Meteor activity is starting to ramp up as we enter the second half of the year, and once again I am frustrated by those of us who live in Dodgeville not having a good location nearby for watching meteors. All that would be needed is a 12 x 12 ft. patch of ground that is kept mowed, has a good view of most of the sky, is not too near any cities or towns, and where no dusk-to-dawn insecurity lights are visible to spoil the view. Within about 10 miles of Dodgeville would be good, too, to minimize the late-night drive time home (and sleepy driving), especially on nights during the work week.
The Twin Valley Lake picnic area at Governor Dodge State Park is a perfect location for deploying a reclining lawn chair to watch meteors, but state park regulations prohibit such activities after 11:00 p.m. Most meteor showers are best after midnight, and this time of year when we’re on daylight saving time, 1:00 a.m. is really midnight.
I would even be willing to pay a monthly or per-use fee to a rural landowner for the privilege to set up my lawn chair on their land to watch meteors from time to time. Please add a comment here or email me at oesper at mac dot com to contact me about this.
Governor Dodge State Park was established in 1955 and is the fourth largest state park in Wisconsin. It offers several excellent locations for astronomical observation, most notably the large open grassy area just east of the Twin Valley Lake picnic area, and the paved parking lot for the backpack campsites. The latter location is the furthest away from the urban skyglow of Dodgeville that offers a good view of nearly the entire night sky.
State park regulations require everyone to leave the park by 11:00 p.m., with some exceptions made for overnight campers, fishing, and public programs in progress (such as public star parties). Since most stargazing can only be done after 11:00 p.m. (especially during the warm months of the year), this rule greatly diminishes access to our state parks for astronomical activities. I would like to see one designated area of Governor Dodge State Park—the Twin Valley Lake picnic area site—open all night long for astronomical activities. So, we would add an additional exception to the 11:00 p.m. curfew:
7. Registered stargazers may at the designated observing site during closed hours.
A “registered” stargazer would be anyone who has a current annual state park pass and has registered with the park as an amateur astronomer / stargazer. Whenever possible, those planning to visit the designated observing site after hours should notify park staff that day before the park office closes, but this should not be required as sometimes the sky unexpectedly clears or a northern lights display commences after hours that cannot be anticipated beforehand.
Here’s another idea. The Wisconsin DNR could issue an extra-fee annual astronomy sticker which would allow registrants 24-7 access to designated astronomy areas in participating state parks. This is an attractive idea because it would be another revenue source for our cash-strapped state park system. Administration and site maintenance costs would be minimal.
The Lyrid meteor shower peaks this Friday night and Saturday morning, April 21/22, and this year we have the perfect trifecta: a weekend event, a peak favorable for North America, and little to no moon interference. Now, all we need is clear skies!
The Lyrids are expected to crescendo to a peak somewhere between 11 p.m. Friday evening and 10 a.m. Saturday morning. One prediction I found even has them peaking at noon on Saturday.
Lyrids – April 21/22 – Local Circumstances for Dodgeville, WI
When to watch? At a minimum, I’d recommend observing at least two hours, from 2:30 to 4:30 a.m. You can expect to see maybe 15 fairly fast meteors per hour.
My friend Paul Martsching of Ames, Iowa has been one of the most active and meticulous meteor observers in the world. In nearly 30 years of observing this shower, he notes that 21% of Lyrid meteors leave persistent trains. Though few Lyrids reach fireball status, Paul did observe a -8 Lyrid at 1:50 a.m. on April 22, 2014 (his brightest Lyrid ever) that left a train that lasted five and a half minutes! Paul notes a color distribution of the Lyrid meteors as 73% white, 22% yellow, and 5% orange.
I’m still trying to find a good location within about 10 miles of Dodgeville to watch meteor showers. Governor Dodge State Park would be ideal, but anyone who isn’t camping has to leave the park by 11:00 p.m.
Meteor watching is most enjoyable in groups of two or more. I’m planning to observe this shower, so contact me if you’d like to team up!