Night of the Shooting Stars
This past month marked the high point of the annual Geminids meteor shower, a rare opportunity to watch so-called shooting stars, often at the rate of 150 per hour or about one every 30 seconds.
Two weeks ago, when I stepped out into a cold December night and studied the moonless sky, I was reminded of another frigid night 20 years ago.
I’ve always been fascinated by the stars. As a kid, I devoured science fiction novels by John Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, and Philip K. Dick. I imagined myself rocketing into space, and, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say an astronomer.
Eventually I set aside those dreams, but when our daughter Maggie was born, I was eager to share them with her. My most vivid memory of those efforts came a few years later, in what I’ve come to call the night of the shooting stars.
That year, the Geminids were predicted to be spectacular, with the best meteor showers in a hundred years. Determined that Maggie, Yvonne, and I would see them, I made a warm bed in the backyard from some lawn chairs and quilts. I woke them at four in the morning, and the three of us stumbled outside. We got into the bed, snuggled up, and gazed at the sky.
Over the next hour, we counted over a hundred shooting stars. Maggie drew pictures of them for the next three days.
Maggie must have caught the science bug, because she became a loyal camper each summer at our local Adventure Science Center and later enjoyed working there as a counselor. She has since gone on to a career in math and science.
I like to think that in some small way, it all started with those long-ago dreams, and the night of the shooting stars.