On Saturday evening 15 August a group of expats gathered hundreds of free wishes during our annual stargazing trip to the dark Ardennes. Every year we visit the Brussels Planetarium, followed by a visit to the observatory in Grimbergen. That local event is great to learn about the stars and still be able to see some deep celestial objects. However, Brussels is not the most optimal places for some serious stargazing, certainly not when Earth is moving through a particular field that causes the most famous meteor shower of the year: the Perseids.
Our stargazing trip was the first trip since we learned more about Vincent Van Gogh in January on a lovely trip to Holland. That’s seven months later… :-(. Anyway, there we were again, gathering around 17h00 at Place Schuman on Saturday afternoon. An awkward time for a daytrip, but rather logical since we want to be in darkness. Our destination was the Observatoire Centre d’Ardenne, in the dark Southwest of the Belgian Ardennes.
Upon arrival we were welcomed as usual by the most enthusiastic astronomers of Belgium: Dario, Fred and Sami. They took us around the centre, which has various large professional telescopes, both inside a handful of domes and outside. After an introduction about the center, the group was split in two. One half went inside the planetarium, while the other half stayed outside to look at two very bright objects: Jupiter with its moons and Saturn with its rings. Despite that they may seem less impressive as in the books (those pictures can only be made with telescopes in space), it is still quite amazing to zoom in a little on planets 647 million and 1.36 billion kilometers away.
Although OCA’s planetarium only holds about 30 spots (now less due to corona rules), it is rather amazing to look up to a half-dome and see the entire star-filled sky. Our host Sami zoomed in on many different objects, explained about the various constellations, distances etc. One of the groups had 4 children, but that didn’t lower the quality in any way. Those kids already so much about these topics, it’s just great to see them enjoy this evening.
In the mean time it was getting darker and darker. Time for some snacks: hot dogs and pizza. A BBQ was unfortunately not possible this year due to the corona rules, but it was good to fill out tummies with some additional energy because we needed that for the rest of the evening.
We took our (yoga)mats, put them somewhere on the grass on the OCA’s premises, and simply look into the sky and watch the twinkling stars. Did you btw know that virtually everything you see belongs to our galaxy, the Milky Way? Only the two Magellanic Clouds, the Andromeda Galaxy, and possibly the Triangulum Galaxy, are visible with the naked eye. But what is also visible with the naked eye, and only for a very short time. Indeed, I am talking about meteors.
What is a meteor? "An asteroid is a small rocky body that orbits the Sun. Sometimes one asteroid can smash into another. This can cause small pieces of the asteroid to break off. Those pieces are called meteoroids. Meteoroids can also come from comets. If a meteoroid comes close enough to Earth and enters Earth’s atmosphere, it vaporizes and turns into a meteor: a streak of light in the sky. Sometimes meteoroids don’t vaporize completely in the atmosphere. In fact, sometimes they survive their trip through Earth’s atmosphere and land on the Earth’s surface. When they land on Earth, they are called meteorites. Comets orbit the Sun, like asteroids. But comets are made of ice and dust—not rock." (source: NASA.gov)
During the Perseids meteor shower about 60-100 meteors occur per hour. Some are of course very small, and are not always visible from where you are, but all in all on average we saw about 10-15 meteors per person. Conclusion, we could cross off quite a few wishes from our wish list.
Next year we will again go to the Ardennes. If you are interested you can click here to pre-reserve a spot or book your ticket (if already available).