On a clear night, you can see a meteor … or dozens … or zero

Last night was perfectly cloudless, albeit chilly (lows dropped well into the 30s). So why not?

Our youngest teen and I ventured out after 2 a.m., driving about 25 minutes south of our home in southwest Arlington, to a more rural area away from some of the bright lights. Our plan (hope) was to see meteors, on the peak night of the Quadrantids shower, and we were going at what was supposed to be the optimal time. And these particles from Asteroid 2003 EH1 aren’t just garden-variety meteors — they’re fireballs! And who doesn’t want to see fireballs, even if just with the naked eye, when the potential is for over 100 an hour at the shower’s high point?

Our family has never made special efforts to get up in the middle of the night to see celestial events, but when I read about this one near the end of my editing shift Friday at The Dallas Morning News, thanks to my colleague Jesus A. Jiménez‘s timely story, I texted Kay and asked if we could try. When I got home about 9:30, it was confirmed that we would. (But when our alarms went off, Kay decided to stay in bed. Our son Will had already decided he wasn’t going.)

Alas, after almost 45 minutes of craning our necks at the northeastern sky, watching around the area of the Big Dipper as the experts instructed, Lindsay and I had seen nothing resembling a meteor. Lots and lots and lots of magnificent stars, but no flashes darting across the darkness (there was that plane that flew under the Dipper …  😉). We were off an isolated farm-to-market road near a cemetery, and I was determined to see meteors. But as with fishing and board games that never end, our kids have always had little patience for such things.

On the way home, I said, “The stories I read online said you should stay out there for at least an hour, just in case it’s too early. Wasn’t it cool just to stand there and stare up at the vastness of space? And that’s just a tiny fraction of it.” The response: “Yeah, but I don’t have enough patience to stare at it for an hour.”

But this guy in Germany saw and filmed some beautiful meteors from the same shower, and was kind enough to post the show on YouTube with some beautiful music. Wow!

When we got home and she’d gone inside, I looked up from our driveway and there was the Big Dipper. I stood there looking around it for about 20 minutes, blocking out the streetlight with my right hand. Once I thought I saw something streak by out of the corner of my eye and I said aloud, “Did I just see one?” I convinced myself it had been a reflection of the streetlight off my glasses. A couple other times I thought I saw something off to the side, but again, I’m pretty certain it was wishful thinking.

I finally gave up and went inside at 4 a.m., discouraged I’d seen nary a meteor in what was advertised as a grand shower you don’t want to miss. I figure we were looking too high in the sky, but when we looked lower on the horizon, there was probably too much light pollution to see any meteors that might have been zipping past. Maybe if I’d stayed out longer, I’d have been able to see a few higher in the heavens?

Do any of you amateur astronomy buffs have meteor-gazing experience you can share? I’m sure next time, we’ll need to drive a ways and *really* get away from the city. It probably didn’t help that the shower was in the northeastern sky, which required looking toward Dallas, which just happens to have a few lights around it. North America won’t have good views of this particular shower for another eight years, according to Jesus’ reporting.

Even though the peak has already passed, I was thinking I might try again after work tonight if it’s going to be clear. But probably not.

Maybe I’ll wait for the next shower. I’ll be on a meteor mission. Or maybe I’m better off just going on a meatier mission?

Or I could just stick to actual showers, like the “meteor” in this meme. Since I know how those work. And there’s no patience involved. 😀

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