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Heavens above! What on earth could this celestial sight mean?


Frances Burscough

Frances Burscough

Frances Burscough

In ancient times the sight of a shooting star or comet was always greeted with superstition.

The interpretation and significance varied greatly, depending on the civilisation, the location and the period in history as well as its actual range, size and magnitude. But whether it was seen as a good omen or a bad portent, the effect of a brilliant bright light, suddenly blazing across a night sky with no warning would be met with gasps of anticipation or shrieks of terror by everyone beneath its path.

Bear in mind that back then there was no electricity, so light pollution in the night sky was non-existent. There were no aeroplanes or satellites and even fireworks hadn't yet been invented. In fact, there was nothing whatsoever to detract from or compare to the sheer brilliance of such a celestial spectacle.

References to meteoric events of this kind abound throughout history. In Shakespeare's Henry IV for example, the shooting star is described as “A prodigy of fear and a portent of broached mischief to the unborn times”. Whereas in the Gospel of Matthew the “Star in the East” signified something truly amazing — the birth of a Messiah under miraculous circumstances ...

So fast-forward two millennia into the future. There I was, last Friday night, at approximately 10.50pm, driving home through Bangor after an evening of entertainment at Belfast Culture Night, when suddenly something caught my eye and caused me to gasp in awe.

Searing across the sky to my right was a spectacular bolt of vivid light, sparkling in silver and gold, dripping twinkling stars across the black sky in its wake.

I slammed on the brakes and wound down the window. Fortunately, no-one was behind me and it was a quiet, empty road. My first reaction was that this was an aeroplane that had blown-up mid-air, but there was no sound at all. Indeed, it was completely, eerily silent ... which also ruled out the possibility that it might have been a single, solitary, magnificent firework; the spectacular grand finale of some distant display that I'd somehow missed.

Could it have been a meteor, plummeting to the ground, breaking up as a shower of sparks as it burst into our atmosphere?

And yet, in the past when I'd seen shooting stars, they'd streaked across the sky in a split second and were gone forever, as quickly as they had appeared. This, whatever it was, was still coursing across the sky moments later, gradually dimming like an extinguished fire until it finally evaporated completely into the horizon.

By the time I'd got home the news networks were buzzing with reports of the incredible sight. Was it a meteor? Was it a comet? No-one knew for sure; not even the astronomical experts at Armagh Planetarium, who were as surprised by the incredible sight as everyone else.

All I know for sure is that it was a sign. If my preternatural instincts are correct, something earth-shattering is about to happen. So, was this a good omen of a marvellous miracle about to take place ... or a bad portent of a terrible catastrophe just around the corner?

What's it going to be, God?

One week later and I'm still walking on eggshells ...

Belfast Telegraph