Stargazing, Listening to Space

Last night (or, more accurately, early this morning), I found myself bundled up in layers of winter clothes while a chihuahua in a sweater shared space on my lap with a DSLR and telephoto lens. What brought me there? The Quadrantid meteor shower. Or, more literally, a man with an Oldsmobile.

W had read about the meteor shower and posted a link to Facebook. After reading the article, which described the shower as being highly active and one of the year’s best, I decided we had to try to see it. Why not? How often do I actually take action on ideas like this, after all? I am much more likely to forget about it or to determine that it would take too much effort to follow through.

But with my partner in crime (and two of the three dogs), I had no excuses! We drove out of town looking for a place with no streetlights and a clear view of the northern sky. We finally pulled off the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, with the big, dark, starry night sky opened up right in front of us. As soon as we stopped the car and got situated, we let out simultaneous gasps as we both chanced to see the first big meteor at the same time — amazing.

(image source)

From then on, we mostly watched and waited, trying to determine if we were seeing faint, distant sparkles (what most meteors look like to the naked eye), or if we were just imagining it with our tired-but-hopeful eyes. (The camera and lens turned out not to be super helpful.) As the time went by, we each saw a handful more very distinct meteors, each beautiful and separate, but not a big storm of falling stars like you might envision. Nonetheless, it was beautiful, and an adventure completely out of the ordinary.

Once we were home again we fell asleep listening to Space Weather Radio, a service that uses radar to scan the skies and creates a pinging noise every time a meteor is detected. Amidst the static, there were quick, quiet pings, and longer, more sustained noises as bigger bodies were detected. Incredible, isn’t it, to be able to listen to space?


  1. On a whim, Jared and I went out to look at the stars last Friday after going out for dinner — we didn’t know of anything going on, but we wanted to do something fun and different and a little romantic since our date technically began at the dump. Anyway, we drove south a bit, found a good spot to pull off, and looked up. A moment later, we both saw a shooting star — neither of us had ever seen one before, and at the risk of sounding like a doofus, it was MAGICAL.


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