Greenpoint: Meteor shower brightens a sleepless night

PHOTOGRAPHER:

I couldn’t sleep much last week, and by midweek I gave up on trying and came downstairs in the middle of the night. There were meteor showers going on anyway, so I poured a glass of water and went to sit outside.

The night was warm and humid, and the sky was hazy, so the stars weren’t too bright. It made me think of my eldest, trying to watch meteor showers down in the city and telling me, “turns out we’re lucky we can see the moon.”

But it’s fairly dark here, with no streetlights, and even on a hazy night the stars got brighter as my eyes adjusted to the dark. Soon I could make out the Milky Way. Then I started seeing streaks across the sky, our shooting stars.

The Perseids might be the greatest of meteor showers, as long as there’s not too much cloud cover or too big of a moon. August makes for more comfortable viewing than, say, that time I woke the kids up in the middle of a very cold December night to watch the Geminid showers.

Over the years we’ve watched the Perseids from our yard, or from the darkest places we could find. One year we drove out to a former landfill people told us was dark, only to find it too close to neighborhoods and streetlights. One year two of my sisters were visiting and we lay out on blankets, telling jokes and watching the sky. One year we slept out on the bare rocks of Hadley Mountain with a friend, counting meteors. We turned on a transistor radio to catch a ballgame, then turned it back off so we could hear the coyotes and owls while we watched the sky.

Finding quiet can be as hard as finding darkness. Sitting alone in the dark last week I heard mostly crickets and grasshoppers, but also the humming of the fan in our bedroom window and the dam a mile and a half away. The ducks woke up and started chatting when I passed their night cage, and the goats rumbled a bit, knocking around in their shed. A dog barked.

So it wasn’t really quiet and it wasn’t really dark — I’d left a light on in the house and there’s that glow on the horizon from towns six miles away. I went inside to turn out the light and get another glass of water, then came back out.

The sky looked hazier and the stars dimmer, and it took more than 10 minutes for my eyes to readjust. But slowly the stars seemed to get brighter and the sky darker. I saw a satellite pass under Cassiopeia in the middle of the sky, then the faint streak of a meteor, then another, brighter one. I didn’t count. I just watched.

The Perseids peaked last week, but the showers continue through Aug. 26, so you have time to see them. Don’t wait too long or the moon — full on Aug. 23 — will obscure the show.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Aug. 29. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: Life and Arts

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