Trying to Catch a Falling Star


First photo I took Tuesday night. Basically just checking camera settings.

First photo I took Tuesday night. Basically just checking camera settings. Red lights in upper right are an airplane.

So, after last night’s 4 a.m. debacle, I decided to try again. Instead of waking up at 4 a.m., after the slim sliver of a moon had risen, I decided to stay up a while.

I watched “Heart of Darkness,” the documentary about the making of “Apocalypse Now,” and it was just after 10 when I was done with the VHS tape.

So I grabbed my good camera and a tripod, and again set out to find darkness. This time I drove to a street called “Irish Drive” in Marion, which I knew from bike rides terminated by the trail on the south side of Lowe Park.

It wasn’t a bad location. There were still some lights on the horizon—the amphitheater at the park is apparently lit up—but it was much darker than my neighborhood. I could dimly make out the Milky Way.

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That line in the lower right–it could be a very dim shooting star, but in my experience shooting stars usually glow white. it could also be another plane, just further away–except I would expect that to be a line of red dots (as the tail light flashes on and off). So let’s call this a falling star.

So I set up my camera, put it on a timer and snapped more than 100 pictures of the stars. I figured if I saw a falling star, I wouldn’t have time to try to take it’s photo, so my strategy was to simply take a whole bunch of photos and see what I got.

In fact, I did see a few falling stars. One was as bright as a fairly bright star. I’m used to falling stars streaking and leaving what appears to be a bright line, this one was a bit different because it just appeared to be a quickly moving star that suddenly was visible, and just as suddenly was gone.

Note the clear airplane in this photo.

Note the clear airplane in this photo.

I also had a few questionable sightings—where I think I saw a line of light, but it wasn’t bright enough to be sure, and your eyes can play tricks on you.

As for photos, well, no, I didn’t get any dramatic falling star images. If I were more serious, I probably should have stayed out longer and taken 500 photos—but in the end, the camera seemed to be giving up. Early photos had plenty of stars visible—late photos are more like black rectangles. It’s as if the camera was saying “this is stupid, take me home.”

Well, it wasn’t stupid. For one thing, my sense of adventure and danger was heightened when some coyotes chose to serenade each other off to my west. You’ll feel suddenly much more awake when you’re in the darkest patch of the edge of town you can find and that loud, high, coyote chorus gets going.

After the coyotes quieted, it was just me and the stars. And an odd mood came over me. I stopped being impatient with the universe for keeping it’s chunks of flaming space debris hidden, and started to tune into how cool the stars alone look. You feel a bit small standing on a tiny planetary rock, gazing up at hundreds of suns that are burning at impossible distances.

I don’t know my stars very well, so I took a portrait of one of the few constellations I recognize—the Big Dipper.

Big Dipper.

Big Dipper.

Following the pointer stars at the end of the dipper, I could find the North Star and the Little Dipper. I’m always amused in movies when some sailor points out the North Star to some kid—because in pirate flicks, the North Star is always shining brightly. Frankly, without the pointer stars from the Big Dipper, the North Star is not all that easy to find—it’s a relatively dim little thing, famous only because in our hemisphere it’s “fixed” over our North Pole.

Anyway, I gave it an hour or so, saw one bright falling star for sure and think I might have seen a few more, and then I packed it up.

Did any of you try to watch the stars fall last night? And did you succeed?

Two suggestive smudges in lower center--could be very dim falling stars, or maybe there is some weird reflection in the camera lens.

Two suggestive smudges in lower center–both lines of dots. Passing airplanes or Klingon battle cruisers.

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