What fascinates you?

What fascinates you? What enthralls you? What is it that makes you forget about everything else and just focus on one tiny, enjoyable thing for ungodly amounts of time?

For me, it’s space. Most recently it was the Geminid meteor showers. Here’s a little background information from Wikipedia:

The Geminids are a meteor shower caused by an object named 3200 Phaethon, which is thought to be an extinct comet. The meteors from this shower can be seen in mid-December and usually peak around 12-14 of the month. The Geminid shower is thought to be intensifying every year and recent showers have seen 120-160 meteors per hour under optimal conditions. The Geminids were first observed only 150 years ago, much more recently than other showers such as the Perseids and Leonids.

This was just about a month ago. I had already had one astronomy final and the final in my other astronomy class was the next day. But I wasn’t interested in studying (I ended up getting an A anyway). Rather, the meteor shower was on my mind. The shower started an hour or two after sundown, but would get most intense right before sun-up. So that night, at 8pm, I hauled myself out into the cold and damp night to catch some meteors.

This was at my place in P.G. County. It’s a terrible observing location, because of both the light pollution and the trees. Also, I just went outside into the side yard, so two houses were blocking a good part of the field of view too. But it didn’t matter to me. I was going to see some meteors.

I traced out the line of Orion’s belt and followed a line at right angles to that up to the constellation Gemini. This was where the meteors would be coming from. But would I find any? My neck was getting sore from looking up after about five minutes, so I laid down on the sopping wet and muddy grass. A small sacrifice, to be sure, but it was worth it.

I propped my head up on my arm and settled in for the long haul. The observing conditions were abysmal. Wisps of cloud played across the sky. A light fog, compounded by the light pollution, settled in. The trees and houses, combined with the low observing height of about one foot off the ground, conspired to block out nearly all of the sky. But fortuitously, Gemini was clear and unobstructed. I was good.

I started feeling inner doubts. Maybe these meteor showers were just something astronomers in ideal observing locations saw? How could I, near a large city and without any observing equipment, hope to see anything? Maybe astronomy just isn’t for ordinary people anymore? Perhaps the roar of civilization had drowned out all of the astronomical phenomena that inspired our long-ago ancestors to become interested in science in the first place?

And then I saw it.

And, curiously, I felt it.

A long, rapidly moving white streak of light coursed across the polluted heavens. I traced it back, and sure enough, it was emanating from Gemini, exactly as the advisory I had read earlier in the day said it would. The world seemed to pause for a second. I cannot particularly explain this feeling; perhaps it was just a combination of the anticipation and coldness and wetness of the night. Or maybe it was something more.

That one lone sighting instantly made it all worth it. It renewed my faith. Astronomy still is for the common person, I thought in jubilation. All you have to do is go outside at the right time and look up. It’s as simple as could be. I felt a kind of warm afterglow that persisted long after the streak had vanished from the night sky. It overwhelmed any inconsequential feelings of sogginess or coldness. I was enthralled.

I stayed out for another ten minutes or so and managed to catch another meteor, at which point I turned in. My shoes and jacket were thoroughly soaked, and I left wet imprints on the carpet as I returned to my room. But I didn’t care. I felt like the time spent simply looking up was a hundred times as valuable as any time spent studying for an astronomy exam. An astronomy class is about astronomy; looking up is astronomy.

I set my alarm clock and woke up at 5:30am, hoping to catch a few more meteors before heading off to my astronomy exam. But, alas, the fates conspired against me, and overnight a dense fog had rolled in, reducing visibility to less than 100m. As I drove slowly through the choking fog to school, I thought not of the imminent exam, but of the meteors.

The sky is a full half of our outdoor world. Far too many people, in the hustle and bustle of this everyday pedestrian life, lose sight of what majesty lies in the sky. But all one has to do is look up, and there it is.

3 Responses to “What fascinates you?”

  1. Darmok Says:

    I was disappointed in the Geminids this year, though last year if I recall they were quite good.

  2. Cyde Weys Says:

    Yeah, I did only see two in a half hour. It wasn’t spectacular as meteor showers go. But it was still amazing.

  3. mustafa Says:

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