Our plans for the 2012 Perseid meteor shower were routine - stay out at the observatory for a couple of nights during the peak activity to take photos and visually enjoy the show under the typically warm summer nights. But this year, stifling heat and humidity mixed to add a real adventure and spectacular bonus sky show to the meteor shower.
Day 1 - 8/11 (see video )
On Saturday, we stopped in the mid-afternoon in Temecula to do some last minute shopping. The heat and humidity were high and clouds were already building up to an afternoon thunderstorm. By the time we left for the observatory, sporadic drops of rain were starting to hit our windshield, and lightning was ripping across the sky every few minutes. Though it looked bad, it's not unusual for an afternoon thunderstorm to dissipate at sunset, so we pressed on.
Despite sometimes heavy rain and lightning, we arrived at the observatory in time to have dinner and see the clouds clear out at sunset as expected. We had a clear night with numerous meteors visible, including one bright enough to be seen on a real-time video (check it out in the day 1 video). I had set up a new GoPro HD camera up as an experiment. It turns out that though its 170° field of view is perfect for covering the sky, it is so insensitive that not even the brightest stars show up in night videos so it's of very limited use for astronomical observing.
Day 2 - 8/12 (see video )
Sunday morning started out clear and pleasant, but rapidly built up to a hot, humid repeat of Saturday. We left the observatory around 10am to go into town for brunch and to make a Home Depot stop, but could see the clouds building by the time we started on our return trip. Three-fourths of the way back, my observatory neighbor Jim called to warn us that it was raining heavily at the site, but since were almost there, we decided to continue on. We were encouraged to find the start of the 4-mile long dirt road to the site still dry where the paved road ended.
Eventually we had to stop, however, as the road became increasingly waterlogged. A mile or so before reaching the observatory site, we decided to wait at a high spot as the road lived up to the "creek" part of its name. After sitting in heavy rain and hail for a few minutes, a woman in a passing 4WD truck advised us not to proceed because conditions worsened further up the road, so we decided to drive back to town to wait the storm out. Oddly enough, the end of the dirt road was still dry when we got back to the paved road! As it turned out, the area received over an inch of rain in an hour or two while surrounding areas remained dry. The storm cell had just parked itself over the valley with our observatory site and unloaded in that one place.
In a few hours the road was drained enough to make it back to the observatory before sunset. But the weather wasn't done yet! Sunset brought another thunderstorm to the neighboring valley, so we were treated to a spectacular lightning show. From our vantage point, we were able to see all the activity, but still avoid actually being in the rain and lightning, so it worked out well for photographing the action.
By the end of twilight, the storm had also cleared out, leaving us with another nice evening for observing the Perseids - a perfect finish to a weekend adventure!
Perseid Shower - two-night composite.