Posted by: Michelle UluOla | August 11, 2017

Keep Looking Up!

“Keep Looking Up” was my life’s admonition;
I can do little else in my present position.

— Inscription on Foley Arthur (Jack) Horkheimer’s
tombstone that he wrote
himself.
(June 11, 1938—August 20, 2010)

“Greetings, greetings, fellow star gazers!” Randolf, Wisconsinite, Jack Horkheimer, also known as the “Star Gazer,” was one of my favorite astronomers and PBS stars. I loved his quirky, fun presentations about “astronomical events.” I learned something new from every one of his 5-minute shows on stargazing. He always signed off with the directive to “Keep Looking Up,” and I’ve never been disappointed by the sky when I’ve done so. Interestingly, he made his transition right after the Perseid meteor shower, which is one of the best annual shows.

It’s also my favorite meteor shower, as it’s not only a big one, but also, at a time of year when the weather’s usually pleasant for observing. My good friend and I had what we consider a once-in-a-lifetime experience, if memory serves, back in August 2004. We were living on a ridgetop in southwest Wisconsin’s picturesque Driftless Region. Her house’s backyard was kitty-cornered to mine. We had planned to go out late during peak viewing time after moon set, because we expected the full moon would out-shine the stars, even though we were in a rural area with few artificial lights.

Around 3:00 a.m., I was sitting at my computer in my study when I suddenly heard a very loud, “Psst! Psst! Psst!” It so startled me that I almost went airborne out of my chair! My friend whispered through my open window, “You’ve gotta get out here—the Northern Lights are out!!!” Well! I hurried over to her backyard and was astonished at what I saw! The full moon was still above the southwestern horizon, but due to smoke from wildfires out West, it was colored an unexpected, magnificent, blood red and wasn’t casting any light. And there were the Northern Lights, swirling all the way up from the northern horizon to the center of the sky overhead, dancing in exquisite patterns! That was a huge surprise, since southwest Wisconsin is not at an upper latitude, nor had I received an e-mail alert from SpaceWeather.com reporting any solar flares strong enough to produce the Aurora Borealis that night. In the midst of the aurora, numerous Perseid meteors were zooming across the sky! Blood red full moon . . . multi-colored auroras . . . shooting stars . . . all at the same time?! Wow, what more could a skywatcher ask for??? (Other than an ET landing!) We did our own dance around the dark yard, oohing and aahing exclamations of wonderment. I wanted to run up and down the street, banging on doors, urging people to come out to see the breathtaking sights, but we figured they might get mad or call the police, so we restrained ourselves. Every year at this time, we reminiscence about our unparalleled experience—we were SO lucky!!

This year, the Perseid meteor shower is predicted to peak on the nights of August 11-12, or during the pre-dawn hours through the 13th. But, due to the brightness of the three-quarters full moon, it will be difficult to see the projected, 150 meteors per hour. Still, with a clear sky, it should be possible to see at least 30 to 40 of the more brilliant Perseids. And, meteor showers do continue after peak nights. These events aren’t scripted like those on TV. You never know what might show up—you may just get a surprise like my friend and I did. So, to quote the famous Star Gazer’s sign off: “Keep Looking Up!”

******©UluOla 2017******

Additional Information:

Perseid Meteor Shower 2017:  When, Where & How to See It

Jack Horkheimer’s Biography

Star Gazers show on PBS

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Responses

  1. wonderful!

    Like

    • Thank you, Connie, so glad you enjoyed the blog. I hope you’re able to enjoy some of this year’s show! Keep Looking Up! 😀

      Like


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