Saturday, April 11, 2009

OMG!!! Did you see that?

Growing up just south of middle class, my family was seldom treated to a vacation.This however was a very different year. 1975 was the year that Jaws the movie came out. One June evening the family piled in the car and off we went to the Drive in to see this cinematic marvel. After the movie and being scared out of my wits by a 25 foot shark hell bent on eating all humans in its path, my father informs the family that we are going to Florida for vacation in three weeks. My dad could have been a marketing Guru. How cool was that? We get to go on vacation and be eaten by a shark. I could hardly wait! I took my binoculars with me just in case we had clear skies... and to look for sharks. One of the things I do remember about that vacation was I went drift fishing on a party boat. (Even to this day I still drift fish every time I go down to Florida.) That was a blast catching the weirdest looking fish. There were Triggers, Red snapper, Grouper and even an Octopus. It was one of the high points of the trip. Fishing is great but lets talk about those beautiful Florida

I would drag a lawn chair out onto the beach every evening and watch the sun set waiting for my old friends to show up glistening in the night sky. I had an incredible view of Scorpius that night. Being that I was situated on Fort Walton Beach, the Milky way was just hinting at visibility. Those days are long gone for the Miracle strip as it was called way back then. I am sure you can expect Mag 4 skies or worse now. I had settled in on Antares trying to pick out that globular cluster M4 right beside it. When all of the sudden the night sky lit up like noon as a bolide (A big chunk of Meteor that burns super bright, explodes, etc. in the sky) came down from the heavens right in front of me. It was so close I could hear the sizzle and reports as it exploded several times on its way down to the Gulf of Mexico. The trail it left behind seemed to linger in the air like the smell after a hard rain. I remember saying OH My God did you see that? I swiveled my head left then right. There was no one near to hear my exclamation. So I ran down the beach asking folks if they saw it. Now If I heard from them: Saw what? it was time to move on to the next group of people because there was NO doubt about what I meant if you did happen to see it. For what seemed like a quarter of a mile or so, I had met exactly one person that saw it ( other than me) and he had no idea what it was. So this 15 year old boy explained to a 60 year old plus man what it was he had witnessed. I remember he asked me: How in the world do you know all of this stuff. I just grinned.

Looking back on it, I must of looked like an idiot running down the beach in Chicken Little fashion. Ah the passion for things we love...That was my first bolide to witness. After my excitement had died down a bit I went back in the hotel room/ extended stay affair and told my mom and dad and grand parents what I had just seen. They could tell it was a big deal to me. They just could not quite get a grip on why. They did not see it so it was kind of lost on them. I guess what makes it so cool in my mind is unless you saw it and heard it right at that moment in time it was lost forever. That is a sobering thought not just for astronomy but for life. We must seize the moment to enjoy what is put before us. That is one of the reasons I will take my kids to see once in a life time astronomical events like the transit of Venus, a Solar eclipse or the IYA Celebration this year with hopes they will one day have a great story to share.

Clear skies and good seeing too!

Steve T

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