My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Great balls of fire!

This would have replaced my prepared SkyWatch Friday post tomorrow except that I'm having to "borrow" my photos from the Interwebz - having no ability to photograph the amazing celestial goodies I witnessed in the wee hours of Tuesday morning - to help illustrate my descriptions of what I saw and the magical way I happened to see them. (I was eager to do this post later that morning, but between BW's vacation week, our gorgeous weather, and our mile-long "to do" list, I couldn't find time till now). 

Our bedroom is upstairs, with my side of the bed facing three tall casement windows with a great view to the east. It's been warm enough that I'd left one of them partly open, without its screen. I usually sleep through the night, but for some unknown reason at about 2 o'clock Tuesday morning I suddenly awoke, just in time to see a breathtaking moonrise on the hilly eastern horizon. It was a waning last quarter moon (the phase that looks like a half-moon as the moon shrinks from full to new) and had just entered my zodiac sign of Capricorn. The top half of it had just appeared above the horizon when I woke up, and it was a beautifully deep orange color. I sat up to admire it from bed as it appeared in its entirety. I briefly considered going downstairs to fetch my camera and telephoto lens to try to photograph it but dismissed the idea, knowing the moon would have risen and paled to white by the time I managed the attempt, and lay back down to resume my slumber. But then I had an irresistible urge to get out of bed, put on my glasses, and go to the open window for a better look (I see about as well as Mr. Magoo without my glasses, and in reality had only been seeing a lovely orange blur ~ which tells you how striking the moon was if it was that lovely through my 20/500 vision!) :-) 

So I obeyed the invisible but strong directive, and of course the moon was even more incredible with 20/20 vision. As I stood at the window admiring it and wishing I could get a photo of it, I had another irresistible and undeniable urge - this time to look to my left. And after a couple of seconds, the most remarkable meteor appeared there, directly in my line of sight!

Like most of us, I've seen quite a few "shooting stars" in my life, some in showers and some individual, some I knew to watch for and some unexpected. (And though not a meteor, I even got to observe Halley's Comet in a pre-dawn sky over the desert outside Alamogordo, NM in early 1986 when I was stationed there as a lieutenant in, of all things, USAF Space Command! Yep, once and always a space cadet. lol) 

But I'd never seen a meteor as thrilling as this one. Before, they've always looked like distant white streaks in the sky, like this...

But this one was very large and appeared very close - close enough to both me and to the horizon to make me think I was going to see where it landed - much like this only a bit larger...

And that would have been exciting enough, but this meteor was also the first I'd ever seen that was in color! It happened very fast, probably lasting between one and two seconds, but I distinctly remember seeing red, blue, and yellow in addition to white. Replace the green in this one with blue and make it a slightly larger with a longer tail and it's quite close to what I saw...

Though "my" meteor appeared about half as big and close as this next one, and with a thinner (yet slightly more colorful) tail, I thought it provided another pretty good example of what I saw - and is a remarkable, beautiful photo worth sharing as well! (Don't think it didn't make me wish even more desperately I could have somehow captured my own meteor in a photo!)...

A meteor streaming across night sky Photo: Ian McKinnell/GETTY

And finally, not far above the horizon to the north-northeast, it appeared to burst in a shower of colorful sparks like the finale in a professional fireworks display! I heard no sound with it, the colorful trail disappeared along with the meteor, and I could see no smoke trail (they're usually only visible in the daylight). 

All of this, from waking up to see the orange moonrise to witnessing the meteor, happened within a space of a minute or two. As you might imagine, I stood agog at the window for what felt like a long time, utterly enchanted - I think I even kept whispering an incantation that went something like "ohmygosh-holyshit-iwishi'dhadmycamera-ohmygosh-ican'tbelieveisawthat-ohmygosh-gottablogaboutit-holyshit-wishBWhadseenthat-wow" - until I snapped out of it and checked the digital clock to see that it was 2:10am. Somehow I managed, eventually, to fall back asleep (after scanning the sky for several more minutes in the greedy but vain hope of seeing more), and later that morning when I got up for the day I started checking the internet. That's when I found the American Meteor Society web page and learned that the meteor I saw might have been part of the Lyrids, was undoubtedly a fireball - and probably a bolide - and that my meteor and I were apparently a few days late to a Wyoming Fireball Party

I also filled out the fireball report form for them as best I could remember the details, and picked up this handy info chart for future skygazing...

I'm grateful to whatever cosmic force or timely insomnia faerie seems to have awakened me in time to see the moonrise, urged me to the window with my glasses on, and turned my head in time to watch that meteor. In further synchronicity, April 2 would have been my parents' 52nd wedding anniversary (they divorced in the mid 1980s), and I was conceived at the Grand Canyon on their wedding night (sorry, TMI?) :-) Also, BW and I have been watching the TV series Lost for the past few weeks (we'll watch the final episode tonight) which has recurrently featured the song "Catch a Falling Star." Click there to hear the Lost song version accompanied by scenes from the show, or listen to the original Perry Como version accompanied by some more falling star images here...

And may the force be with you! :-)


  1. More amazing shots. How awe-inspiring.

    1. I know, I'm jealous of (but grateful to) the photographers who captured these! Unfortunately, most of the images weren't credited where I found them, so I couldn't find who most of the people or organizations responsible for them are. But they're sure amazing, as you say!

  2. Who needs to go on ocean cruises or visit far-away places when one can look out at the night sky and discover such phenomenal events! Great post!

    1. Thanks, Barbara! I must say, seeing that moon and fireball meteor almost made me feel as if I did visit a faraway - and very mysterious and exotic - place! Right in the comfort of my own room. (But I still want to visit Italy, Ireland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, the Caribbean... LOL)

  3. I got chills reading this, especially your last paragraph about all of the other things that link up to the date! Wow!! What an amazing thing to wake up to in the middle of the night. I'm surprised that you were able to go back to sleep!

