Last chance! If you live in a part of the United States with a forecast of clear skies, tonight is probably your last opportunity to catch the 2011 Leonid Meteor Shower in its resplendent glory.
The Leonids—so named because the meteors originate in the east, near the constellation Leo—return each year in mid-November. As Earth slips through the garbage dump of the deceased comet Tempel-Tuttle, gas and dust flare up in the atmosphere, creating what is sometimes a spectacular firestorm. Dress warmly (and rise early), and head out between moonset and about 5:15 a.m., before the first rays of dawn, and you should expect to see between 15 and 20 meteors per hour.
You’re not superstitious—I’m sure you’re not!—but the powerful 1833 meteor storm frightened the people of Independence, Missouri, who believed it to be a sign to push the growing Mormon community out of the area. The depiction of the 1883 storm I’ve included here was created just three years after the storm for the Seventh Day Adventists’ book Bible Readings for the Home Circle. The sky filled with “falling stars” is not an artist’s reinterpretation—that year, it’s thought that between 100,000 and 200,000 meteors fell each hour across the Eastern United States.
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NASA Astronaut Dr. Thomas D. Jones, a Catholic who flew four missions on the space shuttle, tells a dramatic story about experiencing God in space—in the Eucharist, and in Creation. He was aboard the space shuttle Endeavor on a Sunday morning; one of his fellow crew was a Eucharistic minister who had brought consecrated hosts aboard in a pyx; and they shared a brief communion service on the flight deck. Tom wrote of his experience, “Our silent reflection was interrupted by a sudden burst of dazzling white light. The sun had risen (as it did 16 times each day) just as we finished Communion, and now its pure radiance streamed through Endeavour’s cockpit windows and bathed us in its warmth. To me, this was a beautiful sign, God’s gentle touch confirming our union with Him.”
Tom continued, “We are designed to be awed in space. If our imperfect species has found such glimmers of delight in our first tentative encounter with the cosmos, then we have truly found a most caring and generous God.”
See the rest of astronaut Tom Jones’ dramatic story in the St. Anthony Messenger (June 2004). http://www.americancatholic.org/messenger/jun2004/feature1.asp
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