One... and done:
Okay… here’s the deal. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose ears perk up when we hear that something will be a “once-in-a-lifetime” event. So when I saw recently on Facebook (that paragon of information) that the Tau Herculid meteor shower (perhaps even upgrading it to a “storm”) occurring on May 31 would be one of those “once-in-a-lifetime”, I determined not to miss it.
In preparation for this momentous occasion, I learned that these meteors were generated during the 1995 break-up of periodic comet 73P/SchwassmanWachmann 3 with debris littering its orbit. With that name, it’s no wonder it broke up! Earth would pass through that debris that Monday evening.
Even though I didn’t set an alarm, I really wanted to witness this never-to-be-seen again phenomenon. I took it as a sure sign when my internal clock promptly woke me from a sound sleep at 12:30am. Slipping on some clothes and shoes and whispering to my sleeping spouse my plans, I stationed myself outside looking north toward the Little Dipper as I’d been advised. After a hour of peaceful solitude but nary a meteor, I returned inside only to find my sweet wife searching frantically from room to room for my lifeless body. I hesitate to speculate whether she was relieved or disappointed!
Since this experience, I’ve learned that the meteor shower was actually more of a drip. You might want to stifle any pity you’re feeling for my disappointment. I’ve actually witnessed two other what I like to call “once-in-a-lifetime” events.
Years ago as a family doctor I’d been called to our local hospital emergency room in the middle of the night. On my way home in the early morning hours out the driver’s side window I was suddenly aware of a large triangular shape outlined in white lights hovering above me. I even pulled off to the side off of the road for a better look. No noise... no movement. I watched until I feared being beamed up and probed! To this day, I feel I witnessed a UFO.
Fast forward several years. I was working in my yard when I stumbled upon a most unusual activity. Closer inspection revealed, to my amazement, a mother turtle laboriously digging a hole with her back feet, carefully laying her eggs, and then dutifully covering them before crawling away exhausted, I’m certain. Unfortunately, this was before the age of cell phone photos so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I even fenced off the site but never witnessed any hatchlings. I later learned that most of these eggs are infertile. I’ve often wondered how many other people have witnessed this “once-in-a-lifetime” phenomenon.
I may be pushing my luck, but I’ve recently learned of yet one more possible “once-in-a-lifetime” event, especially considering my advanced age. For the first time in eighteen years, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will be sequentially aligned, and this alignment will not occur again until 2040. Since they will be visible at dawn throughout the entire month of June, maybe my odds will improve.