[VIEWPOINT]Enjoy meteor shower with family

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[VIEWPOINT]Enjoy meteor shower with family

We witnessed a grand “space show” that will never be forgotten on the night of Nov. 18, 2001.
That night, thousands of shooting stars fell toward the earth every hour. We call the phenomenon a “meteor shower.” These occur when the earth enters an area of space where clouds of comet particles cluster. They happen several times a year.
Among them, “the College Scholastic Ability Test meteor shower” that occurs around university entrance examination day is famous. It is called the Leonids, a meteor shower that occurs every year around Nov. 14.
For parents and children, it can be a memorable night of watching stars together. It provides lovers a good excuse to get cozy. So let’s forget about out daily chores for a while and go enjoy a night of shooting stars.
Around midnight, a bright yellow star will appear over the horizon in the east. It is the planet Saturn. Saturn is in the constellation of Leo. The star right below Saturn is Regulus, the brightest star in Leo.
The Leonids look as if they shoot in all directions from Saturn. Therefore, before midnight, we will mainly see meteors streaking from the horizon in the east to the center of the sky.
Since tonight is the last night of the lunar month, a crescent moon will appear at around five in the morning, so there will no dimming of the shower by moonlight.
One bit of bad news is that the estimated peak time of the Leonids is 1:45 in the afternoon.
But that is no reason to be disappointed, because forecasting the timing of a meteor shower is not an exact science.
In 1998, there was a lot of publicity about meteor showers, but the show was rather poor. In 2001, there was not much publicity, but we were treated to a spectacular meteor show.
There is no reason to feel letdown, no matter what happens.
After all, when watching shooting stars, how can there be success or failure? If we see a few dozen falling stars overnight with family or friends, it may be more than we’ll see again in our whole lifetime.
For fun, we may wish to practice the old custom of making a wish on each falling star. So tonight is a good chance to make dozens of wishes.
On top of that, if we can find constellations like Orion, Gemini and Taurus together with our children, we will be more than happy. For those wanting more information, you can search online for amateur astronomical societies or observatories, and join their group observation program.
There is no special skill or equipment needed for observing meteor showers. All that is necessary is that, from tonight till early tomorrow morning, you find an open and dark place where you can see the horizon and escape from the light of urban areas.
If you find a dark place, you may see as many as 3,000 stars. By the way, if you look up at the sky for a long time, it hurts your neck. It is better to lie on the ground, protected by warm clothing.
To increase the festivities, one can listen to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata or have a snack while discussing cosmic topics.
For busy people who don’t think much about cosmic implications, I recommend that they get closer to the universe at least once a year.
From the earth, the stars boggle the mind. The distances are so vast that it is almost impossible to get your mind around them.
Even if we travel at the speed of light, it can take years to reach the stars.
We see movie or TV scenes where people travel in space, passing stars like we pass trees on the street, but they can’t portray the immensity of it all.
What kind of vehicle could one day make it possible for human beings to travel the universe at a speed faster than light?
Perhaps we should ask Albert Einstein, but he is already among the stars himself.
At present, astronomers can observe the universe to about 10 billion light-years from the earth.
The mystery and wonder of a universe that goes on forever produces a sense of awe in all.
Perhaps it is good to reflect on the eternal questions as we gaze at the stars and ask, “where do we come from?”, “why are we here?” and “where are we going?”

*The writer is the president of the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Seok-jae
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