Sometimes it all works out, and that’s why I’m smiling today, even though my back aches and my eyelids are drooping. Standing in the middle of the street at 2 a.m., staring up at the sky for an hour, will do that to you. But oh, what a thrill when a sudden streak of silver arcs down the sky, as the Perseids meteor shower offers its annual celestial spectacular! Too many years, the Kentuckiana night skies are cloudy, rainy, and/or swelteringly hot and humid ; but this year we’ve been blessed with clear skies and perfect temperatures. There weren’t even any mosquitoes — just a few fireflies trying in vain to compete with the sky show. Earlier in the evening, the bright moon offered a challenge, but provided some impressive views of its own as it converged with Jupiter in the southern sky — and by the time the Perseids went into high gear, the moon and planet had sunk behind the “horizon” of neighborhood trees, leaving me to savor the sensory joys of deep night under the stars. I had to force myself to go indoors, still smiling.
Ever since childhood, I’ve been fascinated by the night skies. Maybe it was my father’s influence, as he brought home all the science fiction pulp magazines, which I found even more enchanting than my favorite fairytales. It was the Golden Age of sci-fi, Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, and so many others; and it marked me forever. My schoolmates ridiculed me for insisting we’d land on the moon in our lifetime. No humans have reached Mars as yet, but the robots have made it, so it shouldn’t be too long before our descendents get there.
Growing up in Wisconsin was an advantage — there were grandiose displays of Northern Lights which I took for granted until we moved south. Oh, there’s an occasional showing here, but nothing to compare with the blazing, pulsating sights that –alone among astronomical phenomena — gave true meaning to the word “awesome.” Lunar and solar eclipses round out my list of celestial favorites. Occasionally I’ve had to drive into the country, away from city lights and tall trees, to park along a deserted road, hang my head out the car window, and wait as the shadow crept across the moon’s face.
The Perseids peaked early this morning but there will be plenty of action for several more days. It’s a happy coincidence that Olympics coverage goes past midnight, the fine weather is forecast to continue, and so you can catch some starry acts overhead to complement what’s going on overseas.