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Meteor Shower

Ocean City

The night sky was ablaze with streaks of light, as if someone had lit a thousand sparklers and tossed them into the air. It was the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower. Julia and I had driven to Ocean City Washington, a secluded spot away from the city lights to witness this spectacular show. We sat on our camp chairs on the beach and gazed at the stars, feeling a sense of awe and wonder.

The Perseids are one of the best meteor showers of the year, occurring annually between mid-July and late-August. They are caused by the debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed close to Earth in 1992. The meteors are called the Perseids because they appear from the direction of the constellation Perseus, but they can be seen in any part of the sky.

Ocean City is a small coastal town in Washington that lies on the Crescent Terrane, an ancient volcanic island that was added to the continent by plate tectonics. It is near the Coast Plutonic Complex, a granitic core of the Coast Mountains that formed from another subduction zone. Ocean City is part of the Pacific Northwest, a region that has been built by the collision and accretion of various exotic terranes, large blocks of crust that have different origins and histories. The Pacific Northwest also has four volcanic arcs, mountain chains that have been created by the subduction of oceanic plates beneath the continental margin. These arcs have produced molten rocks that have intruded and erupted, forming volcanoes and mountains. Ocean City is a place where you can see the evidence of these geologic processes, such as the Copalis Rock, a sea stack that is visible from the shore.

We watched as the meteors zipped across the sky, some leaving long trails of light and color behind them. They were moving at an incredible speed of over 130,000 miles per hour, but they looked so graceful and serene. I wondered what they were made of, and how old they were. Most of them were tiny, about the size of a sand grain, and they burned up in the atmosphere before reaching the ground. But some of them were larger, and maybe they could survive the fiery journey and become meteorites.

Mount Rainier

But the viewing from the beach of Ocean City was not optimal to see these faint illuminations, as nearby cities and towns polluted the night sky with light. So, we decided to pack up camp and drive to Mount Rainier, where we hoped the skies would be darker.

The night sky was indeed much darker on Mount Rainier. We used our cameras to try and capture this amazing sight, but I knew that no picture could do justice to the real thing. We eventually decided to just enjoy the warm dark night, and let the meteors etch their beauty in our memories. We felt a connection to the cosmos, and a gratitude for being alive. I also felt a curiosity to learn more about the Perseids, and the comet that spawned them.

Mount Rainier is a stratovolcano in Washington State that belongs to the Cascade Volcanic Arc, a chain of volcanoes that forms from the subduction of oceanic plates beneath the continent. The volcano has erupted many times in the past, producing lava flows, pyroclastic flows, pumice, and ash. The last confirmed eruption was in 1894-95, but the volcano remains active and dangerous. Mount Rainier also has 25 glaciers that cover 10% of its surface and create water and unstable rocks that can trigger lahars, volcanic mudflows that can travel far and fast.

The volcano has produced at least 60 lahars in the last 10,000 years, some of which reached Puget Sound and carved out the present-day course of the White River. The most destructive lahar was the Osceola Mudflow, which occurred 5,600 years ago and covered a large area with debris. Mount Rainier is a place of natural beauty and scientific interest, but also a place of potential danger and disaster.

But on this night, Julia and I just lay back and watched the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of a particularly bright or colorful meteor. We hoped for the Perseids to never stop, and to always remind us of the magic and mystery of the universe.


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