Skip to content ↓
MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

Meteor Shower by Yan Z. '12

For once, the title is relevant.

Movies Watched in the Past Year Through Which I Have Remained 100% Awake, and Why:

1.Sin City: Honestly, this film’s cinematography and editing was far more polished than any of my dreams could ever dream of being. I can dream in black-and-white or in color, but not in black-and-white-and-symbolically-important-colors-only. The sad truth is that my periods of REM sleep, no matter how R my EM may be, will never win me an Oscar even if I’m partially Al Gore.

2.Helvetica: It’s an esoteric documentary about how the earthshaking invention of Helvetica not only gave aesthetic purity to subway signs but also brainwashed you into buying Coca-Cola. Need I say more?

3.Slumdog Millionaire: I blinked about 3 times per second while eyeballing this raw masterpiece of breathlessly-paced storytelling, trying to scan in every color-saturated detail before I had to face the grey ugliness of December in the Midwest.

4.Shawshank Redemption: Napping had second priority behind bets with myself about which person in my row of the theatre would start weeping first during the rain scene. I won, by the way.

5.Pulp Fiction: Like any normal person seeing this movie for the second time, I obsessively combed through every grain of Tarantino’s visual/audio landscape for clues about What Was in the Briefcase. No luck. My best guess is still that it had something to do with magnetic monopoles and/or the Freemasons.

(As a point of reference, movies that I’ve slept through this year include but are not limited to: Watchmen, Dr. Strangelove, Life Aquatic, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Snape-I-Mean-Prince, Love Actually, and Thank You For Smoking. If you ever want a brilliant critical review of the first 10 minutes and the closing credits of any of these movies*, shoot me an email.)

((*With the exception of Thank You For Smoking, a film which lulled me into a slumber so profound that I did not wake until 5 AM the next morning. Granted, I’d just stepped off the bus from New York earlier that night and was so drop-dead exhausted that I could have slept through the brilliant climactic scene of Helvetica, in which some typographer guy opens a 1950s magazine and starts ranting and bashing on all the non-Helvetica typefaces with violent gesticulations of his index finger. Really, I have no idea why Helvetica wasn’t a summer blockbuster.))

Not that I’ve kept track, but I’m willing to bet that most of the movies I’ve slept through were viewed on Thursday or Friday nights. A typically-MIT* trajectory of exhaustion goes something like:

*By the way, using MIT as an adjective is pretty much canonical when talking about tiredness/hosedness/motorized shopping carts. Just in case you’re interested in those unspoken rules of English usage.

Mon.: Tired
Tues.: Tired
Wed.: Hopelessly tired
Thurs.: Drowning in tired while clinging to last shreds of willpower to floss regularly despite diminishing ability to lift hands past elbow level.
Sat/Sun: Regain ability to english

Minor exaggerations aside, my second thought after signing up for a 10 pm trip last Thursday to Wallace Observatory with MIT’s Society of Physics Students was, “Should I bring a regular or extra-firm pillow?” My first thought was, “Mmm, meteors.”

The Perseids meteor shower, like a celestial garbage truck stopping by Earth on a yearly basis, dumps a spectacular load of debris into the night sky every August. Apparently, some people like to drive to scantily-populated areas to watch pieces of stellar trash streak across the sunless skies. By “some people,” I mean me and probably most of MIT’s Society of Physics Students. Thanks to Sara ’10’s vice presidencing skillz, MIT SPS borrowed a van and shipped three vehicle-loads of meteor semi-enthusiasts to Wallace Observatory on the first night last week when the sky was visibly raining meteors instead of, well, rain.

So I grabbed an extra-heavy blanket, an extra-bright flashlight, an extra-warm sweatshirt, and an extra-small Jess Lin and headed over to the Green Building to await Sara’s glorious borrowed van. Jess Lin was the ideal last-minute person to bring along because (1) Jess Lin and I could probably share a car seat if x > y, where x is the number of people signed up for the trip and y is the legal passenger capacity of the van, and (2) Jess Lin’s family lives about 10 minutes away from Wallace Observatory, so if we got stranded in the middle of the woods, Jess Lin’s mom could hypothetically drive to Wallace and bring us take-out Thai food .

