On Looking at Stars, Searching for Perseids

Where were you when the meteors zoomed by on August 12? I hope you got to peak at a few, or as I did, many!

Painting by Clara Neary, July, 2019

In the past couple of years, I had seen a few in the darkened sky over West Lake Okoboji and was extremely excited about those 3 or 4.

On August 8, 2019, I was into my 3rd August of hopefulness. The air was cool, the stars brilliant, the mosquitos gone.

The Perseids Meteor Shower is happening right now, and peaks on August 12. It appears in the area of the constellations “Cassiopeia” and “Perseus”, to the upper right of the Big Dipper.

I went to bed at 10:30 after a very long Danish movie on Netflix (“The Fortunate Man”, which I don’t recommend). This movie with an interesting beginning, lured me to the end and kept me from watching the first stars pop out.

So, at 10:30, I was torn. Do I go to bed or stay up? I usually stargaze in the early dawn, around 4 to 6 AM. I went to bed.

At midnight, I woke up and went outside. It was a good time! Wrapped in a sweatshirt fleece blanket, on our lakeside deck, I stared at the spot where I wanted to see shooting stars.

I imagined a couple of brief ones but nothing dramatic happened.

The next door neighbor’s yard lights were on, lighting up both sides of the house. I hope for them to leave in the next couple of days so those lights go off.

It is really annoying when so many neighbors have extreme outdoor lighting in this peaceful environment. I get enough bright lights in Omaha. Maybe I’ll go to my first neighborhood meeting to bring up the issue and gently plead for softer lights at night.

I do like our neighbors and am happy to see them and know that they’re there.

Around 1 AM, I was not tired at all. A speed boat went by with loud music close to shore. I liked it, kind of singing along to the familiar tune and seeing it all lit up.

There was a party of some kind across the lake. Sound carries really well at night. The young men and women were swimming, I imagined, from the giggles, excited yells, and splashes.

FUN.

So, as I gazed and enjoyed my night time, I began to think that maybe I’d spend more nights outside in summer, maybe all night, switching my days and nights around.

I also thought of rural residents who have a sky view every night. Do they appreciate it, or do they take it for granted?

It’s such a gift, with or without meteors.

The next few nights were rainy or cloudy, so no viewing.

On Monday night, the 12th, I could hardly sleep. It was clear! I hadn’t been this excited in ages, Ha! I forced myself to go to bed at 10, then woke up at 2 and went outside.

Oh no! Thick clouds everywhere; even the moon had disappeared.

Also, another neighbor had strung very bright party lights between their trees. These weren’t the little twinkle lights. These were like spotlights, especially in the deep night.

Neighbor’s party lights, festive and pretty in daylight.

It was too much. The clouds, the near full moon, and these lights were all going to impede my viewing. Desperation set in, and I contemplated a criminal act, like going over there and cutting the wire.

Instead, reluctantly, I went back inside and read for awhile.

Around 3 AM, I looked out and was very happy to see that the clouds had moved on, clearing to show so many stars.

I became a night person for the next 3 hours, setting up a cozy deck chair with a blanket, pillow, and binoculars, in the darkest corner I could find.

The rare and glorious night proceeded like this:

I waited about 10 minutes, imagining little slivers of light moving. Then it happened! ONE bright and fast streak coming out from the Perseus constellation. No mistaking what that was. I was hooked.

3:30 AM. The stars are less visible. A foggy mist is rolling in, even hiding the lights across the lake.

4:30 AM. Suddenly, it clears, and I count 12 more meteors, appearing all over the sky, making 13 so far.

4:47 AM. No. 14, now NW of Perseus.

Then, No. 15!!! This one seemed to go west to east, long and bright, over the house, dipping a little.

4:50 AM. Chilly, damp and foggy, but some stars are still out. I pick some mint from my garden, and go inside to make hot tea, and write some notes. I think, “What am I missing while I’m inside?”

4:54 AM. No.16, spotted North, under Cassiopeia. This one left a streak behind it, briefly.

Around 5 AM, the fog cleared completely, and No. 17 goes right over the house, west to east, leaving a trail.

Next, No. 18 appears low in the east, in a dawn sky.

The Perseus constellation is now horizontal as the earth has turned. It was vertical when I first came out. And I see my old friend, Orion, rising in the east.

My neck muscles are stretched and strained as I bend back and keep looking upward. I’m moving now, standing more than sitting.

5:25 AM. Meteor No. 19, in the east, falls top to bottom.

Then, No. 20, right over my head.

This is so thrilling it almost takes my breath away, as I gasp at each surprising appearance.

At about 5:30, I hear a fish jump in the water which makes me look to the east. A meteor drops again from the sky, top to bottom, long and brilliant.

Little miracles of enjoyment, or big miracles, that I’ll remember for a long time, and think back on with reverence.

I can’t wait till next August 12th!

Shirley

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