most of known human history. In fact, today, some scholars argue that some of the depictions of animals at the Lascaux Caves in the Bordeaux region of France may actually be references to constellations. Regardless of what may or may not have been celestial recordings, people today are still mesmerized by comets. In 1986, one of the many “great” comets, Halley’s comet, made an appearance in North America, creating a national sensation. The comet, like so many others, was once thought to be an omen of doom. It wasn’t until 1577, when Danish nobleman Tycho Brahe claimed comets were heavenly bodies that lie
beyond the moon, that people began to see the possibility of science behind superstition.

It wasn’t until Sir Isaac Newton observed that comets appeared to pass behind the sun with regularity, however, that the comet model began to be rethought. In 1705, Newton’s editor, publisher and close friend, Edmond Halley, used Newton’s law of gravity calculations and applied them to the comets. He discovered that the two comets were in fact one comet that had appeared with regularity every 76 years. Today, we know that comet as Halley’s Comet, named after Edmond Halley.

New calculations show the comet appears every 75 or 76 years. Though Halley’s Comet won’t appear in our skies until about the year 2062, the remnants of part of the tail that separated from the comet a very long time ago will appear this spring as the first of two meteor showers called the ETA Aquarids and Orionid Meteor showers, respectively. The ETA Aquarids are active from April through November, with the peak occurring around May 7. The second Orionid meteor shower will appear in October with the peak around Oct. 20. The ETA Aquarids, named for their appearance in the constellation Aquarius, near the brightest star of the constellation Eta Aquarii, have a rate of between 30 to 60 meteors per hour in the Northern hemisphere and as many as a meteor per minute in southern parts.

“If the weather is good, it should be a good show,” says Astronomer Davin Flateau, adding, “You don’t need a telescope or anything. You just need to set up your lawn chair and relax and enjoy the show.”

The new moon, the darkest phase of the moon, will make viewing the ETA Aquarids especially easy in the Northern Hemisphere this year. That’s great news for folks planning to attend the Night Hike at Glen Helen in Yellow Springs.

“The unique part of the night hike is that you get to go through the Pine forest, which you normally don’t get to do because it’s too far out,” Project Manager Tina Spencer says.

Campfire activities will include discussions about the science of meteors and meteor showers, comets and so on. Of course, what is a campfire without s’mores and a little entertainment? “Everyone is welcome to bring anything as long as it leaves no trace,” says Spencer, adding, “people have brought Djembe’s, guitars and had fun dancing. People have also brought playing cards, and one year even celebrated a 50th birthday for someone with cake. It’s a nice night out with friends old and new.”

Tents are always welcome. Since they damage trees they are tied to, hammocks are not allowed unless they are the stand-alone kind. The same park rules apply to the hike that apply during the day. “Leave No Trace” is a motto that most parks strive to adhere to so what people bring in, they should also carry out. People should also be aware that the ground is a bit uneven this time of year, so they should wear comfortable safe shoes and dress for the weather. The event is family-friendly and kids of all ages are welcome. Children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. For cancelations, folks should check their emails two to three hours prior to the event, as that email will be the last call for the event. For this event, active rain or active rain days before the event that has damaged the land would be the only reason for cancelation.

Glen Helen’s Aquarids Meteor Shower Campout takes place Friday-Saturday, May 6-7 at Glen Helen, 405 Corry St. in Yellow Springs. The registration deadline is Wednesday, May 4. The fee is $15 for non-members, $12 for members. Participants are encouraged to bring binoculars and telescopes. For more information about the Night Hike, please visit glenhelen.org or visit the Trailside Museum.

Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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