April 29, 2002 - Jupiter, M44, M67, M65 and M66, M81 and M82, M51, M3, M13, M57... Comet Ikeya/Zhang and the Moon...

Comments: Wait a minute... Nope. Still raining. Man! I thought this was supposed to clear a bit. Guess I'll just work for awhile, huh? Wait a minute... Nope. Still raining. Doesn't matter, the Sun probably hasn't changed that much anyway. Besides, I've got stuff to do. Wait a minute... Nope. Still raining. Guess I can take a nap. Do a bit of research... Hang on, will you? Nope. Still raining. I mean, after all they're just planets anyhow. You've seen them get close before, T. Hold on... Nope. Still raining. Work on our article for awhile... Cuz' it's still raining. Decide to go see if my glue has dried on my latest engineering project... Probably not, because of the rain, you know. But go look...

It's not raining.

Welcome back, stars... You've no idea of how much I miss you when you're away! The sky isn't the greatest, and it is rather late. But I don't have to work tomorrow. Wanna' take a peek a Jupiter before it sets? Yeah, I know the detail isn't that great when it's this low, but you know me. Always take what I'm given, and thankful for it. So I don't mind watching the dance of the galieans. Ganymede and Europa waltzing just ahead of Jove and well-spaced... Callisto running behind... and Io in hiding. You see? There is something here of interest after all.... Just have a look at the ultra-bright field of stars Jupiter is in! Well, that tears it... M35 and Auriga are in the trees. Sky won't support much more than open clusters on a night like this.

So pack it up, call it a wrap? Heck, you can't even see the stars of Cancer at the moment. But... Say, now.. Isn't that? Yes. It is. In ancient times, people foretold the weather by the M44. Legend has it that if other stars were visible, but not the "Beehive", severe storms would follow. Got news for ya', Troglodyte... The tornadoes just skipped by me yesterday, and I can see the M44. And the 4.5 sees it quite well, too. As a glittering array of stellar magnitudes and color. Vague in pattern, but long on memories. Always a pleasure to visit.

It's kinda' nice just being outside. You want to try for something harder? No marker stars mean a challenge... And M67 is one of those great "sometimes I can find it and sometimes I can't" open clusters like NGC6940. Psssst! Gotcha'. The 4.5 can see 2500 light years away tonight! There is quite a reason while this particular open cluster is an oft-repeated target. It is a galactic star cluster unlike the rest. Not only is it unusual in the respect that it lay off the beaten path is comological structure, but the crazy thing stopped it's evolution before it turned into a globular cluster 10 billion years ago! Heretic.... That's why I like you so. ;)

Want to have a go at a really difficult catch in muzzy skies? Because if you can distinguish this pair in small aperature under poor conditions, you've not rusted yet! And the M65 and M66 it is... Oh, yeah. Galaxies. I look rather longingly toward Virgo/Coma, but know inside that if I'm struggling with this pair, a hunt in the "Field of Dreams" would require the dob. A heavy, cold, wet dew is starting on the Celestron's body, and as much as I'd like to practice, I will not risk that magnificent big mirror.

But we can do the M81 and M82 if you like! Their marker stars are invisible even in the finder, but I know the field. Give me that reddish star in the eyepiece, the familiar patterns of the years, and there they are! I will give our "Great Galactic Duet" credit for one thing... They even show through thin cloud cover. Just magnificent.

Want to make sure all the strings are still in tune? Then let's walk on to the M51. Not always an easy target for the 4.5, it is being difficult tonight. Let's see... Alkaid, Cor Caroli... Marker star... Yep. It's still right where I left it last, and pulling it's spin-off companion as close as it will let it.

You know, really the sky isn't that bad. Want to just stand here for a minute and discuss why Arcturus looks orange? Rayleigh would be proud. But hey, brother... I have a thing for natural spectra, so check out the green that accompanies this particular star without the grating. Wave lengths... wave lengths... Ah, you're the wave, baby.

Break enough. Let's swat the M3 out of the sky, and talk about WHY I often repeat this target, too. So we've studied globular clusters, and we know their formation is devoid of dust and gas. But not M3. The 4.5 reveals a beautiful stellar swarm, rich in the interior and resolving outward... But what it doesn't show is the dark nebulae associated with it. Arguably within the "line of sight", but fascinating nonetheless. And there is more here... A "variable heaven"! For stars contained within the M3 can change in less than 10 minutes. (and here i take 20... ;) Most vary within 12 hours, but these rapid shifters double magnitude! A bit more you ask? Then read on its' Population stars... they don't follow sequence either. A rebel 10 billion years in the making....

Enough! Hercules has risen well above the cloud line now. Let's take a walk toward the M13 just for fun. Let's see.... Between this star and that, right? Hehehehhee... I shall drive you crazy. And the stellar profusion of the Great Hercules Cluster shall take us there! Perhaps if I shave off a bit of the sky fur, the core will be much cleaner. Resolve me...

It is definately brightening now... There's a yellow Moon on the rise. Care to try our luck at the M57 before we take a break? Then let's look for a perfect circle. Faded and jade, the "Ring" lacks appeal under these conditions. But you know what? I still like it any way...

