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PERSEIDS UNSEEN

Aug 15
2011

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard Are sweeter.”
    --John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”  (1820)

Once again, tonight, Earth is passing through the debris trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle.  This year, though, I don’t expect to see any Perseid meteors, for three reasons: (1) the sky, where I live on the Southern California coast, is currently clouding up every night with low stratus moving in from the cold Pacific Ocean; (2) from my home, just two miles from L.A. International Airport, light pollution keeps me from seeing anything dimmer than first magnitude stars and planets; and (3) even if I traveled 100 or so miles to get to a dark sky, tonight’s full moon would prevent seeing any but the brightest meteors.

So, for 2011, I will content myself with sweet memories of meteors past.  As a child, I was very fortunate to live with a grandfather who gave public talks for a major observatory (Yerkes, in Wisconsin) and a mother who loved astronomy.  On Perseid nights, Mom would wake me after midnight and take me, a sleepy-eyed 6-year-old, out to the field behind the house, where I would try to stay awake lying on my back watching meteors stream by overhead.

Do you remember the John Denver song, “Rocky Mountain High”?  In his book Take Me Home: An Autobiography (Harmony Books, 1994), Denver tells how the song originated on a midsummer camping trip: “The air was kind of hazy when we started out, but by ten p.m. it had grown clear…I went back and lay down…when swoosh, a meteor went smoking by.  And from all over the campground came the awed responses: ‘Do you see that?’  It got bigger and bigger until the tail stretched out all the way across the sky and burned itself out.  Everybody was awake, and it was raining fire in the sky.”

Here’s the chorus of John Denver’s song:

It’s a Colorado Rocky Mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
Friends around the campfire and everybody’s high
Rocky Mountain High…

So wherever you may be, and whether this night brings you meteors or memories, spin your thoughts into poems (as, in the old fairy tale, the elf Rumplestiltzkin spun straw into gold), and send your nuggets to the Astropoetry Blog!

--Bob Eklund, Astropoetry Blog Editor

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