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