August 14, 2023

Meteor Hunting

This past weekend, I went meteor hunting. August, of course, is the month in which the Perseid Meteor Shower can be seen, and the celestial show was supposed to be at its zenith Saturday and Sunday. I have fond memories of my first encounter with the Perseids. I was attending family camp at Sheldon Calvary Camp, an Episcopal Church retreat on Lake Erie. I lay on the grass and watched one meteor after another one memorable night. I have been trying to duplicate that evening of wonder ever since.

To view the Perseids, one needs three things: the right timing, darkness, and a clear sky. I could generally get the timing right, but finding a place away from urban lights has always been a problem. And clear skies always seemed a big problem in southwestern Pennsylvania. Last year, on the condominium deck in a dimly lit development, I did see a handful of meteors, one of which was dramatic.

Having lived in Clifton Springs, New York, for less than a year, I wasn’t sure where I might find a good spot to view meteors. According to The New York Times, the best time to see meteors is between midnight and dawn. I am not such an astrology freak that I was willing to lose a major chunk of sleep to view the sky at the ideal hour. I thought I might have a fair shot of finding darkness at an earlier hour, and I hoped that the weather would coƶperate.

Saturday afternoon had seen showers—the watery kind—and I wasn’t sure whether the cloud cover would prevent me from seeing anything in the sky. Nonetheless, I set out after 10 o’clock to have a look. There are two parks a block from my apartment, and I suspected that in one of those, it would be dark enough for meteor viewing. What I discovered is that this small village has a lot of illumination at night. There are streetlamps on Spring Street, lights from the apartments on Main Street, and, much to my surprise, bright lighting at the large pavilion in one of the parks. Nevertheless, I lay down on a paved path in the park near the pavilion and looked up at the sky. I saw some sky, but, mostly, I saw clouds. After 20 minutes or so, I gave up my search.

I decided to try my luck on Sunday. After 10 o’clock, I set out with water bottle and exercise mat. I walked around a bit looking for a dark spot and ended up on a pickleball court in the other park. I decided this position was dark enough. Moreover, lying on my exercise mat was considerably more comfortable than lying on concrete, as I had the night before. I lay on the pickleball court for about an hour. The sky was mostly clear, although some clouds drifted by from time to time.

I am happy to report that I did see meteors. I saw one really good one. There were others that I think I saw but cannot be sure about. They were faint, were not where I had been looking, and were visible for but a brief moment. Watching the sky was like an eye test I’ve been subjected to in which I had to press a button when I saw a flash but was often unsure whether I had seen something or not.

Although I had not duplicated my experience of 30 years earlier, I returned home. At least I had seen some meteors. Perhaps I will be more ambitious and lucky next year.

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