May meteors and a lost friend

At the start of May, the Earth will begin to run into a stream of dusty debris laid down by Halley’s Comet, providing a meteor shower known as the Eta Aquarids.

Neil BoneMeteors may be seen from mid-northern latitudes but the shower especially favours the southern hemisphere where the radiant will rise high in the sky and meteors should be plentiful.

I was reminded of this shower and advised to watch out for them by an old friend, Neil Bone, director of the BAA’s Meteor Section, when I called to visit him a week or so before my trip to New Zealand.

Our chat took place at a hospice close to Neil’s home at Apuldram, Chichester. West Sussex because the cancer that hit him just a couple of years earlier had returned with a vengeance. Neil knew his days were numbered and accepted the fact with his stoic pragmatism, some wry humour and a determination to update one or two of his classic observing guides to meteors, aurorae and Mars.

Sadly, Neil died last week at the far too early age of 49. But before he died, he was chuffed to learn that the International Astronomical Union had officially named an asteroid after him in honour of his huge contribution to astronomy. His name was proposed by Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy for whom Neil had also made a huge contribution – he received the society’s top observing prize, the Fred Best Award, which he is pictured here holding after a meeting in the late Seventies . Neil was also a regular contributor and adviser to the magazine Astronomy Now.

I can’t help thinking that Neil’s own life was like that of a brilliant meteor. He flared into prominence as a major player in amateur astronomy. He was a loving father, with wife Gina, to children Miranda and George, and he was a fierce connoisseur and campaigner for real ale. Ultimately he burned out and was lost to us far too soon.

The Eta Aquarids reach their peak on the morning of 6 May, but meteors will be visible for a few nights on either side of that date. A waxing gibbous Moon will present some skyglow but sets late in the night on the night of maximum to allow some observing in darkness.

If the weather plays ball, I shall do my best to spot a few of these tantalising meteors and I shall be thinking of Neil as I do. I am sure many others who knew him will be doing so too.

Picture: Neil Bone holds the Fred Best Award in familiar surroundings. (Photo: Robin Scagell).

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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