Fishing For Shooting Stars

Meteor showers are like fishing. You go, you enjoy nature. Sometimes you catch something.

Oh how I love my Sky View app.

I love outer space. I marvel at the vastness of the universe and how I am but a speck on a pebble in the reaches of it all. It’s very humbling. While in college at the University of Colorado, I took a few courses in astronomy, not because I thought I would do well (I’m an English major and was told there would be no math) but because I wanted to learn more about space. So, I studied comets, black holes, and galaxies. I was aided by a friend who knew the constellations and would point them out to me on random occasions when we were out of the reaches of the light pollution of the city. I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this the gal who used to have nightmares about UFOs in grade school? And yes, that is true. Although the possibility exists that there is life elsewhere in the universe, I’m no longer concerned that said life is in any hurry to come here, colonize our planet, and turn me into their house pet. (As I told my husband the other day, any life form that is intelligent enough to get here and still desire this rock will have no trouble taking it and annihilating us all. They’ve got higher intelligence and space travel. We have Honey Boo Boo. We’d be weaker than kittens.)

In November of 2001, when Joe was six months old and we were just two months beyond the terrorist attacks of 9/11, I read there would be a Leonid meteor shower. The earth would be passing through a dust cloud shed by a comet hundreds of years ago and viewers with a clear, dark sky would see thousands of meteors falling per hour. Shunning all better parental judgement, we woke our sleeping child, belted him into his car seat, and drove an hour east of Denver to a country road in the middle of farm country to catch the show. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Meteor after meteor flashed across the sky as my exhausted husband and I stared up through the open sunroof of our Toyota 4Runner, infant son strapped safely in the middle of the backseat.

Yesterday morning as I was perusing some news sites, I noted that our planet is in the midst of another encounter with the Leonids. This one would not be as spectacular, but I didn’t see how I could pass up the opportunity to share the experience with our sons. So, before bed, I announced to the family that I would be waking up at 2:30 a.m. to check for clear skies. If I found some, then we would be driving a small distance from city lights to look up at the stars. I figured that at worst we would see nothing but constellations and have exhausted boys today. Maybe I’d have a tired headache too, but with a gingerbread latte I could live with that.

At 2:30, the alarm on my iPhone began barking (literally…I like the barking dog alarm) and I begrudgingly awoke. I stayed in bed for a few minutes, debating the merits of my great, big idea. I nearly scrapped it on the basis that I had only slept two hours so far, but ultimately decided that I could sleep when I am dead. Steve was still out cold, so I went in to wake Luke as he was the most excited about my plan to begin with. He awoke fairly easily, hopped out of bed, put some socks on with his long-underwear pajamas, and went downstairs to grab some milk for the road. Steve was the next conquest. When I told him I was going to drive off into the night alone with Luke, he decided he should man up and crawled from the bed. Joe at last acquiesced to join us when we told him he’d be alone in the house when we left. We drove 10 minutes west, parked the car on the other side of the hogback from our home, opened the sunroof, and waited. We pulled out the Sky View app on my phone and searched for constellations. We found Orion’s belt, Cancer, Gemini, and Taurus. We remarked at how bright Jupiter was, and Joe reminded us that the Big Dipper is located within Ursa Major, the large bear. The meteor shower was not fantastic, but we each saw at least one or two cross the sky. Luke remarked that he’d never seen a shooting star before, and that made it all worthwhile. At least we were all together as a family in the adventure of stargazing. That sort of memory is priceless, even if the meteors don’t show up.

Sometimes I shake my head at the things I force my kids to do just so I can share with them things that are important to me. I want them to view the planet and the universe with wonder and appreciation as I do. Something about the unfathomable expanse of space puts everything into perspective when life gets overwhelming. Although the meteor shower last night was less of a shower and more of an occasional raindrop, no worries. I read that the Geminid meteor shower will occur on a new moon on Thursday, December 13th, and it’s predicted to have more than 100 shooting stars per hour. If our boys aren’t at school on December 14th, you’ll know why.


  1. A number of years ago some friends and I drove up to the hills near Pahrump to view the Leonid shower, away from the city lights. My buddy owned an old Cadillac convertible and we drove up with the top down and myself in the back wrapped up in blankets. But it was worth it. There is a hot springs at the site so we got to warm up in the waters while we were there. Definitely worth the trip. BTW here is a nifty site which may prove a fine educational tool for the boys and is fascinating in its own right. You put in your co-ordinates and it gives a pic of the sky in real time and from any spot on the horizon. There are many options and gadgets and with a click you can get the mythic pics of the constellations superimposed on the stars. BTW Its free!


