Meteors Falling and Barred Owls Calling

At 5:00 am this morning, we pulled chairs up to the top of our driveway and sat down under a starry sky to watch for meteors – finding a spot where large shrubs mostly screened the outside lights of two houses on our street. The Orionid Meteor Shower, produced by a stream of dust left over from the tail of Halley’s comet, was expected to be at its most visible about two hours before sunrise this morning.

We bundled up – it was cold, though not freezing. From where we sat, we looked up and had a sweeping view of the constellation Orion, spread across the southern sky above us – right above our house – and millions of stars all around. The starry sky was beautiful, the cold air crisp, and a few minutes after we sat down, two Barred Owls began hooting deep, resonant Who-cooks-for-you; who-cooks-for-you-awwwwl. Several times they hooted back and forth, from behind us, not too far away, maybe from a large Red Oak at the corner, at least that’s what I guessed. All in all, with the starry sky and the Barred Owls calling, it was well worth getting up for – even though we saw very few meteors.

In back of us as we sat, were the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper and the North Star. Above us in the South, Orion, and a little to the left, I think, was Sirius, the bright star in the constellation Canus Major. There were other constellations and many bright stars – later I looked them up and tried to learn more about what we had seen. At the time, we just watched. One very large, spectacular meteor streaked down, a silvery ball of light with a tail, coming as if from the back of Orion’s belt; and at least five much smaller, fainter meteors appeared, quick streaks of light, distinct but not so big and bright.

Many times we both thought we might have seen a meteor – a very faint streak, but so faint it could have been wishful thinking. I think our view of the sky, though it looked sparkling and star-filled and clear, is obscured by ambient light from all directions now – a busy highway only a mile away, a large gas station only a little further, and homes and businesses in all directions whose lights stay on all night. Though their lights are not directly visible to us, I’m sure they make many stars – and meteors – invisible, and that’s too bad. In the north, the lights of Athens, a few miles away, give the night sky a glow. Only a decade ago, when we first moved here, the sky was noticeably darker. We could see the Milky Way then, and many more stars. But it’s hard to tell now – it’s hard to see what you can’t see, what you’re missing.

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