Friday, August 13, 2010

The light invisible

For years I stayed up to watch the Perseids, Leonids, Geminids, the meteor showers which regularly fall on the earth, and nearly always we found that the clouds obscured our view.

I was excited when it looked as though the forecast for last night's Perseids favoured the meteor-watcher: clear skies at 1am, perfect.

At around 11pm I went outside to see what I could see.  Unfortunately, my neighbour across the road seems to have installed bright, white lights in both her upstairs landing and her porch.  I didn't know that sort of incandescent light was still legal.  Certainly she seemed to have got hold of some old fashioned strontium searchlights which seared my eyes and blinded me to anything less bright.

By judicious positioning of my garden chair so that our back gate obscured the lights, I was able to see into the sky, but the light pollution from the general glow of the city, along with the bright light from my neighbour, faded the Perseids into the background for all but the brightest of the meteors.

People who live in the countryside have no clue how little can be seen in the night sky over London.  Actually, it makes stargazing considerably easier in one respect: only the main constellations can be seen from my back garden, and so Ursa Major and Minor, Cassiopeia and the Pleiades are easily spotted.  The last time I stood in a darkened back garden in the back of beyond, I not only felt terribly exposed, but I couldn't identify the constellations I know so well because they were cluttered up with stars I have no hope of seeing from Uxbridge.

My sons got cold and bored very quickly, and went back inside.  After another 15 minutes of straining to see something!  Anything!  I went inside, disappointed to learn that over all these years, it wouldn't have been possible to watch the light show even in favourable conditions. I saw about four, in over an hour, and one of those may have been a plane.

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