    I've seen shooting stars & the aurora borealis, but never a fireball or anything else of significance. Hopefully someday!

    1. I know, Molly! It gave me goosebumps, and I couldn't stop thinking about it, and feeling little bursts of joy every time I did, all that day! I'm surprised I was able to go back to sleep too!

      You've got the advantage on me when it comes to the Aurora Borealis - I have no recollection of ever seeing it, and I desperately want to. Geez, you're in Wisconsin and I'm in northern Wyoming - just how bloody far north do we have to go, anyway??? :-) A couple of years ago there were reports that the Aurora could be seen as far south as Colorado one night, but wouldn't you know it - it was cloudy and snowing here and we couldn't see jack. Well, maybe Jack Frost. But no aurora! But Tuesday's fireball was enough of a thrill to keep me satisfied for quite a while! I hope someday you get to see one, and that I'll see my aurora!

  4. Marvelous post, Laloof, thank you! Wish you could have fetched that camera quickly enough, but you probably would have missed everything. Thanks for the links too. All the best!

    1. Thank you, raf! I appreciate your stopping by! I think you're right - even if the camera had been sitting on my nightstand, all ready to go, I probably would have missed the meteor completely while photographing the moon. And even if I could have known right where to point it and when to press the button to catch the fireball, I doubt it would have turned out - I don't know enough about how to use my Rebel in situations like that one to get a decent photo! It was better that I simply got to watch it.

      And you're welcome for the links! :-)

  5. Magic. If ever I stop believing in magic it only takes a sight like that and I am back to being a true believer. How lucky you were - and thank you for this post. I am filled with awe and wonder.

    1. I know exactly what you mean, Ellie! And I was definitely lucky - really lucky - and very happy to share the experience as best I could. I'm really happy to hear that despite it being a second-hand telling with borrowed photos, the experience had the same effect on you! :-)

  6. Pretty snazzy post Ms. Laloofah! :-)

  7. What incredible synchronicity! I'm glad in some way that you didn't have a camera in front of your face but were able instead to enjoy every moment of it with your own two eyes in the present. It sounds like you experienced a rare opportunity indeed!

    1. It sure was! I've had some powerful synchronistic events in my life, but this one ranks right up there with the True Doozies! And you're right, as much as I wish I could have captured what I saw on film, it was wonderful to get to see it and be fully present. The experience deserved my undivided attention! I'm really glad, though, that I was able to find such great photos online to help illustrate what I saw. And it was fun to learn a few new things in the bargain!

  8. What an event complete with peculiar timing. Folks "see stars" for different reasons ;-). Ok,

    1. Peculiar - or perfect! :-) And all I can ever think of when I hear the phase "seeing stars" is Wile E. Coyote having some Acme product land on his head. LOL

  9. Great balls of fire indeed! Not only did you wake up just in time, you also knew where your glasses were and had the good sense to put them on and go to the window. What an amazing, otherworldly experience!

    1. Waking up in time was one of the strangest parts of the experience! My glasses, thank goodness, were on my nightstand so that bit was easy! The sense to put them on and go to the window had to be a "sixth" one, and the impulse to focus my gaze right on the spot where the meteor would appear was the most mysterious of all! Otherworldly, as you say, in more than one way! It was VERY cool. :-)

  10. This was a biggie and I wanted to read every word because it was really interesting. Unlike you, I can't even think of a time when I've seen a shooting star so I think that the universe just knows that you appreciate the night sky more than I do and offers you these cosmic gifts. That and since you do appreciate more, you look at it more and therefore have a better chance of seeing these goodies. It's like complaining that you never win the lottery but you also don't play. The universe can only do so much and I'm pleased that you were gifted with this fun show.

    I appreciate that you took the time to find photos that were similar to what you saw. A picture is worth a thousand words so that was helpful. I love that it was in color and would not have understood that as well without a photo.

    Very fun indeed!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! I think it helps a lot to live in a place that has so little light pollution. New Mexico was absolutely amazing for seeing falling stars, the Milky Way, even satellites orbiting overhead. And, of course, so was our back deck in Big Horn! Light pollution is a bit of a problem here in town, but not nearly as bad as it probably is in the Detroit suburbs. I also haven't had trees blocking much of my view of the sky - but for that, you'd probably get to do some great star-gazing in the UP! But you're right, I also like to pay attention to things like this (just not usually at 2am!), and if you're not looking, you're probably not going to see them!

      I remember my dad showing me the rings of Saturn (and other slightly less awesome planets and stars) through a telescope when I was a kid, and he knew most of the constellations, too. (I've always sucked at identifying them - if it's not the Big Dipper or Cassiopeia, I'm lost)! I think that experience, coupled with my time in New Mexico where there was so much astronomy, solar observation, and just general study of and appreciation for the skies (and where I was, after all, in Space Command!), is partly why I love gazing at the night skies as much as I enjoy cloud-watching during the day.

      BW told me the same thing about the photos I found helping him to much more easily picture what I'd seen. I was sure grateful that others had been able to take such great photos that did a good job of approximating what I saw but couldn't capture!


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  • ONE SUMMER: AMERICA, 1927 ~ Bill Bryson
  • THE BEAUTIFUL CIGAR GIRL ~ Daniel Stashower
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  • THE TIPPING POINT ~ Malcolm Gladwell
There is still strong in our society the belief
that animals and the natural world have value
only insofar as they can be converted into revenue.
That nature is a commodity.
And that the American dream is one of unlimited consumption.
There are many of us, on the other hand,
who believe that animals and the natural world
have value by virtue of being alive.
That Nature is a community to which we belong
and to which we owe our lives.
And that the deeper American dream is one of unlimited compassion.

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