I always love this time of year when we have the privilege of viewing the annual Perseid Meteor Showers. They peak every year in August. The origin of the Perseid’s is the comet Swift-Tuttle. The tail of Swift-Tuttle intersects Earth’s orbit every August. The space debris, or comet dust, looks like colorful streaks of light when it hits the atmosphere.
Back in the late ’70s is when I spent an evening outdoors watching my first Perseid Meteor Shower. I was dating my husband (boyfriend then) and I had found an article in Good Housekeeping magazine about these meteor showers. The article explained that the meteors are visible every August 10th, 11th, and 12th, and that you could see anywhere from 60-100 meteors an hour on a good night. The article also explained that the best way to see them was to get away from urban light pollution, find a dark field, preferably in the country, lie flat on your back, and look to the Northeast. Apparently, the Perseids radiate from the constellation Perseus, which is in the Northeast. So the boyfriend and I decided we were going to have a nice romantic date watching meteors. Did I tell you the article mentioned that the best time to view these spectacular meteors was between the hours of midnight and 4 am? Thinking this wouldn’t go over too well with my parents, we decided to head out to watch them between 10 and 11. Living in an urban area with lots of street lights, we decided the best place for us to view them would be behind our old junior high school – in the large grassy area between the school and the football field. Since this area is adjacent to a small park, the police patrol it often. I was a tad bit nervous wondering what a police officer would think if he drove up to see two teenagers (older teens mind you) laying on a blanket in the middle of a grassy field. A very DARK grassy field. So I decided to take the article from Good Housekeeping with us, just in case a police officer did venture by. I could picture the scenario in my mind…. the policeman asking what our intentions were and me showing him the article and saying “Honest officer, we were just watching meteors.” And the officer saying, “Yeah, right… now that’s a new one I haven’t heard.” I don’t think the boyfriend was thinking about policemen showing up, as when he got out of the car at the field, he was carrying a blanket in one hand and a small baseball bat in the other!
So we got to the field and we positioned ourselves flat on our backs facing the northeast. About 15-20 minutes went by before we finally saw our first meteor. Then we started gradually seeing them more frequently – green ones, pink ones, white ones, high ones, low ones, fast ones, slow ones. We stayed there I don’t know how long soaking up this magnificent light show. The next night we did the same. This time we went far into my parents backyard and we planted our bodies on lounge chairs. I will never forget my mother coming out to watch them with us. I was more than happy to give her my lounge chair and I crawled into my boyfriend’s arms to share his lounge chair with him. Those were happy memories…. laying in my boyfriend’s warm arms, watching a beautiful shooting star show. I remember distinctly the conversation the three of us had that night about how magnificent the stars are, how it would be to go to the moon, etc. Fun memories.
This year, the peak viewing nights for the Perseids were August 12th and 13th, but since the meteors are “here” from the end of July to the end of August, they are still visible. It was predicted this year was going to be a good year for viewing them as the crescent moon will set early in the evening, leaving an even darker sky to view the meteors. So grab you a blanket (or a lounge chair), find a dark viewing area away from city lights, get comfortable, face the NE and wait. I would recommend not to expect the 60-100 meteors per hour. I think you would be disappointed if you did expect that many. I plan to go out tonight to watch them myself. And maybe, just maybe, my husband will be there to protect me with his baseball bat.