What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen while looking up? A nifty eclipse, a rare airplane, a neat storm cloud? I have two.
My first was a meteor. I’ve seen several falling stars and the like, but this was by far the prettiest. It was shortly before sunset and the sky had a pinkish/reddish hue. A group of us were walking toward the southwest, when all of a sudden there was a large, bright bluish-green fireball streaking across the sky. It lasted a second at the most. Out of 50 or so people around me, only two others had seen it. It was easy to tell who had seen it – the three of us were immediately struck speechless. That was the only meteor I’ve ever seen in that color.
For the second I was at a wedding reception when some fierce, out-of-nowhere straight-line winds tore past the reception hall. The party-goers all streamed outside to survey the damage: a nearby bowling alley missing a roof, an under-construction building destroyed, a couple Dumpsters thrown into parked cars. The sun was setting and the western sky had an eerie orange glow that reflected ominously off some rather brutish-looking clouds overhead. To the east was a college football stadium, looking picture-perfect in the orange light. Then a huge, full rainbow appeared. You could see nearly the entire thing, from ground to ground. The stadium was perfectly centered under the highest point of the arc. But it got even neater – gradually two additional full rainbows appeared: one above the first arc, and one below. To see three full, bright rainbows framing the stadium, which itself was reflecting a perfect sunset, was incredible. The moment felt a bit like God was saying: “Uhh, yeah, sorry about those winds and all that damage. My bad. Sorry for the inconvenience. Here’s a gorgeous view to make up for it.”
So what’s your neatest “Look! Up in the sky!” moment?
Cansarn sackenfracken hamsters must be hungry this morning because they ate my first post…grumble grumble. I have three:
The first was when I was very little and my dad took my brother, sister and me out with blankets and stuff to watch the full lunar eclipse. I was the only kid to stay awake for the eclipse. Thanks, dad.
The second was when I was twelve and my friend and I thought we’d be cool and dare eachother to lie in the street. It was August, and we looked up to see anamazing meteor shower - the Leonids, if I’m not mistaken. At the time, I didn’t know what they were. I thought we had discovered a miracle. Since then I have stayed out to see both the Leonids and Perseids several times.
Third was watching three hawks have a territory battle. A male and female fought off a third hawk. They were screeching and diving at each other. They would collide and tumble and recover and circle and attack and it was the most amazing animal display I have ever seen in my life. The couple finally fought off the intruder. He finally flew away and the winners did victory laps and screeched their triumph to all of us. Watching hawks do battle: awesome.
A meteor pretty much like what Jonathan Chance described, though maybe not quite as big because I haven’t seen anything that made it out to be as rare as that one apparently was. It caught my eye out the window when I was watching TV about five years ago.
I have also seen four total solar eclipses while looking up, but of course I was deliberately looking up to see them.
Oh, and a number of Iridium flares, but I look at those on purpose, too.
That’s a montage I made of photos I took with a digital camera during the total eclipse of December 4, 2002, from Ceduna in South Australia. That was actually the third total eclipse I’ve seen - the first one was from near Lake Balaton in Hungary in 1999, and was probably the most impressive just because it was the first one, and the second was from just outside Lusaka in Zambia in 2001. If you have never seen a total eclipse make plans now to see one before you die. There are plenty of them. It is an absolutely incredible sight — I’ve heard it described as “the closest sensation you can get to being on another planet” and that is true. I’m not normally given to hyperbole (I’m a scientist by training) but the sight of what appears to be a hole cut out of the sky above your head really does stir something primeval.
The eclipse in the photo was all the more wonderful because it looked like being a washout. I had driven 1,300 miles from Adelaide to get there, and with only 2 hours to go the sky was blanketed with cloud. But, as you can see, the clouds parted in time — and then rolled back just as the total phase was ending. The second-from-right image shows the moment just before totality began… you can see why they call that stage the “diamond ring”. One of these days I’ll get round to getting a nice big print done of this pic…
Less spectacular, but still cool, I once saw a sunspot with the naked eye. The sun was about to set and was only just visible through thick mist. It looked kind of like this (not my photo), but the sun was much fainter.
In 1991, I was driving with some friends through a torrential rainstorm on the Navajo reservation near Kayenta. As we turned a corner, we came out of the rain and saw two perfect, complete double rainbows stretching across the sky above a landscape that was bathed in that fierce golden light you get after intense storms. Easily the most beautiful aerial phenomenon I’ve ever seen.
