These are my old friends. Very old, much older than myself.
Many a winter’s night I’ve walked home with my defender hovering over my shoulder. Indeed, the greatest of my friends has always been Orion the Hunter. He lives low in the sky through the winter months in Canada, and regularly I’ll look up from the horizon to draw strength and courage during the cold nights.
It has always been so. From my earliest memory, I have always known Ursa Major. But when I was ten or twelve I was taught to look for Mizar and Alcor. Today I marvel at the power of eyesight, if it wasn’t so cloudy I’d be outside right now trying to see if I could differentiate the double star system.
Like many people following the moon landings I acquired a keen interest in space exploration. Like thousands of kids, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut and going into space.
Okay, I have a heightened interest, but I’m far from an expert. Other than my friends listed above, I really don’t have a great memory of the constellations and asterisms up there. Living in the city, I don’t have a great view of the sky anymore. I very much treasure my chance to go camping in the summer with my kids and be able to see the full panoply of stars I remember from my youth.
Precisely one year ago, the kids and I were camping near Lake Louise. The excitement was we were out at the time of the Perseid meteor shower. I got to keep my kids up until after midnight with the three of us staring up as the meteors came down. To see their eyes light up with the opportunity to stay up way past bedtime was cool to itself. It became an entirely different magic to see their eyes flare up the moment a Perseid flared directly overhead framed between lodgepole pines. We tried again the next night, but it was far too hard for the kids to stay up two nights in a row.
Having taken vacation earlier in the year, we were not together for the Perseids this year. When I asked my daughter if she saw the meteors this week, her first reaction was, “Did the Perseids happen this week? Are they still on?“ The disappointment in her voice matched her excitement from last year.
I’ve watched the Perseids on my own in the past. My favorite year was spent outside my Mom’s place where there’s less light pollution. I woke up at 2:00 in the morning and spent the next two hours agape with amazement to see the sky lit up minute by minute. But my favorite moment of all was last year with my kids. It was a thousand times better sharing it with someone who had never seen that miracle before.
This year, I’ve been swept up into the Twitter mania. One of the messages I saw was announcing Twitter’s Meteorwatch. It sounded fun and exciting, and the chance to hear about meteors across the world was enticing. I had no idea what I should expect, but I knew it was worth the time to hop on and check it out.
I did expect to meet wonderful people from across the entire world. That happened. I did expect to meet real astronomers with genuine interest and knowledge of what we were observing. They are outstanding and I have the greatest of respect for each and every one of them. I did not expect to feel so much excitement seeing others discover meteors on their own for the first time. I never thought that I’d see the magic I saw in my children in the tweets of others from across the world. Answering questions as they came up was easy - my favorite questions were those from people who had never before seen a meteor and my absolute joy above anything else was to hear back from someone I’d never met talk excitedly about seeing their very first meteor ever.
It’s an addictive rush, and of great relief from the day to day stress to have an element of joy from others that I can feed from. And feed from it I did. Apparently I ranked fourth in contributors to the #meteorwatch discussion. I was shocked considering I was there primarily as a participant and certainly not as an expert. I know I drove friends crazy with a massive burst of #meteorwatch discussion; I literally tripled my post count in two days. I hope I made it a little better for the other #meteorwatch participants, and I’m so very grateful for feedback from those who found their first meteor ever over the past few days.
I have so many people to thank for the past week. Thank you to each and everyone who I spoke with during Meteorwatch. A very special thank you to NewburyAS for getting the event going in the first place. An equal thank you to ksastro for the friendship and the photos. I would never have gotten as involved without you first asking and without your encouragement online. And one last thank you to RGphotographic for getting this photograph - it’s my other favorite of the night. And a thanks to nscafe for the local touch.