I am the world's worst observer of the Perseid meteor showers. I mark my calendar for its August arrival, wait for dark, and step out onto the porch to study the heavens, joined by my husband, Robert. After several minutes nothing happens, except the buzzing of mosquitoes around my ear. I make the mistake and blink. Robert gasps at the beauty of the first shooting star. He looks into deep space and sees a clean streak of white on the celestial chalkboard. I miss it. I vow to really keep my eyes open this time. My eyes get dry and I have to blink. Zoom! I missed one again. I look to the right and it flashes to the left. I look to the left and it flashes to my right. Next Robert reports that I missed a beauty that appeared behind me. Now my neck is sore. It is time to go inside to take a break, pretending to need a drink of water. Of course, during that time I miss the most spectacular meteor shower of the century.
Every now and then I do get lucky and see flashes across the glittering night sky. Science tells us that we are not really seeing shooting stars, but streams of debris that stretch across the orbit of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Every year, the earth passes through this debris. The debris heats up as it enters the earth's atmosphere, traveling at 37 miles per second. Voila! We have a shooting star traveling from the constellation Perseid, named after the Greek hero Perseus-slayer of monsters.
Another name cropped up when researching this August light show. It is also called "the tears of Saint Lawrence." Every year, the Perseid meteor showers coincide with the feast of St. Lawrence (August 10). He was a Christian martyr who died in the year 258 AD, burned alive on a hot gridiron. Shooting stars represent sparks from that ghastly fire. Cooled embers that landed on earth were called the coals of Saint Lawrence.
NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke has some recommendations for this celestial event. Go to a dark area with no city lights. It takes 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Plan to sit out there for several hours and watch for meteors appearing at a rate of 60-70 per hour. Make yourself comfortable, take some snacks, and enjoy the show. Friday and Saturday night will be the best viewing. The crescent moon will have set by early evening, thus making it easier to view.
I did learn that the best time to see the show is the pre-dawn hours, which just happen to be my favorite time of day. Guess I'll be up early with a cup of coffee to watch the fireworks. As I gaze into glittering jewels dotting the black sky, my soul is captured by this glimpse at eternity. Now I wait and try not to blink.