There was a big solar flare a few days ago, which means the ionosphere was going to be peppered with particles ejected from the sun. When such a huge wave of energy interacts with the ions in our upper atmosphere, the phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis spreads far south of its usual position. It means that people here in the midwest may have a chance to see something they would ordinarily have to travel quite far north to observe.
Last night we set our alarm clock for 2 a.m. so that we could go outside and look for the northern lights. We staggered outside, awakening Ruby, who could not understand why we were wandering around at that time but was perfectly amenable to joining us, bringing us her ball to throw. We didn’t see any aurora, the city lights were too bright and there were high clouds drifting in.
Our trip was not in vain, however, the Geminid meteor shower was in full fall. As we stood outside and gazed north, we saw meteors zipping across the sky to amuse us. I stayed outside for about ten minutes before I headed back to bed, and during that time I saw eleven meteors. Now THAT is a meteor shower! Check it out, it should still be quite active tonight. Best time to view is after midnight.
As I was drifting off to sleep, I suddenly remembered a cold October morning back in 1965, when the comet Ikeya-Seki made the news. It had a tail that was visible in the early morning hours, long and bright and twisted. The reports were that this comet’s tail was as long as the Big Dipper. I determined to see this marvellous event.
So, I set an alarm clock for 4:o0 a.m. and when it awakened me, quietly put on my clothes and snuck outside. I was standing in the front yard of the house we lived in at the time. We were way up in the mountains, there were no city lights to interfere with the view. I had our binoculars, and was totally focused on looking at the amazing celestial phenomenon laid out in front of me.
“What in the name of God are you doing out here?” my father’s very sleepy and rather annoyed voice startled me. I was so intent on the comet I had not heard him come out the front door.
“I’m looking at the comet, Daddy,” I told him.
I honestly could not believe that he didn’t know about it. After all, it was on the front page of the Denver Post. But I enlightened him. And he borrowed the binoculars, and looked at it too. Then he told me I should get back to bed so I wouldn’t fall asleep in school. And so we went back inside.
A small shared moment in time, almost lost to me forever, except for the happenstance of wanting to see the celestial events of last night.