Sotto Voce.

"Qui plume a, guerre a." — Voltaire

When You Wish Upon a Meteor

Yesterday was a stunningly beautiful day, cool and crisp, the kind you get when a distantly passing hurricane blows away the late summer heaviness and reveals nature’s underlying moderation. Windows open, fresh air, optimism. I’ve always loved the Fall, and never blamed it for school starting during it.

Last night the moon was bright and clear, and not too far away Jupiter was radiant. I pulled out my telescope and gear, opened up the back window, and gazed at it for a long time. The sounds, the smells of night haven’t changed in 20+ years; I still belong there. It was wonderful to see the Big Planet again, stripes and four moons and all. The sky was boiling with heat waves, but there were a few seconds of relative peace every now and then as a breeze would smooth it out. And then, suddenly just above (in reality, of course, “below” since it’s a Newtonian reflector) Jupiter and off to the side with the three moons, what appeared to be another moon, moving outward. It got a little brighter and lasted long enough for me to think, “satellite? Right position, but way too slow for a low-earth orbit. Distant plane? Maybe, but it doesn’t move like one, and where’s the blinking lights?” and then it went dark. I caught one last glow a little further on and then it was gone. A meteor, coming in almost head-on. If I hadn’t been looking at that very narrow arc of sky at that very moment, I wouldn’t have seen it — and it’s quite likely that no one else did either.

The night sky still has the power to amaze me, to awe me. Every moment is unique, and yet I’m looking at the same things that Galileo saw and Kepler (one of my heroes) imagined. Watching Jupiter slowly track across the scope’s field, revealing the tremendous yet stately rotation of this planet under my feet — carrying me along with it carefully, tenderly, swaddling me in a thin-yet-robust blanket of air — created anew the old shifts in perspective, the different pace and wider view that observational astronomy always offers. No wonder I love it.

I packed up the telescope and went to bed determined to keep doing The Big Thing — with my latest SF novella, with my writing in general, and with my life. I owe that little meteor nothing less.

Categorised as: Life the Universe and Everything

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