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.
- News Columns
STATE OF THE STATEHOUSE: Sentencing law could benefit juveniles
Monica Foster is a longtime public defender who’s been pushing uphill in the legal system for a long time. So, when she says the General Assembly is making progress protecting the rights of the disenfranchised, it’s worth stopping to listen to her.
MIKE LUNSFORD: We’ve created a honey of a problem
The Dutch clover is making its appearance in my yard this week. A cooler-than-usual spring has slowed its arrival by a few days, but it is here for now, bringing the honeybees and bumblebees with it.
MARK BENNETT: Time for surf, sand and a good book
I can read a book on the beach. Until I start sweating. Then it feels like exercise, minus the fitness perks. My brain shifts into neutral as the waves roll in, blissfully washing away footprints in the sand and my inclination to think. Better put, I enjoy starting a book on the beach, and finishing it later, elsewhere.
STATE OF THE STATEHOUSE: Requiring photo IDs for food-stamp users has already been tried
Voters in Indiana are required to show their photo IDs before they can cast their ballots. Should food stamp recipients in Indiana have to do the same when they go to the grocery store?
MIKE LUNSFORD: Remembering Mom a day after Mother’s Day
I don’t think there has been a day in the last eight years that I haven’t thought of my mom. Being all grown up with wrinkles to call my own doesn’t make me miss my parents any less.
MARK BENNETT: After running for 28 hours straight, what’s another 5 miles?
Some phrases can only be uttered by a few people, or none at all.
MARK BENNETT: Glitches show limitations of high-stakes testing concept
The dog ate my homework. That age-old excuse — based on a shockingly unforeseen complication — rarely works for a kid who didn’t finish yesterday’s math assignment. Yet, in a role reversal, Indiana school children, along with their teachers and administrators, are left to accept an explanation for a disruption best described as the mother of all ironies.
MARK BENNETT: One step at a time to save lives
Remember that name.
MARK BENNETT: Sometimes, the mere posing of questions is significant
The era seems quaint now, almost like a fable. When people left their house doors unlocked. When the sight of a police officer in a school meant it was Career Day.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Dowsers’ provide hope more than science
My grandfather was a man of God. Many times I saw him, his right hand held high in the air at his Wednesday night “prayer meeting,” praising the Lord before weeping at the altar on his knees. And yet, he was a “dowser,” a “diviner,” a “witcher” who, as a favor, would grab a forked sassafras stick and find water for some poor unfortunate whose well had gone dry.
MARK BENNETT: New reality steers Nashville singer to Crossroads for Historical Society concert
People pass through the Crossroads of America for lots of reasons.
Business trips. College campus events. Federal prison sentences. Visits with relatives. Gas pitstops.
Or maybe a career change and a twist of fate.
Ty Brown makes his first stop in downtown Terre Haute as the headliner of a multi-band Sweet Sensations Country Jam concert May 4 in the Ohio Building — a fundraiser for the Vigo County Historical Society.
HAYDEN: 9-year-old lobbyist weighs in on school safety
Senate Bill 1 shot to the forefront last week, after it was amended by the House education committee with a provision that mandates every public school in Indiana would be required to have someone on staff armed with a loaded gun during school hours.
HAYDEN: Republican shift proving to be real
When a federal judge struck down key provisions of the state’s immigration law last week, it seemed anticlimactic.
LUNSFORD: A different kind of resurrection story, no foolin’
If you’ve had pets in your family long enough, it’s likely that you’ll see a miracle or two — a dog that couldn’t possibly have lived, but did; a cat that grew to 20 pounds after being born the runt of the litter; a goldfish that had been belly-up too many times to believe it could have survived another day.
STATE OF THE STATEHOUSE: Americans of Hispanic heritage becoming active in Republican party
When Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly decided earlier this year to put off a vote on locking the state’s same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution, it sent a signal that GOP leaders were evolving on the issue of marriage equality.
