HOW TO SEE A SHOOTING STAR

"I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day." - Vincent van Gogh

I've seen two shooting stars in my lifetime. The first was an event that made all my friends jealous, as we were on a camping trip in Tawharanui (a regional park on the peninsula of northern Auckland), and it was just after 9pm. We'd been on a nightlife hunt, achieving only tepid success, because some kid kept shining his torch everywhere and another kid got the giggles*. We were sitting in a circle on some wet grass, slightly discouraged but slightly excited to be out this late. Someone was staring at their shoes, another straight into their torch (sigh), and I was staring at the sky (typical). Then I saw it: a piece of interplanetary debris travelling at a supersonic speed through the atmosphere, leaving a train of gas and melted dust in its path. I had less astronomical knowledge then, so I just screamed "SHOOTING STAR" and gave everyone a fright. 

The other time was when I was lying on a tarpaulin in Yosemite Valley, a National Park in California, with a group of thirty other star-seekers. We laid there, collectively becoming more and more frozen, listening to our 'tour' guide explain how meteors occur and peering into the dark hoping to see one. This was in November, when the Leonid meteor shower happens, and as we tried to become comfortable on the forest floor, the sky started to shimmer and glitter in varying bursts. To have your breath taken away happens infrequently: when you see your bride come down the isle, or when you hold a newborn with both hands. This was one of those times, where words, thoughts, and emotions are swept out of your lungs, and instead filled with gusts of awe and transcendent delight. 

It's not difficult to see such celestial magnitude, and you don't have to be in an esteemed nature reserve to find it. I also lied - since learning what I've listed below, I've seen a lot more than two. Here's a guide, for astronomy nuts (or just regular geeks), on seeing a shooting star. 

What?
Shooting stars are meteors - pieces of debris (rock, ice, or metal) that plummet toward the earth at high speed. This increased speed compresses the air in front of the piece of debris, which creates heat, and the heat is emitted in the form of light (the 'tail' we see). When the earth crosses the orbit of a comet, we pass through all the dust (*debris) left behind it, and we get a meteor shower - the dazzling array of unprompted fireworks that even amateur astronomers will drag you out to see. 

When?
August through December are when most of the meteor showers happen. Each is named after the constellation that coincides with the region of where the shooting stars are perceived to come from (known as the radiant) - the biggest ones are: Perseids (peak August 12th), Orionids (peak October 21st), Leonids (peak November 16th), and Geminids (peak December 13th). So if you don't know what any of these names mean, I'll give you less reason to fret: these dates are your best shot. Oh, and you'll see more after midnight, in those magical hours of the early morning.

Where?
Literally, anywhere. You'll see more meteors if you can see the constellation the shower is associated with (e.g. the Orionids are from Orion's direction), which differs for the Northern and Southern hemisphere, but most showers are wide enough to see from the your doorstep. A telescope is also not a requirement, as the naked eye gives you a wider view. 

Have you seen a shooting star? Did you freak out?? Did you scream?! Or are you planning to go out and see one tonight? (Correct answer is yes, btw.) 

Mads xx




*this kid was probably me. 

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7 comments:

  1. I've never seen a shooting star, so I'll definitely keep these tips in mind. It's something I have to add to the bucket list now. Also, I absolutely love your writing style! It's so engaging and uses a very unique voice. I somehow discovered this blog through pinterest the other day, and it's really helped inspire me with my own blog. Such a great quality post, and I'll certainly start keeping up with this blog.

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    1. Thank you for the lovely comment! So encouraging! xo

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  2. Hey you can check out my blog if you want! blogbyperksofbeinglara.blogspot.com

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  3. I absolutely loved reading this post! My dad is big into astronomy and he used to get me and my sister to look at the night sky whilst he told us what all the constellations were, they're some of my favourite memories. I've only seen a shooting star once and it happened very quickly (I think I got too excited and ended up missing it as I tried to get my friends to look), but thank you so much for this post! I'll definitely be trying to see some shooting stars on the days that you mentioned! <3 xxx
    http://www.samanthafrances.co.uk

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    1. Ah my fam isn't into the stargazing thing at all 😂😂 You're welcome xx

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  4. I've always wanted to see a shooting star! When I was in Canada we really tried to catch one and the Northern Lights but that didn't really go to plan! I love your blog... I have been really inspired recently to start one of my own based on my travels and interests!

    I'll just leave it here http://beckyjrichardson.blogspot.co.uk

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    1. Ooh I'm travelling to Canada later this year - hoping to see some starry skies there as well! Thank you xx

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