One of my favourite pastimes is star gazing. I love staring up into the night sky and observing, trying to get my head around the vast distances involved and wondering just what is out there. On a clear summer’s night you might often find me stretched out on the patio lounger and gazing upward. I know most of the constellations although not many of the actual star names.
One of the biggest problems for me is light pollution. I live in the middle of a town, surrounded by houses and street lights and solar garden lights although the council here are replacing the street lamps with the kind that have no upward directional light and they are turning many off after midnight, but it still means only the very brightest stars are visible.
What I’m actually watching for is shooting stars, or falling stars. Believe it or not, these can be seen almost every night; you just need to be looking in the right place at the right time and with such a vast sky up there, catching one is very much a matter of luck; there are some people that have never observed one (ie one of my sisters), and others who think they are so rare they never bother to look up.
I always sleep with the curtains open so if ever I wake up in the night, I can stare out in the hope of seeing one of these amazing streaks of light caused by tiny bits of space dust or rock, properly called meteoroids. As they hit the Earth’s atmosphere most burn up in this marvellous short-lived display zipping across the heavens. Sometimes, if you are very lucky, you can actually hear them.
Several times during the year we are treated to spectacular meteor showers when these can be seen falling in vast numbers. Now this is something I really would love to see because you can guarantee whenever such an event is taking place, good old England is cloud covered. The most I’ve seen in one night is ten, and that was over the space of a two hours. The best of these showers takes place every August, the Perseids, but, yes, you’ve guessed it, we’ve just had one of the coldest Augusts on record with rain and cloud almost every day and night and not a shooting star to be seen. Typical!
One of the greatest pleasures for me when going on holiday is to be somewhere secluded, where there is little or no light pollution and spend the warm night outside with a glass of something in hand, watching the stars, on the lookout, often hopes raised then dashed when the flashing, winking light zooming across the sky turns out to be nothing more than an aeroplane. And if I do see a shooter, no doubt my sisters are sitting with their backs to it or looking in the wrong direction for those few seconds of time the shooting star is visible.
So you can understand why next week I am so looking forward to jetting off to the Canary Islands for a week, sisters in tow, to a hotel situated some distance out of town, right on the beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. We shall be stargazing every night and hopefully this year, my sister will catch a falling a star. I wonder if she will make a wish.
Annual Meteor Showers
Name When They Occur
Quadrantids January 1-6
April Lyrids April 19-24
Eta Aquarids May 1-8
Delta Aquarids July 15- August 15
Perseids July 25 – August 18
Orionids October 16-27
Taurids October 20-November 30
Leonids November 15-20
Geminids December 7-15