The Children of Perseus

I have just spent the last hour or so sitting outside in a reclining lawn chair gazing up into a very clear sky. The Milky Way was brilliant tonight—and while looking up into that dazzling display, I remembered a trip to Wyoming when we took the daughter of a family friend with us and we went to the observation point on Libby Flats in the Medicine Bow Range. Rachel’s awed comment of “They really do twinkle” when she saw the stars from that vantage point still echoes in me and makes me smile.
Milky Way over Devil’s Tower, WY

Tonight, the Perseid meteoroid shower was spectacular. The Perseids are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle and are so-called because the point from which they appear to come, called the radiant, lies in the constellation Perseus.
Perseid meteor shower

The shower is visible from mid-July each year, with the peak in activity being between August 9 and 14. The Perseid meteor shower has been observed for about 2,000 years, with the earliest information on this meteor shower coming from the Far East. Some Catholics refer to the Perseids as the “tears of St. Lawrence” because August 10 is the date of that saint’s martyrdom. During the peak, the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour. They can be seen all across the sky, but because of the path of Swift-Tuttle’s orbit, Perseids are primarily visible in the northern hemisphere. As with all meteor showers, the rate is greatest in the pre-dawn hours, since the side of the Earth nearest to turning into the sun scoops up more meteors as the Earth moves through space. The name derives in part from the word Perseides, a term found in Greek mythology referring to the sons of Perseus. In that mythology, Perseus is the demi-god who finally brought an end to Medusa.

Perseus taking Medusa’s head
The sons of Perseus…shooting stars originating in the constellation Perseus…watching those bright splashes of light streak across the sky made me think of something that Carl Sagan once said. All the building blocks to life can be found in the stars, so we literally are the children of the stars.When I first saw the PBS series Cosmos, I fell in love with science and math, thanks to Dr. Sagan. He explained things in a manner that even I could grasp. I will admit, readily, that advanced math scared the crap out of me and I struggled with advanced mathematical concepts. The first book I ever bought for myself that wasn’t fiction was the companion edition of Cosmos. I devoured that book.
If you get the chance, if you live in an area without a lot of light pollution and the skies are clear around dawn, go outside and look up. Follow the path that a shooting star makes across the sky. Make a wish. And, live up to your parentage. You are a child of the stars.

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