Holidays in June 2011, or any year, or any month need to be explained a bit. There are great differences in the term “holiday” because of the description before the word. The defining adjectives are; official, federal, legal, local, public, state, unobserved, un-traditional, wacky, and weird to name a few. Similarly, the other words accompanying “holiday” are observances, and events. So, I guess it’s okay to be a bit loose in the numerous definitions of holidays.

Traditional federal holidays are:

  • New Years Day
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday
  • Washington’s Birthday
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day.

I have preferenced the usual holidays to emphasize the little known June holiday of June 30th - Meteor Watch Day.

It is also called Meteor Day, or National Meteor Day, and no originator has been found that I know of. The guess is that some watcher of the skies started it. It may be an overlooked holiday or it may be hugely acknowledged, just not official. This June 30th doesn’t have any predicted meteor showers to get all excited about, in fact, most meteor shower guides speak about the Perseid or Leonid meteor showers. The problem is that neither of them are in June. So, one must realize that a meteor is likened to a falling star or a fireball streaking across the night sky. Perhaps there are a few of those to see on the June holiday. A meteor watch can happen any night if one is vigilant at  night sky watching.

Remember that a meteor is destroyed by earth’s atmosphere. It is the dust particles (streaking across the sky like a fireball) that are turned into a glowing gas. Meteorites are extraterrestrial rocky objects that aren’t destroyed by earth’s atmosphere. They survive and land on the earth.

Astronomy is an ancient science that had meteor astronomers as far back as 1837. That brings us to the Walt Whitman poem, Year of Meteors (1859-60). The poem caused a stir for 150 years because of the line about a “huge meteor- procession,” until it was finally solved. The poem is dazzling with comets and meteors referenced. Here is a copy of it:

Year of meteors! brooding year!
I would bind in words retrospective some of your deeds and signs,
I would sing your contest for the 19th Presidentiad,
I would sing how an old man, tall, with white hair, mounted the
scaffold in Virginia,
(I was at hand, silent I stood with teeth shut close, I watch'd,
I stood very near you old man when cool and indifferent, but trembling
with age and your unheal'd wounds you mounted the scaffold;)
I would sing in my copious song your census returns of the States,
The tables of population and products, I would sing of your ships
and their cargoes,
The proud black ships of Manhattan arriving, some fill'd with
immigrants, some from the isthmus with cargoes of gold,
Songs thereof would I sing, to all that hitherward comes would welcome give,
And you would I sing, fair stripling! welcome to you from me, young
prince of England!
(Remember you surging Manhattan's crowds as you pass'd with your
cortege of nobles?
There in the crowds stood I, and singled you out with attachment;)
Nor forget I to sing of the wonder, the ship as she swam up my bay,
Well-shaped and stately the Great Eastern swam up my bay, she was
600 feet long,
Her moving swiftly surrounded by myriads of small craft I forget not
to sing;
Nor the comet that came unannounced out of the north flaring in heaven,
Nor the strange huge meteor-procession dazzling and clear shooting
over our heads,
(A moment, a moment long it sail'd its balls of unearthly light over
our heads,
Then departed, dropt in the night, and was gone;)
Of such, and fitful as they, I sing--with gleams from them would
gleam and patch these chants,
Your chants, O year all mottled with evil and good--year of forebodings!
Year of comets and meteors transient and strange--lo! even here one
equally transient and strange!
As I flit through you hastily, soon to fall and be gone, what is this chant,
What am I myself but one of your meteors?

Meteor of 1860Credit: wikimedia commons

The comet mentioned was easily identified as the Great Comet of 1860, seen in the Northern Hemisphere on June 18th. The meteor procession was unsolved until the July 2010 issue of Sky & Telescope broke the story. A group of very curious researchers took a good look at a beautiful but little known painting of the The meteor of 1860 by Frederic Church. The painting clearly shows a rare celestial event of a “grazer” meteor traveling across the sky in a horizontal march. It is a rare site because the meteor breaks up soon after entering the earth’s atmosphere and the pieces travel together across the sky until they leave the earth’s atmosphere. Only 4 grazers have been documented since the 18th century.

I think there is a good possibility that the originator of the obscure Meteor Watch holiday may have read the Walt Whitman poem and found himself wondering just what the poet was talking about. After all, the longer one watches the sky, the more he sees, and may continue a vivid curiosity that connected with Walt Whitman poetry and others. Falling stars are fascinating to observe, and after seeing some a heightened sense of “quest” for more of the unexplained mysterious places in the sky that remain less known. It’s good to have a holiday reminding us to look up into the June sky because it reminds us of the great universe we are a part of. If we continue to stargaze or sky watch, who knows what could happen? Maybe another mystery could be solved or a new planet or star identified. Maybe it could move one to great literacy and a new poet would come into play. Surely wishing upon a star never hurt anyone.

image credit - wikipedia commons for Frederic Church - Meteor of 1860
text resource - Solving Walt Whitman’s meteor mystery, by Amina Khan