By Amber Veverka
Standing near a Cabarrus County soybean field in the dark, the silvery starfall overhead made one thing clear: Some things are worth a 3 a.m. wake-up.
The Perseids meteor shower opened this week to rave reviews, four of which came from our family as we leaned back against our minivan on a gravel farm field track.
“There’s one!” and “Ohhhhhh!” were the most-heard comments, but the annual August showing of meteors sparked thoughtful conversation, as well as awe. The pieces of ice, which scientists tell us are typically rice grain-small, streaked like single fireworks across the southeastern sky, prompting the 12-year-old to ponder everything from cosmic distances to supernovas, and the 10-year-old to quote Psalm 8’s lines about the stars and heavens.
Meteors fall all the time. But mid-August sends them to us like salt from a shaker. The Perseids – they’re named for the constellation Perseus, from which they seem to originate – are probably the year’s best falling-star show. The Perseid meteors are flying bits from the Comet Swift-Tuttle, and this year some of those bits, as I learned this week from the New York Times, were born before Columbus reached the New World.
Most of the meteors we watched were swift and small, but some elicited gasps with their slow, bright arc. One, deemed the winner of the night, took so long to burn across the dark that its golden tail lingered afterward, and we all watched it until it faded entirely.
A pre-dawn rising brings magic, regardless of what’s overhead.
As we stood in the gravel road (a Midwestern upbringing teaches you to never, ever walk in a farmer’s planted field), above the curtain of cricket calls came a higher song: coyotes.
The moist air brought their yipping close and I could see, even in the dark, my kids’ wide eyes. A farm dog barked alongside them – in solidarity? in protest? – and then they were silent. Our old winter friend, the constellation Orion, rose sideways from the eastern horizon.
Finally, the edge of sky lightening to gray and the traffic on the country road behind us beginning to pick up, we gathered ourselves to leave. Two more streaks of fire lit the sky.
“They’re saying goodbye,” said my daughter.
For more information on the Perseids, check out this page from EarthSky.