If we’re talking rainbows, I was blown away by one when I visited the Isle of Skye in Scotland earlier this year. I was just walking back down from the Cuillin Hills towards Sligachan with the sun low behind my back. Suddenly there was a torrential downpour and a full half-circle of rainbow appeared ahead of me, seemingly close enough to touch in places, framing the view down to Loch Sligachan with the slopes of Glamaig glowing bright red in the sun. That was pretty cool.
This summer, we had an intense storm system roll in one evening. It hit about 20 miles north of where I was at the time. Looking northwest, I could see 3 layers of clouds, in various shades of sunset red, all moving in slightly different directions. Then below all of these layers came 1 cloud. It was white and puffy, and looked kind of like a head. It was heading in the opposite direction from all the other cloud layers. Just 1 cloud. It was easy to imagine it as a wind god, heading off on some unknown business.
Seriously: Probably the Leonid meteor shower a few years ago. My wife and I drove up into the mountains to get a clean, light-pollution-free view. Spectacular stuff, even though it was awful damn cold up there at night.
Somewhat less seriously: We were looking out, not straight up, but the third item here was pretty amusing.
The Northern Lights, dancing directly over our heads one night.
We were driving up a dark country road, and my wife noted that the clouds were acting strangely. Of course, they weren’t clouds at all, but the Northern Lights, so we pulled over to watch the show. For the next half-hour, we watched them dance and shimmer, right over our heads. It was amazing.
From the front porch of our house, I can see them from time to time off in the distance, but I’ve never had the experience of being right under them before or since. I hope I do again someday, though.
Several years ago- one of the Space Shuttles coming in for a landing, as it flew over central Texas, in the evening.
I’d forgotten about it- but luckily I was out driving around at the right time, and heard it mentioned on the radio. I found a small parking lot reasonably far from city lights, and pulled over. There were a few other cars there, all for the same thing. We kept squinting up into the dark, seeing various moving lights, wondering if each one was the shuttle.
Then… we saw it.
A HUGE plasma trail, almost too bright to look at, moving across the sky. I mean, all those other moving lights (planes, most likely) were just put to shame. I said, “I want to see this every night.”
And… back when I was a kid. Right after a hurricane had come through Houston, I saw cloud-to-cloud lightning start at one horizon and end at the opposite horizon- all in complete silence, and taking more than thirty seconds to complete the trip.
And… (not really UP in the sky)… my cousin and I went for a drive out in the country to cool off- we were camping at the time, and it was hot and humid, so we took the car out to cool off in the AC. We were on a back country road, and drove down into a valley… and suddenly, we found ourselves in a fog bank. It was a weird one, though- it was about 3 inches thick, about 3-4 feet off the ground, and opaque. It was right at eye level, and so we kept rising slightly above it and dropping below it as we drove. When it was below us, we couldn’t see the road, and when it was above us, we couldn’t see the sky. Weird.
I saw a meteor strike a few years ago. I was driving home from my boyfriend’s late at night, and I saw a green streak flash off to my right. It hung in my sight long enough to catch my eye and watch it go down. I swear, it hit in a field close to me, but that could have been a trick of perspective, and anyway, I wasn’t about to go stomping around in someone else’s field in the middle of the night. If it was close, it wasn’t very big, so I doubt the tractor man found it.
Best eclipse I can claim to have seen is a good partial one. Over 70% of the sun’s face was occluded, and it was sufficient to dim the light to the point where you would have thought it was a cloudy day, exept that the shadows of objects were still hard and clear.
I also saw Hale-Bopp in 1997. We were in Malibu, which is away from the worst of Southern California’s light pollution, but still doesn’t provide a true dark sky. Still I could plainly see the comet with its tail, overhead.
Watching a huge very and very bright meteorite streak across the sky as I was driving down the interstate one night was pretty cool. A lot of the cars in front of me hit their brakes so I assumed they’d seen it as well.
Waking up early one Saturday morning to the dogs barking wildly and hearing a loud whooshing sound and finding a hot air balloon coming in for a landing over our back pasture. It just barely managed to clear the trees and actually ended up in our neighbor’s front yard. Watching how fast the team packed up the balloon was almost as fascinating as watching it land.
Lunar eclipse when I was about 10, the moon was a huge orange basketball
Northern lights- multiple colors dancing across the entire sky
Tornados- only at a great distance driving across Kansas
I could try and describe these, but, I could never do them justice.