Monday, December 14, 2009

Starfishing

We've been under the thumb of an Omega block high pressure system for some time. Omegas typically provide lots of cold and severe clear weather. This one is shifted a bit from "normal" and is grabbing warm air off the ocean. It's been pretty nice, snowmaking temps down low with an inversion that has been providing warmer temps up high. One day last week we had 14 degrees F at the base while the red bulb passed the 50 degree mark at the top of the mountain.

The severe inversion causes a thin layer of ice fog just above the town that covers everything with hoar frost. While the trees look beautiful blanketed in thick feathery frost, it's awfully hard to see the stars at night, which is most of the day this time of year. And you can't see meteor showers if you can't see the stars. So we needed to gain some elevation if we were going to see the Geminids, said to be the best shower of the year, peaking at 140 shooting stars an hour.

The Geminids are caused by a skeleton comet named 3200 Phaethon. Skeleton comets fly too close to the sun and over time all their ice melts. 3200 Phaethon flies closer to the sun than any other comet, that's why it's named after the Greek god Phaeton, son of the god Helios and 3200 represents the number three thousand, two hundred. Maybe there are 3199 more of these guys, maybe the dude that named it huffed Scotch Guard in college.

A group of patroller types drove out to the Pass to get away from the cloud layer and the light pollution of the snowmaking operations. Weather at the Pass didn't fully cooperate. We had broken high clouds so we could only see a relative sliver of the sky.

Pad and Gail were best prepared to go fishing for shooting stars. They brought whiskey, warm clothes, and lawn chairs while the rest of us decided to wake up in the morning with sore necks. This morning I feel like I went ice climbing but without the miserable memories that sport sometimes provides.

We stared up, waiting hopefully for a long yellow tail to blaze across the sky. People pointed and hooted if they saw one, groaned if they missed it. Every once in a while you'd see a little teeny tiny one or maybe your brain just skipped a beat, who knows?

Our sliver of sky provided forty or so shooters, something different to do, and a connection to past civilizations that mapped the heavens without telescopes and with gigantic calendars made of stones. Not bad.