The Best Shower of All

Every year, I mark my calendar for the Perseid Meteor Showers. They arrive on August 12th, like clockwork, and of all the meteor showers we are treated to, this one is usually the most spectacular. And it takes place in the warmest part of the year, which is a handy little side benefit. I think of it as a free show put on by the universe.

What I like to do is go somewhere with very little ambient light. I pack a lawn chair, mosquito repellent, snacks, and sometimes cardboard to block out what light I can’t seem to avoid, and then I sit, preferably with friends, and gaze.

It’s always quite amusing when one of us sees a meteor and the others don’t. This year one of us saw one that was so spectacular it caused him to drop his beer bottle. But there were many gorgeous ones to make up for everyone else’s massive, albeit bemused, disappointment at that moment. In fact, this year I saw some of the largest ones I’ve seen in my life.

Unfortunately the smaller ones were all but impossible to see because the moon was nearly full. Nothing like a giant spotlight in the sky to block out everything else. (Next year the moon will be much more cooperative.)

But I did see something I’ve never seen before. On three separate occasions, the meteors were angled directly toward us. Because of that, instead of seeing them streak across the sky, what I saw was a large bright dot that appeared out of nowhere and was gone just as quickly. That was cool. And it made me wonder what this event looked like from the International Space Station. (Of course, there’s a video for that. You can see it here.)

I love stargazing with friends. Looking at the night sky makes my problems seem so tiny and insignificant. And it also reminds me of the glory of the natural world.

So, if you take (in) only one shower a year, make it the Perseids. It’s the best shower of all. And you don’t even have to add water.

meteor-shower-calendar-en-2019-th

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What a Wonderful World

If you’re feeling jaded about the state of the planet, whether it be environmentally or politically, I urge you to take a moment to do the following internet search: Scott Kelly Photographs. You won’t regret it.

As an astronaut and three-time commander of the International Space Station, Scott Kelly has spent a great deal of time gazing at our planet from outer space. In the process, he was kind enough to take many stunning photographs of what he saw, so we could share in the beauty and wonder.

There are two other great ways to see his spectacular work. You can read this article about him in the New York Times, or you can buy his book, entitled Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut’s Photographs from a Year in Space. This book is making me struggle to remember that I’m trying really hard not to accumulate more stuff. I want it, I want it, I want it…

But whether it winds up gracing my coffee table or not, I’m really thrilled that these photos exist in the universe. Because no matter how horribly we behave as a species, we still, it seems, haven’t quite managed to muck up the planet beyond all recognition. These photos are proof positive of that.

We live in a gorgeous place, full of color and wonder and infinite majesty. There’s still a slight hope that we can preserve what’s left, and these photographs, more than anything else I’ve seen in a long time, give us all the reason we need to do so.

And dare I say it? They’re a testament to the fact that the earth is not flat! If you believe otherwise, you’re a fool.

Anyway.

Earth. What a gift!

(Join me in gazing up at the International Space Station as they gaze down at us. Learn now, here. It’s fun!)

Scott-Kelly--800x430
That’s one helluva selfie!

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Spotting the International Space Station

You will often see me looking skyward. I’m fascinated by all things just out of reach. (That’s also why I love to travel.)

“The moon is a stone and the sky is full of deadly hardware, but oh God, how beautiful anyway.” -Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

In my opinion, there are very few things that are as beautiful as the night sky. That notion has become all the more precious to me now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, where that sky is often obscured by clouds. I will never take the heavens for granted again. When they’re visible, I want to be out there, looking at them.

It amazes me that so few of us have seen the third brightest object in our sky. (The sun and the moon being, of course, the first and second.) But the International Space Station moves pretty darned fast, orbiting the earth several times a day. (Explain that, you flat earthers!)

My husband saw it once just after sunset. He says it was high enough that the sun was still hitting it, even though it was dark out. (It’s 248 miles up, after all.) And then, as it headed toward the horizon and got in the earth’s shadow, it blinked out, as if someone had turned out a light. Now, how cool is that?

I must confess that I have yet to see it myself. But I keep trying. And now I have hope. Now you can head on over to the NASA website and sign up for e-mail notifications when the space station will be visible in your location. (Sadly, they don’t account for clouds.)

It is kind of exciting, getting that e-mail, setting my alarm and then rushing out to look up in hope and anticipation. That, and the idea that little ol’ me with my horrible eyesight might be able to see something that is 248 miles away from me… what a concept.

If you haven’t seen the space station yet, I encourage you to give it a try. I guarantee you it will remind you that humans can do amazing things when we set our minds to it, and actually cooperate. That’s a wonderful mindset to have in this era of division and anxiety.

International Space Station Star Trails
“My star trail images are made by taking a time exposure of about 10 to 15 minutes. However, with modern digital cameras, 30 seconds is about the longest exposure possible, due to electronic detector noise effectively snowing out the image. To achieve the longer exposures I do what many amateur astronomers do. I take multiple 30-second exposures, then ‘stack’ them using imaging software, thus producing the longer exposure.” -NASA/Don Pettit

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