Sara’s arrival was timelike separated from mine, so I entertained myself by toying with 15-second exposure times on my camera, whose maximum exposure has no timelike separation from 15 seconds, unfortunately. That and my spacelike separation from a tripod precluded the possibility of magazine-worthy meteor shots, I soon discovered.

(Low-angle shot of the Green Building.)

After a while, it was clear that Sara was going to be non-relativistically late, so I started shooting the breeze with Jess and shooting the cement with my camera. That’s not a figure of speech, by the way; I ended up with some excellent macros of the cement outside the Green Building. Seriously.

At last, the prophesized van showed up. Inward we piled. Wallace-ward we drove. 40 minutes it took.

Wallace was cold and dark and starry. After a short tour of the telescopes, we spread our blankets on the driveway and sprawled on our backs, eyes hungering for light. Residual splatterings of starlight slowly intensified from pinpricks into lush necklaces of hot glowing jewels on black velvet. I switched on my camera, upped the exposure to 15 seconds, and set the focus to infinity. 15 seconds later, I had a fantastic, high-quality picture of an empty black rectangle on my storage card.

This was the best photo of the night.

This was the second-best photo of the night.

In two hours, I saw three meteors. That’s infinitely more meteors per hour than the average over my life prior to August 13, 2009! (The secret to avoiding disappointment is to recalibrate your perspective using irrelevant statistics. Another example: I broke my right arm. That’s infinitely better than being one of the 0.0003% of people in the world who go to Harvard!*)

*Actually, I’m pretty sure this statement is comforting not because of the statistic but because it makes fun of people at Harvard.

If you’re still disappointed, never fear: the moral of this story is that hope and determination always prevail in the end. After a night of abortive attempts, I was rewarded with:

Meteors galore!

Just kidding. The moral of the story is that if celestial bodies won’t move for you, you can at least move your camera to create cheap blur effects that look like meteor tails, because nobody reading your blog can tell the difference anyway.

At least I didn’t fall asleep.

35 responses to “Meteor Shower”

  1. Micah says:

    You saw Shawshank Redemption! Awesome movie, is it not? But you fell asleep during the Harry Potter movie? Aww, I liked it!
    And I really thought those were meteors until you mentioned that little secret! I shall have to keep that in mind (though photos I take are so bad anyways, no amount of blurring shall make them look epic. It shall look just bad and blurry). I wish I got to see the meteor shower though.

  2. Divyansh says:

    well rightly said that if u hadnt written that they were cheap blur effects everybody would have believed that u viewed the spellbounding event “because nobody reading your blog can tell the difference anyway.”

  3. cHaRlEs says:

    to english.


    also, transformers 2 > *

  4. Nicholas says:

    The Shawshank Redemption is in my top five list of favorites. (There are more than five movies in my top five list)

  5. José P. says:

    Your second picture looks like an endless sea of moldy fruitcake.

  6. Mehmet '14? says:

    Movies!! Love watching them and Pulp Fiction was one of my favorites especially the Wolf character :D. The best meteor shower I watched was when we were out in the open sea. No light pollution, crystal clear sky. Also when we went to this observatory 3000m high on top of a mountain was my best view of the sky!
    I am jealous of you though I missed that meteor shower!

  7. Su ('14?) says:


    haha I totally agree with you when you say “there are more than five movies in my top five list”

  8. Lauren says:

    I was very sad to miss the meteor shower :( Stupid clouds! I saw one once when I was little and it was AMAZING. I will see one again! (someday)

    And you fell asleep during Thank You For Smoking?! I really liked that movie!

  9. Piper '12 says:

    Slumdog Millionaire was amazing.

    (And surprising. I had somehow thought Slumdog Millionaire was the title to The Wrestler. I was very confused for the first half of the movie, having not seen the Slumdog Millionaire trailer. Note to self: watch more TV.)

  10. Anon says:

    I was there!

    At the meteor shower. :D

  11. Prashidha says:

    hmmm, I couldn’t see this one because of the clouds :(
    Hope the Geminds will not disappoint me this December :D

  12. Yan says:

    @ Shawshank Fans:

    I completely agree. Shawshank Redemption is the best airplane movie ever: it’s long, interesting, and makes you feel comparatively grateful for cramped seats and airline meals. Worth watching on land too, of course.

