Pierre Martin was born in Ottawa, Ontario in 1976. As a child, his interest in astronomy stemmed gradually from a natural curiosity and fascination with the heavens above. At the age of 10, Pierre spent a clear summer evening in his backyard, intent on finding out how many satellites and “shooting stars” he might be able to count before his bedtime. It was a rather uneventful watch but by a stroke of pure luck, near the end, a dazzling fireball streaked high above, leaving behind a thick train lasting several seconds. There is no question that this event sparked the beginning of a long-lasting interest in astronomy, and particularly with meteors. In the following few years, the early bedtimes and school homework did not deter Pierre from “sneaking out” unseen by mom or dad, in the wee hours of the night (or in the case of cold weather – snuggling up close to a bedroom window) – to see what the Orionids, Geminids and Ursids were up to. His diligence and patience under less-than-optimum conditions at the time rewarded him more than once.
Pierre’s first serious meteor session (where detailed notes were taken) was held in August 1988. Unlike many other observers’ beginnings, the Perseids were not meant to be his first shower (Pierre had made plans to setup in his backyard to view the predawn 1988 Perseids, only to wake up after sunrise due to a failed alarm clock). Instead, he found out about a minor shower called the Kappa Cygnids that were due to peak just a few nights after the Perseids. A very clear night materialized on the evening of August 20. In about two hours, he witnessed a few possible KCG, but the real jaw-dropper was an extraordinarily slow-moving object, which was seen fragmenting many times over the span of several seconds (the probable result of a rare Russian artificial satellite re-entry above the Great Lakes). To this day, this remains the most spectacular and dramatic “fireball” that Pierre has ever seen.
Pierre has been actively recording meteor shower data, and submitting his observations to IMO, ALPO, AMS and NAMN every year since 1994. His passion was further fueled by the Perseid enhancements of the 1990’s. His most impressive Perseid display came on the morning of August 12 1997, a shower he witnessed with fellow meteor observer Cathy Hall. A sharp peak occurred before dawn when he recorded 121 PER in one hour TEFF including many bright meteors! Pierre then closely followed the much anticipated Leonid epoch between 1998-2002. The dazzling 1999 and 2001 meteor storms (as seen in Spain and West Virginia, USA respectively) are events that he will never forget. Pierre’s most intense and exciting observation was the display of November 18, 2001. Observing all night under a pristine 7.1 magnitude sky, he recorded 3412 Leonids (of which included 16 bolides ranging from magnitude -6 to -10). His best single five minute period just before dawn had a count of 138 meteors! This event was for Pierre “a meteor observers dream come true”.
To this day, Pierre’s primary interest continues to be visual meteor observing. He can be found on a regular basis at dark skies spanning an hour or two’s drive around Ottawa. Pierre’s most recent expedition was a last-minute 1800km car trip to Tennessee to catch the 2006 Geminids. Pierre’s basic observation tools include a comfortable recliner, a tape recorder, a talking clock, a clip board (to plot meteor paths on IMO’s Gnomonic charts) and a small variable red light. Winters in the “Great White North” are known to be bitterly cold, so Pierre resorts to some creative ways to make the experience more comfortable. He has a portable “meteor coffin” (a custom-built box made of foldable plywood sheets and topped with aluminum blankets) that surround his lawn chair and sleeping bag. This not only keeps Pierre sheltered from the worse of the elements while trapping a layer of warmth inside, but can also help shield his eyes against direct light pollution. During those crisp bone-chilling winter nights the “coffin” makes all the difference!
Pierre often combines his visual sessions with photography (he uses equatorially-mounted automated DSLR cameras). His interest in astronomy is not limited to meteors. He enjoys the deeper skies with his 12.5″ Portaball telescope, and he is also actively involved with various public astronomy outreach.
Pierre’s other interests include nature photography, reading, writing, diving and camping. He is currently employed at the Canada Agriculture Museum as a graphic designer, and he continues to reside in Ottawa, Ontario.