Shooting stars make a spectacular sight in the night sky. I saw one last week, when I was out star-gazing with a couple of friends. None of us seemed to be able to trace the history behind shooting stars and wishing upon them, so I thought I owe this post to my blog.
For starters, shooting stars are misnomers. These streaks of light are actually broken little pieces of rock and dust, which, when close to the Earth, enter its atmosphere at blinding speeds, and heat up, glow and burn down. Apparently, on any given night, a shooting star should be visible every 10-15 minutes. This holds especially at the time just before dawn, when we face the direction in which the Earth moves. The frequency of shooting stars increases at certain times of the year, when the Earth passes through a region particularly crowded with dust and rocks (Meteor shower).
Legend has it that wishing upon a shooting star makes the wish come true. It is believed to have originated in Europe, when Greek astronomer Ptolemy, around AD 127-151, wrote that the Gods occassionally, out of curiosity, even boredom, peer down at the earth from between the spheres, and stars sometimes slip out of this gap, becoming visible as shooting or falling stars. Since the Gods are already looking at us at such a time, they tend to be more receptive to any wishes we make!
The Greeks, however, fathomed shooting stars to be rising or falling human souls, while Jews and Christians believed them to be fallen angels or demons. Aristophanes, a Greek playwrite, had a more fancy imagination. According to him, shooting stars were “souls of poor people, drunkenly walking home after they had dinner at a rich star.”
Even contemporary culture is abound with superstitions related to shooting stars. In Chile, for instance, when you spot a shooting star, you must pick up a stone in the same moment, while making a wish. (Quick thinking, I must say.) If you’re in the Phillipines, you must tie a knot in your handkerchief instead. (Too bad if you don’t carry one around.)
Personally, I became familiar with the wishing-upon-a-shooting-star-concept because of a Bollywood movie! (No prizes for guessing.) The first time I saw a shooting star was a year ago, at Tioman in Malaysia. It was a fascinating sight, but I can’t remember what I had wished for, so I can’t claim if it came true! It’s too soon to tell the fate of the wish I made upon the shooting star I saw last week, but I shall use it as evidence in accepting or refuting the legend.
Tips for the next time you go star-gazing:
- Keep a wish handy, always.
- Remember Murphy’s law. The moment you look away from the sky, a shooting star will appear.
- The moment you see a shooting star, you will impulsively point at it and scream ‘Shooting star!’ Keep that for later. The wish must come first.
Have you ever wished upon a shooting star?
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