Sacrifice sleep for the stars

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 13, 2002

The warm days of summer are coming to a slow stop, but some people do not realize the subtle changes. The earth has begun to fade around the edges a bit sooner than before and the nights seem a little less humid. The days are still filled with heat and humidity, but fall has begun to slip its way under the skin of the South.

I found myself stretched out beneath a blanket of stuttering stars. A small, orange slice of the moon sauntered just above the top of the trees. I housed my star-gazing escapade in the heart of the city despite the advice of astronomers across the world. The hot glow of the street lights stretched deep into the sky, but soon faded into a tender glow. I found a spot tucked away from the reach of the city lights.

The warm summer air was a perfect companion to the cool breeze that swept across the empty city streets. Oak trees lined the empty, grass-filled lot where I stood. Their leaves feathered in the breeze and their bodies creaked with each sway.

I sat there for quite some time staring at the open sky -- searching for the first sign of a falling star, meteor or any other spectacle. The silence was broken by the occasional car. I never worried about the time or how early I had to get up the next morning. There is something deeply comforting about the glow of a starry sky.

My mind began to drift back to memories of my childhood. My cousins and I once sat beneath starry summer skies and tried to pick out shapes -- animals, cars and sometimes even our favorite cartoon characters. I remember how exciting it was to see a silvery star streak across the dark sky -- a string of sparkling light.

I had spent the entire day gathering information about the Perseid meteor shower. The numerous documents I read were filled with guidelines to "watching the sky." All of the guides labeled Monday night as the peak period for watching the Perseid shower. I say Monday night, but I would be more accurate in saying Tuesday morning. The peak time for viewing the meteor shower was said to be the few hours before dawn, but I had a little trouble staying awake long enough for the Earth to spin in the right direction. I tend to value sleep more than the star spectacle.

I found myself standing in the dark. My patience quickly wore thin and I gave up my search before the hands of time touched 11. There will be many other chances to view the stars, but I am sure none will be as caressed by comfort as that night. Few things can replace the grace of solitude and the resolve of a breezy summer night in the South.

Star gazers will have many more opportunities to catch sight of a shooting star this year, but conditions will not be as favorable as Monday night.

The Orionids will appear on October 21-22 as a result of Halley's comet. The shower will not be as dense as the Perseids, but patient watchers should catch sight of at least one shooting star.

The Taurids are more sparse than the Orionids, but are still a prime chance to see a meteor. Those interested in catching that show should look toward the Pleiades from November 3

to 13.

Leonids fall over Dixie on the days of November 16 and 17. says that this shower is normally minor, but occasionally bursts occur during the shower.

The recent Perseids shower one of the most dense displays during the year, but another shower exists deep within the cold months of winter.

The Geminids appear during the days of December 13 and 14, but cold winter nights tend to drive watchers to the fireside. Anyone who misses their chance to view the Perseids shower can brave the cold winter night and catch the Geminids in December.

The Ursids are the final shower of the year, but not many meteors appear during these time. Those who wish to search the sky for this show should look toward the Little Dipper on December 21 and 22.

People should always find time to soak in the sights of a clear night sky. Nights when the moon is but a sliver of light upon a sparkling, black canvas. Those are the nights when memories can be painted with perfection and wishes can be made upon a shooting star -- all it requires is patience.