    @ Mehmet/Lauren:

    If it makes you feel any better, I pretty much missed this meteor shower too. I caught like 3 nanoseconds of meteorage total. I’m not even sure whether the 3 “meteors” I saw were actual meteors or just a result of my eyelashes blurring my field of vision when I blinked. Clearly I should remember to shave my eyelashes first next time.

    @ Charles:

    Haven’t seen it, but I already want to make a parody called Fast Fourier Transformers.

  13. Su ('14?) says:

    SHAWSHANK! In my top 5 movies ever list. It sometimes is my #1 fav. depending on my mood. You should watch the Greenmile and Stand and Deliver (both are brilliant).
    The meteor shower looks amazing and mystical.

  14. Olive says:

    I’ve never seen Shawshank Redemption. What’s it about?

    Lol, I would be happy to go out and stargaze for a few hours where the sky is actually clear, meteor or no… I love your pictures of the stars, btw!

  15. adcom says:

    Fourier Transformation – The Absolute Truth (below)

  16. adcom says:

    “..Fast Fourier Transformers”


  17. Elaina '12 says:


    That last sentence of the blog strangely felt like a poke in the gut. I walked out into the middle of a field to watch the meteor shower, and started falling asleep after 1 hour.

    But I did catch at least six meteors in that hour before I started seeing strange things when I closed my eyes for too long. I should have drank coffee.

    I don’t know about crying, but my eyes may or may not have watered during the Shawshank rain scene (I refuse to confirm).

  18. Georgy says:

    Went to Telescope Array in Utah to watch Perseids. Best experience ever (though not the 200 per/hr as forecasted by meteorologists (the cool kind))

  19. NathanArce says:

    Bahahahah, epic story for your last photo. I have still seen a grand total of zero meteors in my life =.=” But I do know a couple people who saw the meteor shower at their own home ^_^ (I went outside and even onto my roof… without my parents’ knowledge >_____>, but my neighborhood was too damn bright even at 2 am to see a single star…)

  20. Vinay says:

    LOL at the last paragraph! You cheater!

  21. Omar says:

    I am respectful/proud of your decision to sleep through the Harry Potter movie, but if I find out you slept through the book I will apply to MIT just so I can own you.

  22. Cam says:

    Give The Godfather a try. I watched it a lil while ago, ’twas good. And Gran Torino, if you want an old man to make you cry.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Yay for being out on a lake in the Adirondacks approximately a lot of miles away from anything?
    That said, there was a lot more trying to explain the location of Signus to my brother upside down than actually seeing meteors.

  24. Anonymous says:

    @ Omar: Pardon me if this is a common practice that I am somehow unaware of, but how exactly does one sleep thruogh a book?

  25. Anonymous says:

    Simple. Sleeping through a book is like going through a day “sleeping with your eyes open”. As if one is simply doing the motions but the mind is not truly present.

  26. shawn '11 says:

    The Perseids were amazing. I drove out into the middle of the desert with a bunch of people I work with in Los Alamos and we lied out on a blanket, just watching for a few hours. It got really exciting around 2 am. smile

  27. Cathy says:

    hey I saw a grand total of 3 meteors that night too…which is more than I have my entire life. so basically I was chatting with my friend and we kind of…forgot.

  28. NathanArce says:

    @the 3rd anonymous up

    Maybe the problem is that you were actually trying to explain Cygnus to him? =P

  29. Micah says:


    Was the Harry Potter movie that bad though? I thought it was better than the other movies…though some scenes were odd/what-the-heck worthy!

  30. Vaibhav says:

    @ Yan
    This question is irrelevant to the title but I wanted to ask that besides Barrons, which book do you think is better to study for the SAT – Kaplan or Princeton Review?? (I think Barrons is so…stereotype-ish….)

  31. yuki '12 says:

    ah, lucky.. I couldn’t see any from my socal home.. :(

  32. Teddy says:

    Bah, I couldn’t see any meteors at all.
    Stupid sky was in the way. And falling at the same time.

  33. Mom out west says:

    The Shawshank Redemption is about prison, and justice and how the best kind of revenge can take years, and there are people everywhere looking to take advantage of someone else and loneliness and friendship and a bunch of other stuff- totally awesome movie. It’s based on Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Girl, you need to google lomography.

    -ayn photography fan

  35. Dmitriuse says:

    –ö–æ–º—É –∏–Ω—Ç–µ—Ä–µ—Å–Ω–æ –ø–∏—à–∏—Ç–µ