Each August there is a meteor shower known as the Perseids (named for the nearby double star cluster know as Perseus). They are the trailing debris of the Swift-Tuttle Comet, which circles the Sun approximately every 130 years. Here on the West Coast of the U.S., the Earth passed through the densest part of the Perseid debris around 11 pm, 12 August (Sunday night). Since the Moon was dark that night (too close to the Sun to be seen), it gave us an ideally dark sky to see the meteors.
Fortunately, we also had a clear sky that night. So my partner created a nest for us in the backyard, and from 1:30-3:30 am we laid out in the yard and watched the show. Some meteors were so brief, they were like bright sparkles, instantly gone. Others were like mini-comets, making bright trails in the sky that lingered in your vision for a moment after the meteors burned up. We lost track of the number of sightings, though I believe they averaged about one every four minutes. They seemed to come in clusters — three or four within a couple minutes, and then quiet spaces. Even in those quiet spaces, the vast night sky was a show in itself. The Milky Way was beautiful. I’m not much of an astronomer, so though I recognized certain groupings of stars as constellations, I have no idea which ones they were.
I love looking at the night sky, imagining myself traveling through those vast star fields. I remember a science-fiction story about an observation deck on a space vehicle, where you sat as if suspended in space, with only the planets and stars around you. People went mad in there. Once on an August night very long ago, I was camping in the Sierras. In the middle of the night I needed to visit the outhouse, and after crawling out of the tent I made the mistake of looking up at the stars. Instant vertigo! I felt I was falling into the stars. It was beautiful and scary.
Lying in our yard, with the firm Earth against our backs, it felt lovely to contemplate the stars. Any tendency to space out was grounded again as we listened to the night critters moving about our yard. Am sure they wondered what we were doing in their space. 🙂
[Photo courtesy of www.spaceweather.com ]