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Jack Knox: Can your doctorate from Google U explain the fire in the sky? (Hint: meteor shower) VIDEO

Around 5 p.m. on Sunday, something went thump


Something fiery flashed through the sky Sunday, but all returned to normal after I sacrificed a goat. You’re welcome.

Since most people were inside at the time, more Islanders felt or heard the heavenly object than saw it. If it registered, it was as a bit of low, sustained, distant thunder that chased some of us off our couches and under our beds around 5 p.m.

We wondered: Was it an earthquake? The brown acid from Woodstock, coming back one more time? Santa flaming out on a test run? Some assumed it was the Rumbles, the mysterious phenomenon, most often linked to U.S. fighter jets from Whidbey Island, that occasionally rattles Victorians’ teacups and nerves.

No, it appears the celestial light show was associated with the Geminids meteor shower. It was seen from as far away as northern Oregon, though most of the 13 witnesses who reported it to an American Meteor Society website were clustered in the mid and south Island: Courtenay, Nanaimo, Duncan, Mill Bay, Shawnigan, North Saanich, Victoria.

Some reported hearing a boom, followed by a bit of a shake. Some just saw a streak across the sky, and heard no accompanying sound.

How spectacular was it? Deb Haun was at home on Bear Mountain when her social media feed lit up (as it were) with people talking about the fireball.

So she checked her security cameras, which didn’t show the meteor itself, but did capture the way it illuminated nearby conifers. “It was perfect timing, with the snow on the trees,” she said Monday. Imagine how bright the space invader had to be to throw that kind of light.

That could have to do with its make-up. Karun Thanjavur, an instructor at UVic’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said the Geminids differ from the better-known Perseids in that they’re associated with an asteroid, a rocky body, as opposed to a comet, which is mostly ice and dust.

A fist-sized space rock plummeting through the atmosphere at a few thousand kilometres an hour will emit an incredible amount of light. “It burns with so much intensity,” Thanjavur said. The meteor will take a while to burn up, too; Sunday’s fireball was visible for several seconds.

If you want a shot at seeing something similar, you might be in luck Monday and Tuesday night. The meteor shower began Nov. 19 and continues until Christmas Eve, but the meteor society website listed Dec. 13 and 14 as peak viewing.

How do they know this? Science, worked out by real scientists, people who went to the same school as you but who didn’t waste their time carving a bong out of a potato when they should have been reading physics texts.

I am grateful to such people, the scientists and technologists who understand what makes the world go around, because they make up for my ignorance. For example, I don’t know how my computer works. Nor do I understand my cellphone, stem-cell therapy, or, other than at a very rudimentary level, electricity, the internal-combustion engine or the manufacture of glass.

Likewise, I am baffled by flight, the identification and extraction of chemicals, and anything beginning with “micro” or “neuro.” I don’t know how a leafblower works, and wish no one did. Mention sine and cosine and I think of bank loans, not trigonometry.

In short, I’m an idiot. That’s OK, because I’m a functional idiot. I can fly in a plane, use a glow-stick or log on to without needing to know how the magic happens. If ignorance is bliss, then I’m ecstatic.

People like me are generally grateful for scientists, the ones who we imagine must lurch around like drunks, bashing their swollen noggins into walls because their giant brains make them so top-heavy.

This is true even though we are as ignorant of their identities as we are of their fields of knowledge. Exhibit A: astronomers like Robert Methven Petrie (who has a crater on the moon named after him) and Andrew McKellar (who found the first evidence of the residual radiation from the Big Bang), whose names are greeted with reverence in academic circles and blank looks on the streets of Victoria, the city where they worked.

There’s even a planet named after J.S. Plaskett, famed for his accomplishments at Saanich’s Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, but have you heard of him?

Alas, these days some people have more faith in their own doctorates from Google U than they do in more traditional credentials. After a solid two weeks on the Internet, they feel more qualified than those who have spent their entire careers in lab coats.

“I’ve done my research,” they will say, “and I’ve come to the conclusion that the fireball was a warning shot from a Kardashian death star. All hail our new Kardashian overlords. Let’s toast them with some livestock medication.”

Good heavens.