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.
So I decided to go camping in British Columbia during the Perseids meteor showers. I love astronomical events of all kinds, but the Persaids is one of my favorites. And it was supposed to be particularly spectacular this time around.
I had been planning this trip for nearly a year. I had no idea that half the province would be on fire. Fortunately, the worst of it was far from our campsites, but the smoke… that was everywhere. I could tell we were driving through some spectacular views… but it was like I was looking at them through a shower curtain covered with lime deposits. Oh well. My imagination is nothing if not fertile.
Needless to say, though, this was cause for concern in terms of meteor viewing. Would we even be able to see the stars? I was having a hard time hiding my dismay from my camping buddy. He seemed unconcerned. When I asked him about it, he said, “You don’t have to experience everything, you know.”
Wow. I love it when a new perspective leaves me speechless. I sat there for a long time, thinking about that. I wish someone had said this to me years ago. Because it occurs to me that I spend quite a bit of energy trying to soak up experiences like a sponge. When I travel, especially, I try to do everything there is to do, because I might not pass this way again. Maybe if I push through this bit of exhaustion I can squeeze in one more thing. Maybe if I keep looking up, I’ll see those meteors. Must. Look. Up. This hypervigilance means that I have very few regrets, but it also means I experience more than my fair share of stress.
Martin has a point. What happens if I miss the meteor showers? Will I die? No. Still, I did spend quite a lot of time staring skyward that night and the two nights to follow. Turns out I could see the stars after all. And I think, but am not sure, that I saw some shooting stars out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t sure enough to wake Martin up, though. So he slept on, peacefully, while I monitored the heavens for some spectacular sign.