Plastic stars in our private galaxy

Aug 14, 2007 • Karen

Sunday night, I finally managed to successfully watch a meteor shower.

Nelson's parents informed him that the Perseid meteor shower was coming, so we decided to try and watch it. But where could we go that would be untainted by the glow of DC sprawl? Gavin and I opened up Google Maps and looked for nothing. Few roads on the map, few houses on the satellite view. Unlike Minnesota, a lot of the "nothing" on the East Coast is forest, so we had to look out for trees too. Eventually we found a little green patch out west called "Sky Meadows State Park". That seemed promising.

We got there and were greeted by signs saying "Park closes at sundown. NO TRESPASSING". Our reaction was, mostly, Please. You don't name a park "Sky Meadows" and expect people to not stargaze there. I don't know how many people came out to the park for the Perseids (except for the occasional, roundly-cursed headlights of cars coming or going, it was very dark--which was the point), but there were at least two cars on our stretch and more over the hill past where we were.

So the five of us (Nelson, me, Gavin, and Nelson's two visiting friends Matt and Kamraan) laid down on towels, munched on some popcorn and strawberries, and looked up.


So many stars.

I'd hardly ever seen the Milky Way before, let alone that clearly.

Ironically, despite the great viewing conditions, we were having the hardest time identifying constellations. The only one I found was the Little Dipper. Matt said he found the Big Dipper and maybe Orion, but I couldn't recognize them at all. Everything was upside down or something.

And, yes, we saw meteors. A lot of little ones, and a few big ones that left a glowing skystreak for a moment or two after the meteor was gone. It was a beautiful and relaxing evening. Totally worth the lack of sleep the next day when I went to work.

Last night, we were returning to the car after a night of pinball at John's Place in Fairfax when I glanced up. Amid the streetlamps and store signs, I could see maybe four stars. Normal for the urban sky--now incredibly disappointing. The glowing orange sky of LA is only going to be worse. But at least then I'll be able to find my steadfast Orion again.