Category Archives: Science

Day 20: Middle-of-the-Night Meteor Shower

meteor shower

When I read in the news yesterday that the broken remains of Halley’s Comet would create a fantastic meteor shower in the middle of the night, I knew that would be the thing to do with J.

The paper said that peak viewing would be at 3am PST.  I set my alarm for 2am, snuck into J’s room, and after much prodding, woke him up for the show.  We grabbed a warm blanket and slipped out into the cool night.  He had never seen a shooting star.  We hadn’t even lied down on the sidewalk before each of us spotted our own meteors.  Two blazing trails drawn in the heavens.

He whispered, “I saw one!!  It was like a line across the sky!”

Laying in the chilly air in front of our house, I said, “Too bad we aren’t in Alpine.”  (Grandma & Grandpa have a cabin in the thick woods there.)

“Why?”

“Because you can see a lot more stars when the city lights are far away.”  Even the streetlights nearby were making it difficult to see, so I asked if he wanted to hop in the van and drive somewhere with less lights.

Dad and I always complain that we live and raise our kids in the suburbs: the culture-less hub of Applebee’s and the Dreaded Mall.  Yes, the suburbs have advantages for kids, such as less street crime.  But last night brought about an unforeseen benefit: being so far away from the center of the city, it only took five minutes to drive to near-darkness.

We pulled into a more rural neighborhood on the edge of the desert and parked the van on a dark section of street.  We hadn’t gotten out of the car yet when two more meteors drew streaks across the skyline.  The attempt to sit on the hood failed: it was so steep we kept sliding off.  I was happy half-laying/ half-standing against the hood, but J was cold and preferred the inside of the van.

As soon as we stood up, J whispered, “Whoa!  Did you see that huge bird swoop down?”  I held in my freaked-out squeals and discreetly rushed us into the van.  Sometimes moms have to maintain a poker face when instinct calls on other, more ridiculous options.  Spotting wolf spiders, for example, are moments that bring the virtue of self-control to a whole new level. Though I have not heard of many victims of owl attacks, I would be The One. (Addendum: I would be The Third.)

In the sanctuary of our warm van, we looked head-on into outer space.  Foxnews.com described it as being on “the patch of Earth that is barreling headlong into space on Earth’s orbital track, and the meteors get scooped up like bugs on a windshield.” It was real life Star Tours, but the stationary vehicle was my mini-van.

In this magical setting, J blew me away with his young mind.  I said, “You see that extra twinkly star over there?  That’s not a star.  It’s a planet.”

Thoughtfully, J said, “There used to be hundreds of planets.”

“What happened?”

“What happened?  I guess what happened to Pluto.  Pluto used to be a planet, right?  Then scientists found out that it would be crazy to call it a planet.  It doesn’t even orbit the way other planets do!”

He said he thought of something else we could do: look for constellations.  Immediately he pointed and said, “Those look like a belt.”  He also pointed out the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper.  I had never seen the Big Dipper so close to the horizon.  Talk about a sense of reality!  The trusty Big Dipper “moved” to a foreign location.  Such a paradigm shift that we are ever-moving and so, so small.

After the show began to die down, I decided it was time to head home.  In the car I confirmed, “So this was the first time you saw a shooting star?”

“Yeah.  It was also the first time I’ve seen the Big Dipper or any constellation before.”

“You mean you pointed all those out without ever having seen them first?!”

“Yeah.”

I was mystified last night by two things:

1. The magnificently vast universe and how we are but fleeting passengers along for the cosmic ride.

2. That the mysteries inside of J are no less magnificent, no less of  a magic revealed to me in small increments.  And even as a mom, I am along for the cosmic ride.

Day 20 Stats: Meteor Shower, 2am, 1 hour, everyone asleep, swooping owls, fiery streaks, paradigm shifts, magical moments, secrets stored away in my mother’s heart.

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Day 8: Mad Science & Lego’s

Chick-fil-A gives out the best kid toys.  Recently we received an evaporating dish with a small booklet of corresponding experiments.  Last night we only had the supplies for one, and I will gladly share it:

4 Tbls whole milk in a dish and let sit for 10 minutes

add 5 or 6 drops of food coloring in 3-4 different colors

add one drop of dish soap to the center

See what happens!

Unfortunately for us, that wasn’t much.  We used skim instead of whole, and it seems the fats play a key role.  This experiment didn’t take much time, so we also played Lego’s in J’s room.  That child can take a mess of assorted Lego pieces and build a miniature Gungan sub.  I take a mess of assorted Lego pieces and make a connected mess of assorted Lego pieces.  It is fascinating for me to get a glimpse into J’s brain simply by playing with him.

I am so glad I decided to do this project.

Day 8 Stats: Science and Lego’s, 20 minutes, girls asleep, a budding engineer, a hopeless abstract artist.

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