October 23, 2017
In the spring of 2007, I was traveling through parts of Ontario with a colleague as I was working on my ‘Georgian Bay’ book. We had been exploring the shoreline rocks in Killbear Provincial Park for a few hours before sunset. We continued for some time after the sun dipped below the horizon until I decided that I would walk the trail back to the parking lot while my friend chose to take a few more photographs. Another half hour passed and still no sign of my friend; by this time, the sky was very dark. While waiting and walking the parking lot, I noticed that the trees at the edge of the forest near my car produced interesting patterns of branches across the dark blue sky. I set up my camera once more and composed a couple of images, one in which I opened the shutter for 3 minutes and a second in which I left the shutter open for 15 minutes. My friend finally showed up after about an hour and we left to prepare dinner at our campsite.
I had totally forgotten about these two images until a few years later as I happened to be browsing through my many hard drives of unprocessed images. I estimate that about two thirds of my images have yet to be processed. I came across the two images of the branching patterns and, upon enlarging the images to 100% to check both the sharpness and noise, I noticed a number of bright light streaks across the images. What I had unknowingly witnessed that evening of May 12, 2007 was the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. This was truly an unexpected find! On one image I captured 8 short streaks while on the second image I captured 11 obvious light streaks. One of these streaks, at the far left bottom corner of the image, is a little harder to see but it's there!
The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is the result of Earth passing through the orbital path of Haley’s Comet. At this time every year – late April and May - bits and pieces of the comet’s dust crash into the Earth’s atmosphere at about 240,000 kilometers per hour where about half of these rapidly moving meteors (shooting stars) leave ionized gas trails that glow for a few minutes following the passing of each meteor. Typically, you might see anywhere from 20 to 40 meteors per hour streak across the dark sky in more southerly latitudes and about 10 meteors or more per hour in more northern latitudes. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower produces no sharp peak of activity and it can usually best be observed for a one week period around May 6. The best time to look for the Eta Aquarid meteor shower is in the few hours before dawn. Meteors come in spurts so lulls of little or no activity is also part of the experience so you need to observe them for at least a good hour. It takes about 20 minutes for our eyes to completely adjust to darkness. The Earth crosses the orbital path of Halley’s comet a second time in late October giving rise to the Orionid meteor shower that peaks on or near October 21.