Saturday, August 14, 2010

3:00AM, lying on the sidewalk

Hawaii is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Meteor showers, like the Perseids, appear much more dramatic than in most places on the mainland, shrouded as they are in light pollution.
I feel special, and I don't take for granted the golden opportunity to witness the show. It's a late show (peaking around 2:00AM), which is fine with me, since I tend to keep vampire's hours. I get to bed before dawn.
Last night (and the night before)I found myself lying on the sidewalk in front of my cottage (on a beach towel) gazing skyward.

The yellow dot is me.

When I first moved to Maui from California, I was amazed at the night sky.
Like most people, I have been camping (Yosemite comes to mind) and I have seen a starry sky. Yet, nothing had prepared me for a Hawaiian starry sky.
As I laid on the sidewalk, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness, the stars reveal themselves slowly. After a minute or two, the sky looks like this:

click on it to enlarge it... then you'll see what I mean...

If I were to hold a quarter at arm's length, there would be nowhere to place it in front of the sky that it wouldn't be blocking some stars. It's just that busy.
About two minutes passed before I saw my first meteor.
It was bluish and it appeared directly overhead, close to the shiny dot of Venus, the brightest in the sky. The meteor was quick and lasted only a brief second.
Over the next ten minutes, I saw about a dozen more. Some were longer and yellowish, but most were short white or bluish streaks.
Many looked like this:

I watched, for another fifteen minutes, never having to wait for more than a minute to see another shooting star. At one point, I felt what I hoped was an ant crawl onto my shoulder. This signaled a good time for me to go inside and take a break, get a drink, check for ants, and google meteor showers.
My google revealed some interesting facts, such as:

Interesting facts about meteors

* Most visible meteors lie within 120 miles of an observer.
* Meteors become visible at an average height of 55 miles. Nearly all burn up before they reach an altitude of 50 miles.
* No known meteorite has been associated with a meteor shower. (That is, no shower meteor has ever survived its flight through the atmosphere and been recovered.)
* The typical bright meteor is produced by a particle with a mass less than 1 gram and with a size no larger than a pea.

The last fact made me wish I had a can of pea soup, which, sadly I did not.
So before heading back outside for round two on the sidewalk, I took a pee.

This image came up in my google and it made me think about the direction of the meteors I was viewing. Most went from the Volcano (Haleakala) towards the ocean, but there were more than a few rogue meteors like this troublemaker:

Where the hell do you think he was going, when all the other meteors were following right along in the prescribed direction? Did he bounce off of another pea?
Maybe he had a meeting or something... or he went to see the new Twilight movie.

As I settled back into the discomfort of my hard pebble strewn sidewalk, I began to think about the vastness of space, and our relative smallness. If those "peas" appeared so bright and huge only 55 miles above us, then how big were the stars that dotted the sky? Do we appear as a dot to any of the dots out there? If so, are we bright? As I pondered my significance (or insignificance), I remembered another article that had just read called "The science behind the meteor shower" which explained that the particles we see as the Perseids meteors originated from Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. As Earth runs into the particle stream in its orbit, we view the meteors as they hit Earth's atmosphere at 37 miles per second.

There were comments below the article, mostly from nutjobs.
This was, by far, the best one:

All this is garbage. Did you know this entire thing is propaganda, so we'll visit Disney World and buy stupid Toy Story crap. Let's get this straight, it's really cool to name a comet after you...great, but there are only a few people capable (allowed) to travel in space. Sure, this "behind the meteor shower" isn't about space travel, but what is it really? Science? Sure, but who really cares. None of you reading this are going to make any difference with meteor showers, comets or flying paper airplanes in, go exercise, get rid of those love handles, drink some water and perhaps stop stuffing your face with Chinese buffet because it's cheap.

So... as I laid on my sidewalk, hoping that nobody would drive by (Look, it's Lee... I think he's drunk, lying on his sidewalk), I continued to pontificate as I witnessed the cosmic spectacle. I saw some doozies, and some run-of-the-mill meteors that were frankly beginning to bore me.
As one webpage said: Enjoying a meteor shower requires only comfort and patience.
I had run out of both, so I called it a night and headed into my cottage.

When I got back to my computer to blog my scintillating adventure, I noticed a picture that had come up when I did a Bing image search for HAWAII METEOR SHOWER.

This is a white hedgehog.
Perhaps his turn-ons are long walks on the beach in Hawaii and Meteor Showers.
Why else would he have come up on my search?

The next good meteor shower is right around my birthday in October. The Orionids Meteor Shower, however, is best viewed in the early morning hours (so says the science guys).
Fuck that, there will probably be people out walking their dogs, and going to work.
I can't be all laying on my sidewalk like a freak.


Cul-de-sac-ed said...

I live out in the sticks and it's never cloudy here so I stare at the stars a lot. I like to gaze into the night sky and ask my Grandma (who passed on a few years ago) questions about my future. Yes or no questions, nothing complicated. If I see a meteor (I like to call um shooting stars) her answer is "yes", and if I see nothing within a couple of seconds her answer is "no". She says, "No" a lot. I guess I need to visit Maui if I want to hear more yeses.

When it comes the scientific explanations, theories and definitions of meteors you mentioned, all I read was "blah, blah, words, 109P/Swift-HUH?, shiny thing". Did you write that comment? Disney World is for conformists.

I think that white hedgehog would look fabulous taxidermied and dressed as a roller disco queen.

Let me know the next time you decide to lay out on your sidewalk to watch shooting stars. I have a couple of questions for Grandma.

Lee said...

No, I did not leave that comment... it was from an authentic nutjob.

Leave the hedgehog alone.