The television show faded away, replaced by a commercial. In it, a father and a boy gazed at the night sky as they stood beside a telescope. Two shooting stars streaked across the sky. Below them, a Mercedes-Benz steaked along a curvy road, just like those shooting stars.
While I’ll never be able to afford a Mercedes-Benz, I can afford to bring out a sleeping bag and watch a meteor show from atop it. One’s coming up on August 11/12. After midnight, people should be able to see 150 to 200 shooting star an hour, according to knowledgeable sky watchers. That’s double the number of shooting stars seen during most Perseid meteor showers.
Through the decades I’ve had some memorable Perseids as well as November’s Leonids. My best was maybe ten years ago. On a Perseid night, friends Jayne and Nancy and I drove out to a field a few miles from our neighborhood and gazed skyward. Experts predicted a bountiful Perseids, maybe hundreds per hour. I half-expected to see my hopes fizzle, but for once the experts were proved somewhat right. We saw three to four and sometimes five a minute, and most were quite brilliant.
I saw my first Perseids on August 12, 1966 as a 14 year old visiting my cousins, Ron and John and their mother and father, Juanita and Harold Snyder. John, a couple of years older than me, led me out to a cornfield behind the house and we watched the shooting stars – twenty-six over an hour. That’s one of my fondest memories from childhood… spending a night stargazing with a beloved cousin.
Three months later in 1966 – in November – I eagerly awaited the Leonids. A story in Time Magazine said the sky could fill with thousands, like skyrockets on the Fourth of July. This display would not be a meteor shower. Folks referred to as a meteor storm.
When a boy, Abraham Lincoln witnessed a Leonids meteor storm in 1833. A Presbyterian deacon “who saw what appeared to be a falling sky” awoke Lincoln, according to one historical account.
The deacon’s quoted as saying, “Arise, Abraham, the Day of Judgment has come.”
The account continues, “Lincoln sprang from his bed in the Illinois home where he was a boarder and rushed to his window to find ‘stars falling in great showers.’ His fears dissipated when he saw the constellations in their usual places.”
It rained that December night in 1966. One of the great regrets of my life. For those who had clear skies, it was a meteor storm. For me, all I could do was crouch before my upstairs bedroom window at the top of the stairs and listen to the rain fall. Remember the hit tune from the Cascades, Rhythm Of The Rain?
Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain Telling me just what a fool I’ve been I wish that it would go away and let me cry in vain And let me be along again.
In August 1980, it was a clear August night in Yellowstone National Park. Friends Mike and Judy were on their sleeping bags near me watching shooting stars ink the night sky. No city lights for miles and miles. Instead, a sky we seldom see nowadays. So clear the splash of stars that make up Milky Way blazed across the heavens. If you’re lucky to be in such a place later this month, be sure to haul your sleeping bags out to a meadow and enjoy the celestial sparklers. It’s the greatest show on Earth.
Mike has published a fantasy trilogy, Larenia’s Shadow. The three novels are available on the websites of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Want to learn more? The three books are titled The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. Let them be part of your summer reading list.