Looking Up: Catch a ‘shooting star’
You hear the crickets, a distant owl, perhaps a chorus of peep toads as you lie back and gaze up at the heavenly expanse of stars bright and dim. The constellations seem so unchanging with respect to one another as they slowly move west to east as the globe beneath your feet makes its daily turn.
Suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, it appears one of those stars just came loose as it rushes across the night sky, quickly blinking off!
It was a meteor. We still catch ourselves calling then “shooting stars” or “falling stars.” Whatever we call them, we catch ourselves startled, amazed, caught in a moment of wonder and delight. It as if we were children again. Can any of us outgrow the simple joy of seeing a meteor fall?
This highly sophisticated and technologically advanced age brings a grave risk of keeping us from what may be considered the best things in life. They very much include what is free and accessible to most everyone. It is especially fine to appreciate nature around us, by day and night, with those we love.
Viewing the night sky need not cost us a cent. In fact telescopes and binoculars are not at all useful in watching a meteor shower. All you need are your own eyes and the willingness to look. On top of that, for the optimum view, it is best to have a wide open view of the sky and one that is protected from neighborhood lights and passing headlights.
The maximum number of meteors are seen in the most inconvenient time for many, between midnight and dawn. During the “wee hours” we are on the side of the Earth facing forward as the Earth moves in orbit, plowing into the path of an incoming stream of meteoric particles. Meteors, by the way, are bits of rock- they may be the size of a grain of sand to a boulder- orbiting the Sun. Bunches come together and “rain” upon us as a meteor shower. Most of these meteor streams are debris of comets; some are from disintegrated asteroids. We see them as they vaporize high in the Earth’s atmosphere.
There are many meteor showers that return regularly every year; most are sparse and dim. A few are excellent for observation. One of the best happens this week and is referred to as the Perseid Meteors. Meteor showers seem to emanate from a particular part of the sky; they are named for the constellation from where they radiate. The Perseids refer to constellation Perseus.
They peak on August 11th but you may view them well for several nights before and after. Alas, this year the Moon is full on August 10th so moonlight will hide most of the Perseids from view. Many, however, are bright, so it may be worth watching for a while.
Be sure to dress warm and have bug spray; a reclining lawn chair will aid your comfort.
Some appear before midnight. You can look anywhere in the sky for them. It may take some patience, given the bright Moon, but in the meantime, relax and enjoy the timeless pleasure of seeing the rising Moon, the brighter stars and maybe hearing the curious night sounds of the owl, cricket and peep toad.
Let me know if you see any meteors. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep looking up!