Originally created 11/28/02

It takes two to watch meteors on a cold night



When the Leonid meteor storm cut loose in the middle of a recent night, I was ready and waiting.

Although the weather was icy cold, I was at times sitting on the back porch, bundled up, peering into the east, and at other times standing in the yard, spinning around slowly to keep from missing anything.

I didn't.

The meteors began as white scratches on the black sky, faint and fleeting, like scratches on a Charlie Chaplin movie. At first, I wasn't even sure whether I was seeing a meteor or experiencing those little tricks our eyes play on us.

My yard doesn't offer the best view for such celestial phenomena, being in a subdivision and not far from the interstate. I wore a ball cap to help keep off the glare from a streetlight in the subdivision next to ours, and I stayed close to the house so the roof would block the full moon in the other half of the sky.

I didn't try to use my binoculars, because I would have had to know where to look, and with meteors, you never know. The shooting stars were coming from here and there, showing up in various parts of the sky, even going different directions. In the time it takes to say "magical night," another speck of dust had entered Earth's atmosphere, turned into visible energy and vanished without a trace.

Astronomers called this particular meteor show the Leonids because, as Earth passed through a trail of comet debris, the meteors appeared to come from the direction of the constellation Leo. This year, they were calling it a storm instead of a shower because of the number of dust particles.

As the next couple of hours passed, the meteors grew brighter and lasted longer. Some of the really bright ones looked as though they were flying over the pines in the corner of the yard. I fully expected to hear a crash as a meteor hit the ground somewhere nearby, but the night was quiet.

Cold and quiet and lonely. Every so often, I had to go indoors to warm up. Then, back outside, lest I miss something.

Around 4 a.m., I woke up my wife. Normally, that would have been a foolish thing to do, but she had told me to wake her if the meteors put on a good show. We sat on the porch together, pointing out a meteor to the other and marveling about the spectacular one the other had just missed.

It reminded me of another November night, many years ago, when we had spent a weekend on Jekyll Island. It was a cold, clear night, too, and we stood on the balcony of our hotel room, listening to the Atlantic beat against the rocks nearby as we gazed at the largest stars we have ever seen. They were cotton balls, large and fluffy in an otherwise black sky, and the starry night reminded me of something Van Gogh might have painted.

We saw no meteors that long-ago night, but we saw plenty during the Leonid storm. No matter how awe-inspiring the show was, though, we eventually had to go to bed. At about 5:30 a.m. - the time when the meteors were supposed to be in full force - we decided we had gotten our money's worth.

Indoors, we shook off the chill, hung up our coats and hats, and turned in for a couple of hours of sleep. We would be drowsy the next day, but some things are worth missing sleep over, especially when you have somebody to help you share the sky.

Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or gmoore@augustachronicle.com.