Attention Cruisers, Perseids Meteor Shower Peaks Next Week
By PETER SWANSON
One of the many great things about cruising is that we often find ourselves in splendid isolation, far from city lights with an unimpeded view of the sky. Today we have arrived to another August, probably the strangest August in our lives. If you are vexed by currents events--and I would submit just about every American is a little on edge at the moment--I would suggest looking to the cosmos for comfort.
Next week the Perseids meteor shower will reach its peak late on Aug. 11 and 12. And it can be spectacular if you are in the right place at the right time. Normal rates seen from rural locations range from 50-75 shower members per hour at maximum.The Perseids are particles released from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle during its numerous returns to the inner solar system. They are called Perseids because the area of the sky where the meteors seem to originate is near the prominent constellation of Perseus, the Greek hero who cut off Medusa's snake-coiffed head.
Before I tell you why the Perseids are unforgettable and personally poignant, let me urge you stay up late on at least one of those two days. The moon will be at 47 percent full but sets around 2 a.m., darkening the sky to better reveal the falling fiery stardust.
For me the event harkens back to 1971, when 16-year-old me was at the Wareham (Massachusetts) Drive-In Theater, with his slightly older girlfriend and possessor of a drivers license. I can't remember the main feature, probably something dreadful like "Love Story," but I will never forget the second feature, an oddball gem called "The Hellstrom Chronicle," a pseudo-documentary, which, according to one critic, combined elements of "science fiction, horror and apocalyptic prophecy to present a gripping satirical depiction of the struggle for survival between humans and insects."
The movie revolves around fictitious scientist Nils Hellstrom as he expounds plausible-sounding theories on why insects will win the fight, citing their adaptability and ability to reproduce rapidly. The human race, Hellstrom argued, was destined to lose the fight because of "excess individualism." Grotesquesly large bugs by the thousands filled the movie screen in front of us, but it was the backdrop that astonished.
She and I had never heard of the Perseids, but it was a cool August night, when cloudless skies over New England unveil the galaxy. And so it was: We were gobsmacked as hundreds of shooting stars sped to earth as insects swarmed and multiplied. This was the era of LSD, and though I never took acid myself, I always figured that night was about as close as one could come without actually swallowing a tab of that "yellow sunshine."
If you are starting to see parallels to current events, welcome to the recesses of my brain. We are at war with microbes that are reproducing like topsy in our bodies and then fly through the air to the next host. American individualism, some would argue, is hampering our response. To console us, WalMart is re-introducing drive-in movies to its parking lots, and, for further distraction, "murder hornets" have decided to invade the West Coast. Dr. Hellstrom, would you mind holding our beer?
Please, my cruising friends, enjoy the Perseids for me if you are positioned to do so. The skies over North Florida this time of year are rarely conducive to stargazing. And, dare I say it, 2 a.m. is well past my bedtime.