Saturday, December 8, 2012

Pieces of the Heavens

We saw a little piece of the heavens last night. A meteorite.

In the past, I've gone outside at 2:00am to watch recurring meteor shows like the Leonids and Perseids. I always enjoy watching the brief streaks of light radiating from a point in the corresponding constellations, although I rarely happen to be looking at the right place when a meteorite descends. (I always see a streak from the corner of my eye, and by the time I glance toward the streak, it's already gone).

But once in a rare while, I'll happen to be gazing, either by pure luck or by the grace of God, directly into a part of the night sky when an unexpected little fireball blazes brightly and briefly, then disappears into the darkness from which it came.

In recent years, I was fortunate enough to have experienced two sightings like this. First, The Wiffee and I were in Joshua Tree National Park for a "Star Party," a gathering of local amateur astronomers, to look through their telescopes at the rings of Saturn and the craters of the crescent moon. I was staring toward the southern sky and was stunned when a yellowish flash lit up silently across the desert floor, seemingly a few hundred yards/meters away. I could easily have missed it (as my Wiffee did) by facing some other direction. But seeing it was thrilling, and being in the National Park made it especially meaningful.

Then, last night, The Wiffee and I happened to be looking toward our living room window. The red-maroon curtains were drawn, yet through the fabric, we saw a white, quiet flash of light that looked like a bottle rocket explosion -- except the rocket was traveling down instead of up. Another meteorite, somewhere over the hills of Joshua Tree National Park, entered the earth's atmosphere and gave us some God-given fireworks.

There's something exciting about objects from space that fall from the sky. At the Star Party, one man passed around an iron (and nickel, I believe) meteorite he had found. It was about the size of a child's fist, yet was uncharacteristically heavy. And it came from -- out there.

I've sometimes contemplated making a painting of a meteorite burning in the desert skies. But meteorites always involve two important features: movement and brevity. How would I convey that in one of my desert paintings?

Guess I need to do some thinkin' 'bout that. I hope I can pull it off!