Tonight’s edition of the Perseid meteor shower is forecast to be spectacular. If the astronomers are right, shooting stars should be visible at a rate of between 160 and 200 per hour, which is twice the usual show. Astronomers call this an “outburst,” and it’s the first one since 2009. Outbursts are caused when the trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle is pulled closer to earth by Jupiter’s gravity.
The first time I slept with the woman who would become my wife—and I’m talking literally about sleeping, not using “sleep” as a metonym for making love—was during an outburst in 1975. We were leading a mountaineering program for high school kids, and were camped with a group above the timberline on Mount Democrat, in the Mosquito Range of the Colorado Rockies, at an altitude of 12,600’. We encouraged everyone to sleep outside that night, and Carol and I functioned as the dividing line between boys and girls. We all placed our sleeping bags on a terraced shelf, our heads to the west, with the girls lining up south of Carol, and the boys lining up north of me.
If you ever get a chance to see a Perseid outburst in the high country of Colorado, do so. John Denver wrote about it in “Rocky Mountain High,” where he claims, “I’ve seen in raining fire in the sky.” That song, by the way, was released in 1975, the year when Carol and saw the fire raining in the sky and fell in love.
We won’t be camping out tonight, but I’ll be setting an alarm for 3:00 this morning, and with any luck Carol will be getting up with me. Either way, it’s nice to be sleeping with the same woman during an outburst 41 years later.
Journal of Natural Hist. Ed.
Natural History Institute
Center for Humans & Nature