After going to bed early Sunday night, I awoke sometime in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. This is not altogether unusual, especially when I have a lot of things on my mind. I tossed and turned trying to find just the right position that would allow me to fall gently back into restful sleep. It is hard to tell how long this went on, but when I eventually looked at the clock it was 4:30 AM. Just as I was debating whether I should get up and read or make a cup of coffee, I remembered that the Perseids meteor shower was anticipated to be peaking just prior to dawn for the next couple of days. So why not check it out. I quietly got out of bed hoping not to wake up my husband, got dressed and went down to the dock to find a dark part of the sky to watch the show. Unfortunately, by the time I made it outside and my eyes had a chance to get adjusted to the night sky, dawn was beginning to break over the horizon. I saw just a few faint streaks across the sky before the daylight obscured the evidence of debris from disintegrating comets. So I took my dog Sadie for an early walk before going inside to make my morning cup of joe.
To be honest I was only mildly disappointed. I have never studied astronomy and have difficulty identifying any constellations other than the Big Dipper, which I have been told is not actually a constellation, but rather a part of the Ursa Major Constellation. My husband on the other hand has more than a passing interest in Astronomy. When we were first dating he would point out various constellations like Orion with the bright belt or Cassiopeia, named after a Queen in Greek Mythology. I could never quite connect the dots. While I think a dark night sky is beautiful with countless stars providing specks of light, I have difficulty telling one part of the sky from another, especially visualizing how they fit together to represent the mythological creatures they are named after.
Meteor showers can be another thing altogether. You don’t have to be an amateur astronomer to appreciate the beauty of the natural phenomenon of meteors streaking across the sky. And the more numerous they are the better chance of seeing them. Fortunately, scientists have a pretty good handle on when those opportunities are likely to occur. Local TV weathermen or meteorologists can and do often give us a heads up when a significant event is approaching and can provide some information regarding when and where they can be best viewed. Even with that information, climate can conspire against a good experience. Being outside at night for extended periods when it is bitterly cold or when the mosquitos and black flies are present can certainly discourage stargazing here in Maine. But when the conditions are just right, and you are patient enough to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark, the show can be amazing. I will always remember the time we were camping at Hume Lake near Sequoia National Park with our kids then aged 10 and 12. It was a warm late summer evening far away from the lights of any cities or roadways. We all lay in the bed of our pick-up truck and watched as meteors shot across the California sky. The kids oohed and awed as if they were at a fireworks show. But this was no man made show and it didn’t cost a dime.