2007.10.07 Catch a falling star

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

I saw a meteor a couple of weeks ago. That seems newsworthy as a headline. It was a spectacular one.

My wife and I were walking at the school track when it flashed across a large portion of the north sky. Very bright, very beautiful, and for me, very rare.

I read that on any given night a person can head outdoors and see a meteor. They’re that common. Maybe so, but I don’t have that many nights to lie around looking at the sky for hours. I leave that to the shepherds.

I’ve tallied dozens of shooting stars in my life and I can even remember some highlights.

When I was about eight years old, I remember lying on the deck of a sailboat at Devils Lake. I might have been on the heavy old Lightning that we owned with the Brashers, or I might have been at the lake with the Bryners.

There was a nice meteor spotted that night and it might have been my first. Maybe that’s why it’s still in my head after all these years.

I remember driving out to a dark area in someone’s big boat of a convertible in college for the Perseid shower. It was a pretty good year, although there were a lot of questionable reports where only one person made the sighting and everyone else was left doubting.

There was a night on a Mackinac Island beach when a good Perseid shower came to a close as a bright full moon arose in the east.

There were many nights on Fay Highway with my kids, lying on the hood of the car and looking for what Ben called “meat-eaters.”

That recent show at the track was also notable. There was no scheduled meteor shower. We weren’t out looking. It just suddenly appeared for a brief treat.

When we started walking at the track a few years ago, we quickly noticed the busyness of the night sky. Airplanes are nearly non-stop, mostly heading to Detroit. If you stop and look around, you might see five or six at one time.

And then Sept. 11, 2001, arrived and all continental flights were cancelled. It brought an amazing change to the night sky. It was quieter and the sky was empty except for the stars and planets, plus an occasional satellite far above.

I’ve been thinking about the night sky lately with all the attention placed this week on the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite put into orbit.

My family went out at night to spot it moving across the sky. A weekly schedule was published in the Toledo Blade so you would know when and where to look.

It was just last week that I read the crushing news that I wasn’t really looking at Sputnik.

Sputnik was about the size of a basketball. It couldn’t be seen from Earth. It was the second stage booster rocket trailing behind that we were actually watching. I’m glad we didn’t know that then. Slapping mosquitoes on those summer evenings in 1958 wouldn’t have been the same.

The Sputnik achievement was impressive, but it was also very worrisome. The U.S. feared Soviet supremacy and before long we were heading for the elementary school hallways to practice atomic bomb drills.

Yes, boys and girls, kneeling in the hallway with your head bent down to your knees with your hands over your head will protect you from an atomic bomb. Not a direct hit, of course, but from the flash of the bomb and I guess from the radioactive fallout. Crazy times.

We walked the track last night—only a lazy mile and a quarter—and, as always, I marveled at the night sky. When you look at a map of the Earth at night and see the areas of city lights, you see that this area isn’t considered among the darkest.

Toledo and the development to the west intrude on our sky. You can see the glow of Adrian to the northeast and Wauseon to the south. What we call dark isn’t really dark. The stars we see aren’t nearly the number of stars visable if you head north to less populated areas.

But I am very thankful for what we have. The stars visible at the track are certainly in the category of “countless.” I’ve watched meteor showers in my back yard. On a clear night, I can walk out onto my sidewalk right in town and follow the Milky Way across the sky. When I can see all of that, I know I’m in a good place.

 

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