Comet Catchers

By Norman Boucher / January / February 1999
November 21st, 2007
Astronomy enthusiasts are like birdwatchers without the good sense to come in after dark. Both groups have been known to hop onto a plane or into a car to track down a report of any rarity.

It was no surprise, then, to see David Targan, an associate dean of the College, and Bob Horton, a University computer operator and photographer, run off to Arizona in November with a group of fifteen other Rhode Islanders to view the Leonid meteor storm. Targan, who is also director of the newly renovated Ladd Observatory, and Horton, who has been photographing celestial events for nearly twenty years, are well-known on campus for frequently taking groups to central Rhode Island's Watch Hill for nighttime sky watching.

But the Leonid storm was special. In the early morning hours of November 17, the group saw as many as 525 meteors an hour from their vantage point in the high, clear desert air. "At 5:30 a.m., in twilight," Targan later reported, "we observed three fireballs as bright or brighter than the full moon. Many of the fireballs ended in flashes that illuminated the New Mexico landscape." A show worth staying up for, in other words.

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January / February 1999