I was up before 2:30 this morning to have a look at Mars, which is drawing ever nearer. This July marks its closest approach since the spectacular event of 2003.
The red planet was hiding behind dense foliage, so I started with Saturn, which looked beautiful and sported a moon or two. I said hello to the Summer Triangle and some constellations I haven’t seen in a while–Lacerta, Delphinus, Sagitta, Equuleus, and other lesser-known celestial configurations.
The light pollution gave way to a long pre-dawn, but Mars finally cleared the trees and I pushed the telescope to 250× magnification. Sure enough, though the polar cap wasn’t (yet) visible, I could see some dim features, if just barely.
While pausing in my viewing, I looked up just as an enormous meteor streaked overhead. I haven’t seen one as colorful and prolonged since childhood–that amazing August in 1960-something on the beach in Madison, CT during the height of the Perseids.
This one visibly combusted, shed little flaming bits, trailed smoke, and broke apart. It traveled in an almost leisurely way. It wasn’t a distant, evanescent streak, but an authentic encounter between outer space and the atmosphere. Spectacular, and a little scary. It flew almost due south to due north–perhaps SSW to NNE.
It was only one this time, but it certainly reminded me of the spectacular show of many years ago, as I lay beside my parents on a pebbly Connecticut beach and watched similar pebbles burn up in the clouds.