Saturday, September 1, 2007

Alpha Aurigid Meteor Shower

I read yesterday that residents of the western United States would be blessed with a rare opportunity to watch the Alpha Aurigid Meteor Shower, so Jenny and I awoke at 4:30 this morning to enjoy the show. While the San Jose Mercury News cautioned that the storm might be a bust, thanks to the brilliance of the nearly full moon, we couldn't resist an opportunity to see a meteor shower that might peak at between 100 and 200 shooting stars an hour.

At the appointed time we ventured to the nearby soccer field and peered upward. A few yards away, another fellow was doing the same thing. He asked us, "meteors?" in a hopeful tone. I imagine it would have been much more fun to reply, "Meteors? No, we're here for park sex," but I didn't have to heart to freak him out.

Truthfully, the show wasn't that stunning. In about twenty minutes we must have seen no more than seven shooting stars, though that's more than our average for all of last year. The longest ones, lasting less than a second, nonetheless seemed to glow a deep green as they swept downward from the east sky.

I remembered the story of how Steven Spielberg was inspired to create Close Encounters of the Third Kind, my favorite childhood movie, upon recollection of his father waking him up and racing him to the car to see a "surprise." The young Spielberg was scared and excited at the possibilities of being up late at night during that mysterious hour. It was that very moment of fear and wonder that ran through a scene from the movie when Roy Neary raced his family out of their beds to see something in the night sky.

Eventually Jenny and I began to associate meteors with occasional cash-outs of a slot machine. Minutes of waiting, the gathering gloom, then whoosh - the exhilaration of the lucky moment when the light would streak. Ding, ding, ding! By about 5 we agreed to turn back, just as the sprinklers began to turn toward our patch of the field.

I write this, thinking of the wondrous feeling of being awake at some strange hour, looking for lights in the night sky and thinking, "just one more minute. The next one will be worth the wait." Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. But it was undoubtedly nice to stand in the dew with Jenny and share a few moments of anticipation.

Learn More

American Meteor Society 2007 Meteor Shower Calendar

Alan Boyle's MSNBC Cosmic Log: Catch a falling star: "The bottom line was that the meteors were a bit more impressive than I expected, but a lot sparser than the three-per-minute that had been projected."

Wes Stone's Major Meteor Showers in 2007

See More

November 18: Leonids

December 14: Geminids

(Image of a 2006 Meteor Shower from NASA)

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