Screwed By The Marine Layer

IMG_6994no perseids for meLast night was the peak of the Perseids meteor shower. Spoiler alert–I saw nothing! It wasn’t from lack of trying. It was the marine layer… which I wrote about yesterday and still couldn’t avoid!

I asked my Cousin Michael to go. We headed south down “The 5” to San Juan Capistrano. That’s where the swallows return. It’s also the way you get to Caspers Wilderness Park.

Orange County’s largest park, the wilderness setting offers a rare opportunity to experience nature in its entire splendor throughout the year. Open for both day use and camping, visitors can enjoy a number of recreational activities, including several unique interpretive programs to acquaint them with the natural splendor of the area.

We went to Caspers because it’s dark. For meteor showers darker is better! I packed my camera, a few lens, intervalometer and tripod.

We arrived and parked next to a locked gate. The sky was dark as expected, but cars were driving by. Headlights and meteor showers don’t mix.

A few minutes later someone came by and showed us a way into the park and to a ranger who’d direct us further. It couldn’t have taken more than five minutes to go from the gate to the Nature Center.

Now we were away from the headlights in a really dark location! I looked up and… wow… something screwy was going on.

A few minutes earlier the sky had been ablaze with stars. Now it was like looking through smoked glass. Only the brightest few stars were visible. Things were going downhill fast.

In a matter of minutes the marine layer had rolled in and turned clear to overcast. Unreal.

No need to stay. It wasn’t going away until morning! I put my camera gear in the car and we drove back north. I’m sure Michael could sense my mood swing to sour.

I dropped him off, drove home and looked up. Now the stars were shining over my house! Are you kidding me?

It’s not as dark here as it was in the park, but beggars can’t be choosers. I unpacked up my gear, including the intervalometer set to take an endless stream of 20 second exposures. The camera began clicking away.

Three minutes later, it was overcast here! Truly depressed, I packed it in for the night.

There will be other meteor showers, but this seemed so promising with only a sliver of Moon overhead.

Perseids Meteor Shower Versus The Marine Layer

Tonight should be the best viewing for the Perseids meteor shower. I’ll be out with my camera to try and catch a few burning up as they descend toward Earth. Originally I was going to head to the beach, figuring an unobstructed ocean view would be great. Bad planning on my part!

I’ve reassessed. Cousin Michael and I will head inland instead.

As a meteorologist I’m used to factoring large bodies of water into the forecast. In Connecticut the influence of Long Island Sound often meant the difference between snow and rain on the shoreline.

Here in California our nearby body of water is the Pacific Ocean. Mo water. Mo problems.

Chilly water cools air near the surface making it more dense than the atmosphere above. In meteo terms, it’s an inversion.

Practically speaking this ‘marine layer’ acts as an atmospheric cap helping form low overcast. Sometimes it’s low enough and thick enough to form fog. Sometimes it produces drizzle.

As the day goes on, the Sun’s warmth breaks the cap and the clouds disappear.

The cloudy influence of the marine layer is pretty dependable during our warm weather season. Say the words “June gloom” and locals understand immediately, even in August.

Our home is 12 miles from the water. Since our late June arrival, marine layer overcast has rolled in nearly every night. If I went to the beach to see Perseids, I’d see nothing!

The first mountains east of us should block the clouds. They’re not very far. That’s where we’ll head.

I’m writing this at 9:20 AM. The Sun is beginning to break through after another overcast night. The marine layer cycle continues.

My Perseids Pics

The photo at the top of this entry gives you an idea what can be seen. It’s well beyond what I was able to see with my naked eye.


The Perseids Meteor Shower was Saturday night. Cloudy. Perseids is an annual photo op. Crap! I didn’t want to miss it.

Sunday was clear. My urge to shoot was still there. Still, it’s like coming on the second day of a going out-of-business clearance. There were meteors waiting to be photographed, just a lot fewer!

Briefly, Perseids takes place when the Earth passes through the orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle. The comet’s far away, but little bits of dust and debris are left behind. As these specks are sucked into the Earth’s atmosphere at 120,000 mph they quickly heat up and vaporize. What’s left is a bright visible streak in the sky.

This must have been a pain during the film days of photography! My job is much simpler.

Everything on the camera was set to manual, including focus. There’s no enough light to focus through the viewfinder, but I was amazed a magnified image on my camera’s LCD brought enough light from the brightest stars to find infinity on my lens.

I opened the aperture on my Sigma 30mm lens all the way to F/1.4. As lenses go that’s very ‘fast,’ meaning it brings in lots of light.

A few years ago I bought an intervalometer on eBay. It controls my camera’s shutter electronically. I set it to take a thirty second exposure, wait a second, then do it again forever!

With the camera on a tripod pointing over my roof and in between some trees I clicked ‘start’. The intervalometer sprung into action.

The photo at the top of this entry gives you an idea what can be seen. It’s well beyond what I was able to see with my naked eye.

A moment later I was back in the house! No need for me to be there. The camera was on its own!

Over the next few hours I shot over 450 photos. I paused to change the camera battery, but that was the only interruption.

There are at least two shots that seem to show meteors. They weren’t particularly bright nor do I know if they were part of the meteor shower or just random junk the Earth attracts round-the-clock.

There were plenty more images that showed airplanes (meteors have no strobe lights pulsing) and one that revealed a satellite far to the north and still lit by the Sun.

These shots aren’t exactly as they emerged from the camera. There is light pollution here in Connecticut. I darkened the sky a little to add contrast. They are also cropped.

There’s another major meteor shower in November, Leonids. My camera and I will be back!