I learned a new term while researching today’s post.
Earthgrazer. You may have to add it to your computer’s onboard dictionary as I did in order to avoid the dreaded red line of spelling misfortune. It is another word for a Shooting Star. I was originally going to use the word Shooting Star in the title but with recent announcements about the power of the Executive Branch to detain me indefinitely for just about anything, I am trying to be a little more judicious in regards to my titles.
I don’t know how many of you stayed up last night to watch the Quadrantid meteors. Here on the east coast, they were mostly visible between 2:30 and 4:00 AM (that’s 0230 – 0400 for my Navy friends). The boss and I both woke up in time to go out but with the temperature being a moderate 24 degrees F I think we were both satisfied with a few brief dashes of light across the cloudless sky.
Of course as adults, we find out pretty quickly that the “star” that shoots is not actually a “star” but a meteorite that crosses through our upper atmosphere and burns up. This particular series of showers is very unique and has an interesting history. In an article from Joe Rao at Space.com:
“The Quadrantids (pronounced KWA-dran-tids) provides one of the most intense annualmeteor showers, with a brief, sharp maximum lasting but a few hours. Adolphe Quetelet of Brussels Observatory discovered the shower in the 1830s, and shortly afterward it was noted by several other astronomers in Europe and America.
The meteors are named after the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis the Mural or Wall Quadrant (an astronomical instrument), depicted in some 19th-century star atlases roughly midway between the end of the Handle of the Big Dipper and the quadrilateral of stars marking the head of the constellation Draco. The International Astronomical Union phased out Quadrans Muralis in 1922. “
“If your skies are very clear and dark, allowing you to see faint meteors, your rates could top 100 per hour. Observers located in the western portions of North American will have lower rates but will also have the opportunity to see Quadrantid ‘earthgrazers,'” Lunsford added. “Earthgrazers are meteors that skim the upper portion of the atmosphere therefore lasting much longer than normal and producing long trails in the sky. These meteors can only be seen when the radiant lies close to the horizon. As the radiant rises, the meteor paths will become shorter with shorter durations.”
There were a number of shooting stars in Iowa last night.
This batch took a little longer to show up (months and months) and apparently are made more visible by something called “debates”. These “debates” either helped to propel some of the “stars” but also were responsible for actually wiping some of them out as they hit the cold hard atmosphere. I could almost feel the excitement as many people watched each star in turn rise and fall in the crisp night air. At the end of the night only a few remained.
You don’t get to see much debris after the show. The shooting stars kind of go off into a hiding place for a while and the ones that remain seem to get brighter.
Shooting stars can be kind of deceptive though.
Sometimes you think the brightest ones will last forever but they never do. I can think of the brightest one in my lifetime that happened in November 2008. Against all odds, this star rose and rose and rose. I have since learned that it probably had some help from all the star gazers who really wanted it to succeed. This particular group wanted so hard to believe that they convinced themselves that this star was the brightest one ever to be seen. But like all meteoric rises, this “star” was doomed to fall. I just don’t think anyone realized that the fall would take so many with it.
The great thing about this country is that every four years, we get a do-over. The founders probably had a similar goal in mind when they created the election cycle. I am eternally grateful to them for that. We get a chance every four years to realize the magnitude of our success or failure at identifying which of our Earthgrazers we should keep or let burn up in the atmosphere. I will be quite content to see the current Earthgrazer and his Earthgrazing spouse head on back to the land of the big stars.