I saw that tonight is supposed to be the best night all year to see the Perseid meteor shower. I have a confession: I've never seen a shooting star or a meteor. I was raised in the suburbs, and I guess we just didn't look up at night or something. (And there was plentiful light pollution, too.)
So tonight I looked up the "where to look" information on the net (isn't it amazing!), turned out all my lights and went outside on the deck to sit and look north/northeast. The problem is that I live on the south side of town, so looking north/northeast near the horizon means there's enough light from the city that I can't see any starts. Nonetheless, after about 10 minutes, I thought I saw something. Then I waited, and after a while more, I thought I saw another, but more easterly.
There's also lightning off to the north and east of town at various moments. I could see the sky lighten a bit in the distance, but it was too far (or blocked) and I couldn't see the lightning. And it was far enough that I couldn't hear it over the traffic noise. (Sitting outside in the evening makes me really aware of the traffic noise in my neighborhood. It's a quiet area, so that you hear noise you wouldn't notice in an actual city.)
Then I went to the front yard, and got behind a tree so that it was mostly blocking the streetlight to the north, and sat on the driveway for a while. After about half an hour, I saw what seemed more definitely to be a meteor.
But it was nothing like the pictures I was seeing on the net of multiple streaks of light. I wonder if those are really powerful lenses or long exposures or something?
Trying to figure out where to look got me thinking about the ancient folks who made up the constellations. I could never figure out the constellations as a kid. They don't look anything like anything to me. And every time I see three stars roughly in a row I think it's Orion.
I can reliably pick out the Great Dipper when I'm in a planetarium and the "guide" is showing it with a laser. Otherwise, I can't seem to do it.
I think the ancients had some good drugs to see all those things in the sky.
And then I got to thinking about why we see these meteors at the same time every year. I can sort of hold a mental image of the solar system, but I don't generally populate it with all sorts of comet dust and such in my head. I guess we're passing through a part of the solar system on our earthy route around the sun that has lots of comet dust, and when that hits the atmosphere, zing.
So, anyway, there are these meteors of comet dust, which are close, close enough to be hitting earth's atmosphere. But they seem to be coming out of a constellation that's WAY outside our solar system. Sort of mind blowing, isn't it?
And then I start thinking about the ancients and early moderns who looked at the sky and mapped out stars, and tried to figure out how the stars changed, and eventually how the earth moves relative to all the other stuff in space. And it's mind-blowingly complicated.
And most of the time, I think of the earth as unmoving. But here we are, spinning through space around a big ball of hotness. It sort of makes me dizzy.