17 August, 2012

Sleepless In New Hartford

More than a few of you have asked if I watched the Perseids after encouraging y'all to do so. I have to admit I did, but I didn't give it much more than a passing effort this year. Please read a post from a couple of years ago. It's my more typical experience.

August 14, 2010                      
You knew I had to. It's too impressive, too moving, too fundamental to be missed. I'm writing about the Perseids again. Thursday night, the 12th, was too cloudy for good viewing. Since this was the evening of peak meteors, that was frustrating, but there is always another chance. Last night, Friday the 13th, would prove to be better.

I went out twice early on - once about 11:00 pm and again about 30 minutes later. There were great views of the Dippers, both Big and Little, and Jupiter, easily the brightest object in the sky, was on its way up. There were, however, scattered clouds so I wasn't optimistic. No meteors. It was early though, and I didn't really wait very long. I went to bed knowing that I would get up at some point and try again.

About 3:00 am (now Saturday the 14th), I woke up wondering if it were any clearer. I went to the nearest easterly window to see if I could see any stars. I could - so for a brief period I watched from there. It didn't take long. Swoosh - a beautiful bright streak lasting maybe a second. Wahoo! Okay - now we're talking. I got semi-dressed and went out in my backyard where I plopped myself down in a comfortable Adirondack chair by the pool. I couldn't help but note that I was the only one out there. Eight chairs too. It would have been nice to have someone in the chair beside me - watching the night sky and listening to nature's wonderful noises with me.

I positioned myself looking northeast - pretty much in the direction of the Pleiades, but I had a good view in all directions except for some trees blocking anything low on the horizon. These chairs are great for stargazing because of the angle of the back. Jupiter was now off to my right and still amazingly bright. I watched for about 30 minutes and was rewarded with four more meteors. Actually I had expected more in that time frame, but I was content with the five I had seen that evening, er, morning.

It's hard to believe these meteors are only about the size of a grain of sand. When they explode after hitting our atmosphere at thousands of miles per hour, it is just spectacular. Brief but spectacular. And so awe inspiring. You can't help but think profoundly about your place in our clockwork universe and feel connected to the many generations of ancestors who have watched similar celestial wonder. Timelessness.

It was nearly 4:00 by the time I was back in bed, and Orion with his belt was beginning to rise in the east. Rigel and Betelgeuse too - as parts of Orion. Castor and Pollux were coming up. And Aldebaran had been there most of the night.

I was content. Goodnight, stars. Goodnight, crickets. I'd say goodnight, moon, but I think it's copyrighted. That and the fact that the beautiful crescent moon had set in the west many hours earlier along with the triple conjunction of Venus, Mars, and Saturn. What a night!

And ... HAPPY BIRTHDAY to all you Leos. This light show is for you.