    1. I used to be able to find quite a few on my own. But, with the birth of my children, I appear to have lost quite a few brain cells. Working on relearning them with my sons. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I love this post, Justine. It’s something I would do, too. Drag everyone out of bed for the sake of seeing shooting stars together. That is priceless and worth it. Some day your kids will thank you for it. Congrats on the Freshly Pressed!! Again, even! Good for you. It’s well deserved. I wanted to cry a little after I read this, although it was a happy post.

    1. Thanks, Amy. I sure appreciate your nice comment. I tell you…as my boys are getting older I am looking more and more for ways to cement their memories of our time together and give them the kind of childhood memories that will be worth cherishing. Soon they will be teenagers and it will be a struggle to get them to check in. I’ve got to make the most of this time while I can. I know you can empathize.

  3. Great post and I was convinced after reading it that you and I must be twins separated at birth! I love watching meteor showers and can’t tell you how many times I’ve drug my family out of warm beds to go watch them. The very second blog post I wrote was about seeing my first Perseid meteor shower as a teenager. I used to take our two sons to star parties where we would be fascinated looking at the various marvels of this earth through telescopes…. the moon, Saturn’s rings, Mars, Andromeda, etc. I used to buy my two young sons any book I could find on space and we read them together. In middle school my oldest son’s science teacher talked me into sending both my sons to a NASA space camp in Huntsville, AL. The loved it and still talk about it 9 years later. My oldest son is now an aerospace engineer and my youngest is a sophomore also majoring in, yes, you guessed it, aerospace engineering. I sometimes didn’t realize how much of an impact all the things we did had on them but it most definitely does. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    1. Thanks for your comment. It does sound like we’ve got some common ground…or space. Congrats on your sons’ awesome scholastic achievements. Certainly you had a hand in their majors and their success! Thank you for taking the time to share your story with me.

  4. Star gazing has been something that I have talked about doing but have never done anything about, You mentioned that on the 14th of December that there will be shooting star show. So no matter where you live in the US you would be able to witness? I live on the west coast. Any suggestions about where to go for that viewing. Thanks great post!

    1. As far as I know, you will be able to view them anywhere in the US without trouble. The best thing to do is to get away from city light if possible. Having said that, we saw several the other night from our house on the outskirts of Denver. You just get a better show the darker the sky is.

  5. Some of my best memories are of being on the dock at the family cottage and having my mom’s cousin tell us all about the constellations. There were many nights that the shooting stars were amazing and the Northern lights were breathtaking. Your kids will remember those nights for the rest of their lives (even if you did wake them up at 2:30 in the morning!!)

  6. That’s really neat to see something like that! I remember a couple of years ago getting up in the middle of the night to see the lunar eclipse. The Earth is incredible. All of the beauty that surrounds us is just unimaginable at times.

  7. I forget who it was who said that the best argument for alien life is that they’ve managed to avoid us so far. I’d do the same. Imagine, you’d be an instant celebrity, face on t-shirts, you’d never get any rest.

    Children become too cynical, too fast. I’m glad you’re filling yours with a bit of wonder.

  8. I see between 6 and a dozen shooting stars a year where I live and feel privileged. I have animals and am often out later in the evening to check them. I always check the sky too.

  9. Great post thanks for sharing and congrats on FP! I too am so interested in space and its beauty. It is hard to wrap my mind around, but at the same time I’m ok with that. I suppose I don’t have to understand, I can just admire.

  10. Really nice read! I wish I could do that as well. Don’t have the time and equipment, though. No one to share the moments to also. For now, at least. I think I’ll stick around a bit and read some more stuff 🙂

    1. You don’t need any equipment to view a meteor shower. You just need to know when to look and then look up. And, you don’t need anyone to share it with either. Some of the best moments of my life have been when I felt like the only person who saw something extraordinary.

      1. I get you about not needing any equipment. But I know myself. I know I’d like to have all those telescope stuff to be able to enjoy it more. You are right, of course.

        As for enjoying stuff alone, I get you, too. I have activities that I’d rather do alone most times, like shopping (well, window shopping, mostly). However, for me, magical moments like this deserve to be enjoyed together with loved ones. Right now, I wish I could enjoy something like this with my parents. Unfortunately, that’s one thing that now remains an impossible dream.

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