Perseid meteor over the Luhasoo bog in Estonia, by Martin Mark.

In August, the Earth passes through the debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle, causing the Perseid meteor shower. When the pebble-sized debris burn up in our atmosphere, we see shooting stars that appear to come from the same direction as the constellation of Perseus.

I stayed up on Saturday night to watch, but I only saw a few shooting stars despite (erronous) claims that 2017 would have the best Perseids in 96 years. It was still fascinating, particularly knowing that they were space pebbles sizzling up in our atmosphere tens of miles above me. Historically, people have seen spiritual or cultural significance in astronomical events, so I wondered if there was any such history for the Perseids.

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Over a hundred years ago, Alden’s Oxford Guide described “a curious ceremony annually observed at Magdalen College”. This ceremony was the May Morning hymn, and it’s continued (literally) to this day. On the 1st of May, the choir ascends Magdalen Tower to sing the Hymnus Eucharisticus as the sun rises. Beneath the tower, people gather to listen to the hymn and the bells, then head into the rest of the city to celebrate the arrival of spring with dancing, eating and drinking, and the observance of various May Day traditions.

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