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Why I’m Glad I Went Outdoors for a Shower August 13, 2009

Posted by Wapello Warbler in Nature, Wapello.
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One August, years ago, my grandfather took me out around midnight to see the Perseid Meteor shower. It wasn’t very impressive because we were in the center of the Chicago metro area. I was hoping to see a much better show last night in Wapello and I wasn’t disappointed. It was more than impressive: it was magnificent. Let me tell you about it.

The news reports said the best viewing would be around 3 am, but that one could see something anytime between midnight and 5:00 am. Knowing I had to work the next day, I walked out onto the deck a little before midnight and looked up.

Low, thin clouds shone in the east, illuminated by the moon and the lights from the nearby grocery store. Nevertheless, after my eyes adjusted I could make out the Milky Way straight overhead. As I turned to follow it north to the constellation Perseus, I saw my first meteor of the night.

Imagine a silver-white, cigarette boat cutting a phosphorescent wake through a dark, overhead sea. Or imagine twin trails of an impossibly fast jet illuminated by the moon. Those are the best ways I have to describe what I saw. The meteor cut it’s bright wake across a quarter of the sky in a short second and then disappeared.

Encouraged, I went back into the house and got a blanket. I didn’t know the best was still to come.

I turned off the lights in the house and went back out into the yard. I spread the blanket across the lawn and lay down on my back. Within a few minutes I’d seen a typical small streak off to my left. After just a few more minutes, I saw the most spectacular meteor I’ve ever seen.

As I remember it, it’s like a Roman candle launched from space. As it flashes half-way across the sky, I track the argent line of its glorious tail. It passes almost overhead and my eye picks up a red glow around the rock. I felt mild surprise as it vanished without a bang. Wow.

A few minutes more and the mosquitoes found me. My evening of watching shooting stars was over, but what a glorious evening it was.

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