“If the pure and elevated pleasure to be derived from the possession and use of a good telescope were generally known, I am certain that no instrument of science would be more commonly found in the homes of intelligent people.” —Garrett Serviss (1901) Pleasures of the Telescope
The forecast for tonight and the following four nights calls for rain and clouds. After a dry summer and a drier autumn, what caused the sudden switch to wet weather? Why did we go straight from drought to downpour? Continue reading “Time Machine”
Bryan was determined to see some good meteors this year. DETERMINED. Our Orionids had been rained out, and our Leonids had been somewhat spoiled by the experience of driving around for an hour looking for a nonexistent viewing spot and then lying on the concrete in front of a dark fire station hoping not to get run over. The Geminids, though – they looked promising. A new moon and clear skies were going to line up perfectly. Some astronomers even predicted the co-occurrence of another, more minor meteor shower!
Bryan planned carefully. He invited our friends Cliff and Mitch and their kids, and he packed a stove and hot chocolate mix and air mattresses and lots of blankets. We had our good binoculars, and Mitch brought his telescope. We met at Williams Junction, where highways 9 and 10 meet west of Little Rock, and drove a caravan to Flatside Pinnacle. The parking area there is nice and flat, the glow of Little Rock is blocked by the mountain, and the skies to the west are dark over the wilderness area.
This time, we weren’t disappointed. We snuggled into our blankets and watched dozens of meteors streak across the sky. Most radiated from Gemini as it rose, of course. But there were a good handful angled perpendicular to those, was that the second shower or just random other bits of space dust? Some streaks were faint but many were big and slow and really impressively bright. Some even trailed glowing stuff behind them. The rest of us took turns dozing, but Bryan stayed up all night and watched. Just before we packed up our things to head home, about two-thirty in the morning, we saw a meteor so bright it lit our upturned faces and cast shadows behind us.
Here we are, friends, on a big rock we call home. Sometimes we need reminding that ours is not the only rock out there.
Bryan and I decided that, since the Orionids meteor shower last month had been such a disappointment, we’d try to watch the Leonids this month. Mandy’s schedule precluded a camping trip, but he and I got up at three in the morning to drive out to the overlook on Highway 5.
We overshot and ended up in Crows instead. When we turned around to look for the overlook again, we found that it had been removed. (Do they ever do that? Apparently.) The other close-by spots had too much light. We ended up lying on the concrete in front of Salem Fire Station Number 4. We’d forgotten pillows. There was way more traffic on the road than we’d expected, and I kept thinking someone would pull into the fire station and hit me, lying there on the driveway in my sleeping bag.
But the meteors were beautiful, as they always are, big streaks of fire across the sky that light up the air they pass through and make it glow. I love meteor showers. Sometimes we forget, I think, that we’re just tiny people in a big, big universe. When we watch for meteors, we come to understand again that we’re just crashing through space along with all the other rocks. It’s humbling and amazing at the same time.
Also: cold. I don’t think I woke up fully until sometime during my second cup of coffee, halfway through breakfast at Waffle House.
We like meteors, and we like the woods, and we like Mitch and Monkey and Nick. One of our favorite short backpack trips in Arkansas is one Buckeye Mountain, in the Caney Creek wilderness area. Most Arkansas trails do a lot of up-and-downing over the hills, but the Buckeye runs up to a ridgetop and stays there. Continue reading “Meteors on Buckeye Mountain”
We have no telescope. But Bryan didn’t want to miss the transit of Venus across the sun, so he did a little research on the interwebs and came up with a way for us to watch safely.
He put a tripod in the driveway and mounted the binoculars on it. Then he fixed up a light stand with a piece of corrugated plastic clipped to it, and situated it so that the too-bright sun image from the binos would hit it. Hooray! The transit of Venus projected safely onto white plastic. Pretty clever, if you ask me. As an added bonus, we were able to see sunspots too!
On the day I picked Mandy up from ecology camp, I got to meet Inge, her favorite other camper. Mandy said that Inge is from Little Rock, so I said hello to Inge’s mom and got her email address. We made some arrangements earlier this week, and picked up Inge for a hike along the River Trail near Burns Park. We walked up the Emerald Park trail to the knife-edge bluff overlooking the river, then across the back of the old quarry, past the backyard of the VA hospital, and down to the River Trail again.
After our hike, we drove downtown for a little unicycle practice near the Clinton Library. Mandy was pleased to show off a little for her friend, and her friend was suitably impressed.
We all enjoyed Inge’s company. She’s smart and silly and unselfconscious in a way that most twelve-year-old girls aren’t. We called her mom to ask permission to keep her for awhile longer, and Bryan and I took the girls to the Purple Cow, a local hamburger place, for supper and milkshakes. After dark, we drove the girls out to Pinnacle Mountain for a ‘star party’. The local astronomy club sets up in the parking lot there, sometimes, to let people who don’t have telescopes come out and enjoy looking at things. We saw Saturn and Venus, and the Dumbbell and Ring nebulas, and we still had Inge home right on time.