Friday, August 12, 2016

Perseid Vigil -- Friday before dawn

Out of the tent at 1 am, after an evening's rest disturbed by late aŕrivals pulling into the campground ... to greet clear skies full of stars and the first of many meteors. My count was up to four by the time I met Barbara and John for the short drive over the the Meadows.

Many people there, some with cameras,, some with night vision-preserving red lights. By the time we chose a place to set out our chairs for the evening show,  I had lost count of the shooting stars!

So many stars! With some difficulty, we picked out the constellations from all the points of light to orient our view -- Ursa Major, pointing to the Pole Star on the Little Bear's tail, Cassiopeia marking the location of the center of the Milky Way, and there -- Perseus, and the Perseid radiant center of the particle storm intent on breaching Terra's defensive shield.

The large meteors with lingering, wide tracks were almost as common as the narrow lines drawn quickly across star-dusted black. For the largest, there appeared to be a spindle shape for the trail -- growing as the rock heated to incadescence in the defending atmosphere, fading as it was consumed.

One outlier was blue-white. Another, orange-tinted, had an initially spotted trail. Most extraordinary, a track seen nearly end-on, seeming to descend with an increasing wobble.

After a few hours, we surrendered to the cold, packed up our blankets and chairs, and threaded our way carefully past hardier fellow stargeeks with our heads full of beauty and the prospect of sleeping bags. Also, breakfast in a few hours.

Each one of hundreds visible to us in spite of the flares of car headlights from Skyline Drives, arriving and gone in a instant of glory, a message from deep space.

Both comfort and challenge; we are not alone in the universe.

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