"The last time this happened so intensely, it was 1800. Or 1600. But they all went outside, and thought the stars were falling. They panicked, because they all knew it had to be the end of the world."--Jason
...and it's no wonder. Well, it is a wonder. Reds, greens, long smoky trails of orange, all fading to grey: wonderful. We were up at four a.m., or zero-four-hundred--whichever you prefer--and as soon as I got out of the car, I saw one. After a few moments, it became clear that this was bigger than the Perseids I saw last summer in the Mojave Desert. This was bigger than any meteor shower I'd ever seen. Probably ever will.
I was reminded of a short story I had to read in sixth grade about the Leonids. I remember the grandmother waking the boy up, I remember something about a very large buildup, and the story (written in the 1970s) saying the next good Leonid shower wouldn't be until after 2001. I remember the boy and the grandmother going outside full of anticipation, and having clouds. Clouds! The implication then was that the grandmother would die before she got to see this again, and that the little boy would promise himself that he'd never miss another chance to see them.
I was also reminded of a picture I saw at work. It showed all these streaks spilling out of the sky towards the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands or somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. They were Peacekeeper reentry vehicles from an inert ICBM test. I think I'm not scared of nukes anymore. I mean, there's nothing you can do about that but watch. If that's what reentry vehicles look like, I can stand it, I think. It was so beautiful, watching them spill out of the sky like that. The fog bank was low, and dimmed out the farm lights, and everything was perfectly quiet. This week Bush and Putin agreed to each unilaterally cut nuclear stockpiles.
It was so startling, to realize that they pre-dated television, telescopes, humans... eyes. The Leonids have been lighting up the sky since before anything could look up and marvel at it. The next time it's going to be this good is supposed to be in 2099 or so. If I see anything that stark and beautiful light up the night sky again in my lifetime, it might really be the end of the world. Then again, next time it's this bright, maybe our grandchildren won't even think of ICBMs. Maybe they'll have forgotten what they were, or that they ever existed.