When I was a little girl, I believed that if I saw a falling star, I should make a wish. Popular songs of the time reinforced this belief – songs like “When You Wish Upon a Star” from the animated Disney film “Pinocchio,” and Perry Como’s “Catch a Falling Star.”

Later, I learned that falling stars – also called “shooting stars” – aren’t really stars at all. According to the “Cool Cosmos” website, they are really meteors – small bits of rock that heat up tremendously as they fall through earth’s atmosphere.

Perseid Meteor Shower, Sourthern California, August 2015 (Photo Credit: Maxwell Palau/Star Dude Astronomy)

In fact, the period from mid-July until late August is a wonderful time to watch for shooting stars. A few weeks ago, the Perseid meteor shower was visible for several nights in the northern sky, because the earth was crossing the path of a comet called the Swift-Tuttle, which is the source of the Perseid meteor shower. Bruce McClure and Deborah Byrd, writing on the EarthSky website, note that “debris from this comet litters the comet’s orbit, but we don’t really get into the thick of the comet rubble until after the first week of August. The bits and pieces from Comet Swift-Tuttle slam into the Earth’s upper atmosphere at some 130,000 miles (210,000 km) per hour, lighting up the nighttime with fast-moving Perseid meteors.” The name Perseids comes from the constellation, Perseus. He was a character in The Odyssey, and the term Perseids was a way of referring to his offspring.

McClure and Byrd state that “every time this comet passes through the inner solar system, the sun warms and softens up the ice in the comet, causing it to release fresh comet material into its orbital stream.” That material increases the number of meteors we can see in the night sky.

Ryan Damerow, TIRF’s Chief Operating Officer, was able to view the meteor shower this month while he was on a camping trip next to Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Ryan said, “You really must be vigilant when star gazing, as you never know when a meteor is going to flash across the sky or how long the streaking burst of light will last. During the Perseid meteor shower, you could go five to ten minutes without seeing a meteor, but then see three at the same time across the northern sky. Patience is ever important when watching a meteor shower.”

Unfortunately, here in Monterey, California, the summer sky is often obscured by fog – the “marine layer” typical of peninsular weather. This year, the view of the sky has been obscured even more by the smoke from the Soberanes Fire, which has consumed over 93,000 acres as it has been burning out of control about 35 miles south of here for over a month. As a result, the Perseid meteor shower that Ryan could see so clearly was completely hidden from me.

While the meteor shower was happening, Ryan and I have been preparing for the upcoming meeting of the TIRF Board of Trustees. And, as usual, such preparations involve serious budgeting and financial planning. So of course, an analogy occurred to me: Can I wish upon a shooting star if I can’t see it? Can we plan a budget for 2017 on the hope that unseen donors will come forward and help support the Foundation?

Unfortunately, incoming donations are not nearly as predictable as the recurring meteor showers. Neither the timing nor the magnitude of financial contributions can be predicted with confidence. But, as Ryan noted about watching for shooting stars, patience – even vigilance – is crucial in fundraising.

So a part of me believes that substantial donations will be forthcoming – probably the same part of me that still wishes on falling stars. If I could have a wish come true for TIRF, it would be that we would increase our corporate donors’ gifts by 50% and double those donations from individual supporters by the end of 2016. Please won’t you help us make this wish come true??

Best wishes,