Yesterday I came across an article about the Geminid meteor shower that was predicted to peak on the 13th and 14th of December. So when my alarm chirped in the morning at 4 am as usual, I brushed my teeth, informed a groggy DH of my whereabouts, made a scalding cuppa tea and made my way to our terrace. The article had warned me of the visibility sapping effects of "visual pollution", which would mean man-made light in this context. I spied some bright light in the northwestern and southern quarters (from a KSEB substation and power grid respectively), but since the Geminids were predicted to appear in the eastern sky, I put down my cuppa and sat down resolutely facing the east.
How many of us deliberately look up at the night sky and how often do we do it? The maximum I notice is the full moon at times, but it mostly happens when it accidentally pops in front of my eyes while we are driving in the night time. One of my fondest childhood memories is "chasing" the moon by roaming all over the backseat of my parents' car as the moon changed its position during our drive over the mostly desert area of the road stretch between Dammam and Al-Khobar. In 2008, I happened upon a curious formation of two stars and the crescent moon that looked exactly like a slightly lop-sided smiley. It kinda looked like this:
We were returning from hospital fetching my Mom who had just sacrificed a toe on the altar of diabetes and I took the astronomical phenomenon as sign for me to cheer up again. I remember drawing the same in my diary that night. That my vision was not a chimera was proved by pictures in the next day's newspaper.
To return to this morning, I was struck all of a heap to see the literally star -studded sky. I could make out Ursa Major and Ursa Minor pretty well. Now before your mind boggles at my astronomical (in both senses) knowledge, let me tell you that those are the ONLY constellations I know and that too just because they look like sauce pans! I think I can also recognize the Pole star, but it could be quite a different one in a true star gazer's opinion. So there I was, my tea cooling rapidly in the chilly morning - I had fortunately had the foresight to wear a woollen hat and wrap up my throat with a thorthu - while I gaped at the marvelous show above me.
I sat there for five minutes and started feeling slightly foolish because I hadn't noticed anything yet. And that is when I saw something dart in my right peripheral vision. Yes!!!!! It was my first real shooting star!! (The only shooting star I've seen before this was in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai). And then when I gazed at that spot, there was one on my left. After counting about five shooting stars, I spotted a sixth one approaching from the north. Compared to the previous ones, this was quite slower and was traveling almost horizontally with a brighter light. I went, "What a super meteor!" when a faint rumble reached my ears. I guess it must have been an early flight from Mumbai coming in to land. Oh well! As time slowly passed and my count increased, I noticed that the meteors were shifting position to directly above me. So I stretched out on my back on the chilly terrace with my hands under my head.
In the meanwhile I noticed the world too waking up. A neighbor's "speaking clock" chimed five and then informed its family of the hour. A few seconds later, MS exhorted Venkatesa and all around us to "Wake up and get up" from our Maruppancode temple speaker cones. I could have lain there for ever and ever. But right after my twelfth shooting star an almighty sneeze bolted me upright. I also began to feel the discomforts of certain effects that my morning cuppa had put into motion (get the pun?). So I cut short my astronomical observations for the time being and groped my way down the steep iron stairs. A little visual pollution or at least a torch would have been handy at that moment, but I made it down in one piece. I hope I can catch another meteor shower soon!!!