Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"The Night of the Shooting Stars"

The night of August 12-13 is always the peak of the Perseids meteor shower. It is a big event in Mitzpe Ramon because our skies are so dark and clear. Thousands of people descend on the area in and around Mitzpe Ramon. The city sponsors a party at the football (soccer) field with music and a free glass of wine for everyone.

The name of this night always reminds me of an Italian movie of the same name (in English), but called The Night of San Lorenzo in the original Italian. Italian folklore has it that on this night all our dreams are fulfilled, perhaps also the source of the English, "wishing upon a star", which is always a falling star. There are so many stars that fall from the sky this night, enough so that all of our wishes and dreams can come true. Unfortunately, I remember being quite depressed by this movie with the charming name, which came out in 1982, because it was about the Germans in Italy in WWII.

However, all of our wishes for a satisfying meteor shower did come true, since it was quite a spectacular sight from Mitzpe Ramon. We counted 62 meteors per hour at the peak between 2:30AM and 3:30AM, and since these are not evenly distributed but cluster together, we enjoyed quite a show. You can read more details about the shower on

The night began in beautiful fashion with the trio of planets - Venus, Mars and Saturn - adding the three-day old crescent moon filled with earth shine to their ballet in the twilight sky.

Mars, Venus, and Saturn with the setting, three-day old crescent Moon on the night of August 12. (Click once, then again, for the full size image.)

The meteor shower started off slowly, with only a handful of meteors appearing each hour up until midnight, when things really started picking up. Most people didn't arrive in town until after midnight, having been told that the peak wouldn't occur until sometime between 2:00AM and 6:00AM. I went to the main traffic circle near the football field around 10:30PM to check out the party and music, but beat a hasty retreat when I saw the cars backed up in every direction as 3,000 people tried to find parking in an area with parking for at most a few hundred.

The city obligingly turns off all of its lights on this night. First the perimeter lights around 10:00PM, and then around midnight all of the street lights and utility lights go off. The city then becomes quite dark, and you can get a good view of the meteor shower even from within its precincts. People were scattered everywhere about town, in tents, on blankets, watching the night sky. It was really a very special feeling.

We did our observing from the parking lot of the Alpaca Farm, and I was amazed that we had it all to ourselves until around 12:30AM. Very few people seem to know about the Alpaca Farm parking lot, a dark, secluded site away from lights and cars, since many had just pulled off the road leading to it and set up their tents by the side of the road. It always amazes me to see Israelis do this, even next to quite busy highways, since it seems neither safe nor desirable to do so, and yet they do. I certainly felt smug with my Mitzpe Ramonian knowledge of all the best places to see a dark sky as I whizzed by them in my car, stirring up dust and noise in every direction.

People seem to be unable to restrain themselves from building fires at night, even if the entire purpose of their retreat to the wilds of the desert is to get a dark sky. There were bonfires built hither and yon, with people sitting around them, singing, playing guitar and roasting food. A small group even did this in the Alpaca Farm parking lot, but they were far from us and their fire was never very big. Then, there was the family with young children next to us who seemed to have some ritual of lighting a candle inside a billowy cotton sack, which filled with hot air and cast bright light all around. Fortunately, this quickly went out and they left us in the dark, for the most part.

I got an angry call from my wife around 3:30AM wanting to know why I wasn't home yet, putting an unceremonious end to the observing of The Mitzpe Ramon Astronomer. I guess she got worried about my being eaten by hyenas. In any case, it put an end to our Night of the Shooting Stars. I hope all of your wishes came true.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails