THANK YOU, ALASTAIR MCBEATH!
By Andrei Dorian Gheorghe
of meteors’ friendship…
Do the fast and luminous
(Andrei Dorian Gheorghe)
Alastair McBeath was the first vice-president of the International Meteor Organization for over two decades (and the meteor section director of Britain’s Society for Popular Astronomy), in which he produced the annual calendar of meteor showers. (Unfortunately, he had to retire for health reasons.)
He was also a great astro-mythologist and man of culture, becoming the main contributor of articles to The Dragon Chronicle (formerly the international journal of dragonlore) and the creator of the Meteor Beliefs Project series for IMO.
I personally cannot forget the important help he offered me in the management of the Meteor Contemporary Poetry Project (2002-2008) for the electronic archive of IMO.
Recently, Alastair McBeath returned to astronomical observations in Morpeth, Northumberland, England, UK on the occasion of the 2023 Perseid shower and sent me his notes. I am happy to share them now with the AWB community just because they represent a high example of astronomical-observational literature (which is not only a science, but also an art):
‘Here, and rather to my surprise, I managed some formal meteor observing over the Perseid maximum weekend for the first time in some years. Conditions weren't ideal on any of the three nights possible, however. I started early on the first night, around 22:25 UT, which was lucky, as things deteriorated rapidly after 00:30. The LM wasn't the best then, at +5.6, although it improved on both subsequent nights, +5.9 on Aug 12-13, and +5.8 on 13-14 at best. Perseid rates on 11-12, 27 in just over two hours, were about what I'd expected roughly a day ahead of the likely peak, with nothing too spectacular seen - the brightest event was a mag -1 Perseid at 22:59 UT, yellow-green, with a two-second persistent train. The waning crescent Moon was just lifting above the rooftops by the time I decided the clouds were too irritating to continue then, at about 00:40.
On August 12-13, it was a long wait for some better conditions to turn-up, about midnight UT, before I decided to try for more. The sky was notably more transparent than on 11-12, and my 75 Perseids in 2h20m seemed reasonable for a typical Perseid maximum, if well down on the better peaks, such as 1980 and 1993. Five fireballs of mag -3 and brighter from the shower came-by, of which the best was at 01:45, mag -5, with a 4-second train left after one of its two flares, blue-violet in colour, passing from Cas to Cyg. Event of the night though, technically events (plural), was a group of four Perseids that shot down almost together in a scatter over Boo-CrB-Her at 00:58 UT, magnitudes +2, +3 and two of +4. Ironically, though not for the first time, my best-seen bright meteor was a delightful, slow-moving, mag 0 yellow sporadic that rose up from Aur to Per towards the end, at 02:43, caught right in my central vision!
August 13-14 was extremely poor, disappointingly so, given the sky before and soon after sunset seemed the more promising of the three nights, with a lot of clearer skies. Those didn't last much beyond sunset, however, with thick haze and heavier clouds drifting quite quickly over, often with some clearer patches showing another decent LM was there above the clouds. I hung on in hopes of an improvement, and shortly before 01h UT, it looked as if the sky was finally starting to clear properly over the west. By the time I got out, it still seemed quite hopeful, although the eastern and southern skies weren't great. More clouds and thick haze though soon ruined that, and while I did make a start, the clearer skies simply vanished, so I gave up around 01:20, after spotting three Perseids and a sporadic in just over 15 minutes.
For all my skies weren't ideal, it seems they were a great deal better than many places elsewhere across the British Isles, as very few positive reports have come through from elsewhere hereabouts, albeit the "summer" weather has been hugely disappointing yet again for us - very wet, often very cloudy, and cool to cold. The leaves were turning to autumn colours in a few places by mid July, which is unprecedentedly early in modern times. It is typical of the generally colder, wetter conditions that have persisted all year here for most of the last 25 years now; not quite year-round winter, though not far from it.’ (Alastair McBeath)