For those who live in towns and cities, experiencing an environment where there is no light pollution is an extraordinary experience. Here at Gites de La Richardiere we are lucky enough to have wide open skies with little or no light pollution. Guests often spend an evening looking at the night skies in awe and wonder. One guest commented that, at the age of 40, she had never seen the Milky Way and had never realised that there were so many stars visible to the naked eye.
Another family had brought along their tablet and installed a star gazing app with a GPS tracker and were able to match the screen image with the actual night sky and name every cluster of stars they could see.
Such are the memorable expeiences of all of us, particulary the young who remember the night-times when they laid out on the grass by their Gite and watched with great excitement as the “Shooting Stars” arrived and disappeared just as quickly. The occasional cry of “Oooh!” and “Ahh!” adding to the experience as if people were watching a celestial firework show.
The Milky Way Galaxy
The Milky Way is the impressive Galaxy we can see overhead from the grounds of our Gites here at La Richardière. It is impossible to count the number of stars in the Galaxy, but NASA’s best estimate is that there are 100 billion stars. With that number it does make the possibility of life on other planets somewhat possible.
Click on the image to visit the NASA website and learn more about the Milky Way.
Meteor Showers and Storms
What is a Meteor? When we see a meteor (sometimes known as a “Shooting Star” we are actually seeing a small piece of inter-planetary matter – a piece of dust or a small item which is entering the earth’s atmosphere at about 100 km and literally bunring up. These small particles are moving very fast and what we see is the resulting gas trail which disappears as it cools.
When we see lots of “Shooting Stars” this is a Meteor Shower as the Earth encounters and passes through a cloud of debris. There are specific clouds of debris around the Earth all the time and we pass through these clouds at different times of the year. Every Meteor Shower is associated with a “Progenitor Comet” which is the source of the debris cloud.
Here is an Annual timetable for Meteor Showers based on the 2021 dates.
- December 28 – January 12: Quadrantids appear in the sky at a rate of approximately 120 per hour and are blue Meteors with fine tales.
- April 13 – 29: Lyrids are bright fast Meteors, some with trails. Associated with the Comet Thatcher.
- April 18 – May 27: Eta Aquariids. These appear at a rate of 40 per hour and are low in the sky. They are associated with the comet Halley.
- July 13 – August 24: Delta Aquariids: These appear as a steady stream of Meteors over several days, but at a low rate per hour.
- July 2 – August 14: Alpha Capricornids. These look like very slow yellow balls of fire.
- July 16 – August 23: Parseids. These arrive at a rate of approximately 150 per hour and appear as bright fast Meteors with trails. They are associated with the Comet Swift-Tuttle.
- October 7-11: Draconids: These Meteors are associated with the Comet 21/P Giacobini-Zimmer. Their frequency is variable.
- October 1 – November 6: Orionids: These occur about 15 per hour and are fast with very fine tails. They too are associated with the Comet Halley.
- September 10 – 20 November. Taurids: These are very slow Meteors in the Southern Sky.
- October 20 – December 10: Taurids: These are to be found in the Northern sky and are also very slow Meteors.
- November 5 – 29. Leonids: These are infrequent and appear as very fast Meteors with fine tails and are associated with the Comet – Tempel-Tuttle.
- December 3 – 16. Gminids: These are quite prolific with approximately 120 per hour. They are bright Meteors with little trails.
- December 17 – 26. Ursids: Infrequent and sparse.
Many of us are familiar with certain star constellations through folklore, stories and general conversation, but to see these clearly in the sky is one of life’s great experiences. During the summer we can clearly see the constellations of the Plough, Orion and Casiopia in our night-tikme skies.
The Largest Meteor
The largest Meteor ever found weighed 60 tonnes and was made from Hoba Iron. When these Meteors lad on the Earth’s surface they leave a substantial impact crater. The biggest craters known are in the Arizona Desert where on is 1,280 metres across. That sound more like a landing zone than a crater.