Early Wednesday morning I was having trouble sleeping, which is unfortunately all too normal for me. Sometime after 3 AM I decided, what the hell, I’m going outside to check out the Perseid meteor shower. I slipped on a light jacket and put on my old grass-cutting shoes and headed out into the darkness.
Well, it wasn’t quite “dark.” Unfortunately, high in the eastern sky was a nearly full moon which tends to wash out the view of most of the stars or anything else that one might care to see in the night sky, including meteors. Also, we live on the suburban south side of Indianapolis. While we are some five miles from downtown, there remains a great deal of ambient light from numerous sources which has the effect of washing out the sky even more.
Undaunted, I got a lawn chair and moved around to find a spot affording the broadest view of the sky while blocking out the moon as much as possible. So oriented, I sat watching for nearly half an hour, spotting nothing meteoric.
My first experience with the Perseids goes back to the mid-1960s (yeah, I’m kind of an old fart) on a clear, moonless night, spooning with a young lady out in northern Minnesota lake country in my dad’s black and canary yellow 1965 Pontiac Bonneville (it was pretty cool, by the way). I didn’t know of such things – meteors, that is. We stopped our “spoonin’” and watched amazed as literally dozens of the damn things whisked across the pitch-black sky. Hell, I thought we were being invaded. “War of the Worlds!”
Since that wondrous night, I have tried numerous times to catch more such glimpses of the Perseids and a number of the other yearly meteor showers with generally disappointing results. Oftentimes an overcast sky obviated even the possibility.
A few years ago local weather forecasters predicted that that particular year’s Perseid shower would likely be the best in many a year – that at its peak, one might see as many as a thousand or more meteors every minute! Well, maybe not a thousand. More like three or four, but still… There was to be no moon.
I was ready, by God! I put on sweatpants and a sweatshirt, and brought a light blanket and a thermos of fresh coffee, as it was a rather chilly and damp night. I grabbed a lawn chair from the patio and, following the weather forecaster’s instructions, set it up facing east and slightly to the north. I was comfortably in place by about 1 AM – primed for checking out prodigious hordes of meteorites, or shooting stars, or “St. Lawrence’s tears” as some refer to them.
I sat there for over an hour. Nothing. Nada. I then remembered the weather prognosticators had said that viewing might be better at around 4 AM to 5 AM. I was frustrated, but not defeated. Anyhow, I needed to pee. So, I went back inside, tinkled, then hunkered down in bed and caught a few Z’s. I actually managed to wake up a little before five. Groggy, and somewhat less eager, I nevertheless toddled back outside and retook my seat, adjusting it to enable a view more directly overhead and to the west as per those afore-mentioned instructions.
There I sat. By a little before 6 AM dawn was definitely on the eastern horizon. The western sky remained dark, but, once again, nothing. Not one goddamn meteor! What a crock! The next evening’s weather segments included testimonials of those who had spent a glorious night being dazzled by literally dozens – nay, hundreds – of fantastic streaking meteors, a veritable light show. What the hell! Were they looking at the same sky I was?
Well, I digress. It appeared that my experience this time around was destined to mirror that of a few years ago. But, after a hapless half hour or so, and having shifted my position a number of times, I suddenly caught sight of a white streak directly overhead. Yippee! Then, just a few seconds later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw another, then one more. Holy Comet Tails, Batman! I moved my chair out further from the house, sat down and leaned back. Over the next fifteen minutes or so, I was treated to about a dozen more fiery streaks through the sky. None of them was particularly dramatic or unusually spectacular. But they did make me smile.