MARK BENNETT: Terre Haute barber ‘sharpens up’ customers for 50 years
People streamed through this section of downtown Terre Haute in those days.
“You could hardly walk by here,” John Hochhalter said, pointing toward the sidewalk outside the window.
The bustle has faded since the early 1960s. Hochhalter remains. He’s still barbering in the same shop he and late business partner Kenny Thomas opened a half-century ago this week.
MIKE LUNSFORD: As of today, it’s unofficially spring
Despite the calendar telling us not to rush things, I think it is all right to go ahead and say spring is here. The Ides of March has passed, Easter is coming soon, and I have already been out in my yard with a rake, getting my boots muddy. It looks like spring to me.
Americans for Prosperity aim to browbeat GOP lawmakers
If you're outside the Indianapolis TV market, you may not have seen yet the Americans for Prosperity ad that demonizes the House Republicans for resisting Republican Gov. Mike Pence's tax cut plan.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Pence may find himself in a mess if he gets what he wants
Here’s a story to consider: A Republican governor with ties to the tea party and possible presidential ambitions decides he wants to slash the state’s income tax rate, but meets with massive resistance from legislative leaders from his own party.
Sounds like the scenario playing out in the Indiana Statehouse, right?
MARK BENNETT: Reflections of grid success stir with Brent Anderson’s passing
A few hundred miles away, and nearly 40 years gone by, a special game ball still occupies a fond place in Rudy Bohinc’s memories.
MIKE LUNSFORD: If handwriting is a window to my soul, I’m glad this is typewritten…
Somewhere in the mess I call my “archives,” I have most of my grade school report cards hidden away. I have kept them under wraps, because I want to be long gone when my children — or grandchildren — unearth them and discover that their self-righteous teacher of a dad was, in fact, a terrible student in his formative years.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Are legislators gambling with the future of gaming?
Indiana lawmakers have been debating whether to give the state’s casinos more financial incentives to compete with the shiny new gambling palaces popping up in Ohio.
MARK BENNETT: Never truer: Knowledge vital to narrowing ‘skills gap’
The pillar at the gates of Faber College in the movie “Animal House” bore a wise motto, despite its tongue-in-cheek intent …
STATE OF THE STATEHOUSE: Pot decriminalization bill dead, but reduced-punishment aspect still alive
In the flurry of activity at the Statehouse in recent weeks, I missed reporting some sad news for stoners: The legislation to decriminalize marijuana is dead.
MARK BENNETT: Great-niece to re-enact Paul Dresser’s musical legacy in Terre Haute show
People can be forgotten. Their lives end, time passes and memories fade.
Often, the only keepers of their legacies are family and friends, who tell and retell their stories, generation to generation.
For Paul Dresser, his fame burned strong enough as a turn-of-the-century, million-seller songwriter to preserve bits of his public notoriety.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The ‘lovely gift’ of a beech tree …
This is not the season that I usually write of trees, for besides a few pin oaks that hang on to the most stubborn of leaves, my woods stand bare and dormant and cold right now. My trees are patiently awaiting the green of spring that I feel, for some reason, is to arrive a little earlier this year than is usual.
STATE OF THE STATEHOUSE: What to do with that $2 billion sitting around
We Hoosiers like to think of ourselves as special, but when it comes to the current debate in the Indiana Statehouse over the budget, we’re a lot like other states: Grappling with some post-recession questions about how to balance spending and taxes.
MARK BENNETT: An Olympic takedown
Imagine an iconic image of American sports history erased.
STATE OF THE STATEHOUSE: Pence sticks to his ‘Roadmap’
As a U.S. congressman, Mike Pence made it perfectly clear how he felt about the need for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana’s ‘skills gap’
A problem lasting decades ceases to be a “problem.” By then, the situation becomes “part of the culture.”
- More News Columns Headlines
- STATE OF THE STATEHOUSE: Sentencing law could benefit juveniles