Now let's go wait on Selene to claim Nuit...

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A bit of painting, some groundwork writing, a cold beer, and chatting with an old friend... What's this? You've got sky, too? Then I'd best bid the Knight adieu... Cuz' I want that Comet.

Holy Katz! Will you just look at how far that thing has climbed in just days!! What a rush it would be to film it for a period of time... Watch in speeded-up sequence how fast it travels. Now my curiousity is piqued! Just how fast DOES Ikeya/Zhang move? Cool! Another factoid to hunt down.

Still bold and beautiful, Ikeya/Zhang is nestled in a field of bright stars in the binoculars, and gentle magnitudes to the telescope. The nucleas still remains considerably brighter than the coma, but thanks to lunar interference, no tail can be see tonight.

And speaking of La Lune... What's up there, tonight?

Atlas and Hercules, mon ami. Atlas with its' rugged mountains along the eastern rim, central peak and shallow interior craters. Hercules much stronger, with the folds along the western wall, sub-crater on the south, and a dramatic interior crater punching a hole in it's perfection.

Rheita is also splendid tonight. Shallow, though she is. Central peak, nice detail to the southern crater wall... But better yet? The overlapping series of dune dusted craters that comprise the Vallis Rheita. Like sand blow by the dust of time, filling in the sharp edges.

The sandman comes for me.

"I'll take you by my side with my superhuman might... You're like Kryptonite.

Kryptonite..."


April 27 - 28, 2002 - It seems that all it does is rain here. In a way, I find that quite depressing because my skills go dull without practice. I can't tell you how long it has been since I've done a study field... Or searched down a difficult DSO!

Thanks to the weather, I've began to rust.

It's OK, though. Because I am a patient person. Wait a minute... Nope. Still raining. I don't think I'll forget how to do things overnight, will I? Wait a minute... Nope. Still raining. After all, it's not like you could "unremember" where your favourite galaxies are, or anything. Wait a minute... Nope. Still raining. I mean, who can't find Jupiter and Saturn, huh? Wait a minute... Nope. Still raining. Besides, I've got other things I could be doing, huh? Like studies and... Hang on a second. Nope. Still raining. Exploring great new theories, and building a surprise. Hold on... Nope. Still raining.

I did mention I was patient, didn't I?

"I stumbled in, and bumped my head. If not for you... Then I'd be dead. You picked me up and put me back on solid ground again...

If I go crazy, now... Will you still call me super, man? If I'm alive and well... Would you still be there holding my hand?"


April 26, 2002 - Comet Ikeya/Zhang and The South Field... The Sun... Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and the Moon... Castor, Theta Auriga. Polaris, Algeiba, Mizar and Alcore, and Cor Caroli...

Comments: Woke again to clear skies. Turning on the coffee, moving slowly about, and trying not to think about anything but the stars. As soon as the first cup was ready, I grabbed a coat and the binoculars and headed out. At the moment, I can't carry the scope out... But it doesn't matter. Comet Ikeya/Zhang is still quite bright.

Following its' rapid ascension has been a real pleasure. It has changed so much over the last few months, but it is still beautiful to me. Averting my vision even in binoculars helps to bring out the stubby remainder of the cometary tail, and it still holds a relatively bright core structure surrounding by the halo of a "fuzzy" coma. You go, I/Z! It won't be long till I can catch you during an evening session...

Finishing my mug, I meandered out toward the south field. Stars down to the ground, baby... How incredible the scene is through binoculars! The knots, clusters and nebulae show quite well... Share we just say the view was...

Inspiring?

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When I got home from work it was to enjoy the sunshine! And the Sun...

Several interesting groups are holding court on the solar surface at the moment. One very nice one sits at the outgoing edge, caught deep in the Wilson Effect, and clearly generating faculae around it. The sky was even sufficiently clear to make out granulation at the edges. Excellent!

Of all the sunspots visible, I found 9914 to be the most interesting. Although none of these pose an particular threat to M or X class flare activity, 9914 has a very peculiar dispersion field. Ordinarily, the penumbra is very regular, emulsifying itself evenly away from the umbra... But 9914 has a loop in it! It doesn't happen often, and I find it most curious. Makes me wonder what the magnetic field is doing beneath it...

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After having read in the Wizard's report that Mercury had make it back on the evening circuit, as the Sun set and the Moon rose, I decided to take the binoculars again and head out for open western skyline. It's kinda' nice, just hanging out, listening to rock and roll and watching the sky darken. It is a lesson in itself, actually. Seeing the colors of the sunset blend into the night...

They whisper "Rayleigh".

Venus appears first, bold and beautiful. Well above it, Jupiter joins the scene, followed brief minutes later by Saturn. Darker still, the tiny reddish dot of Mars enters in... But what of Mercury? Ah... There you are! Down low in magnitude, but gaining even as the sky darkens. Wonderful! I await the conjunction eagerly...

And I've got to take the 4.5 out for a bit. Make the day fade...

Hello, Saturn. Still golden, I see. Your rings are trim and tight, and you pull tiny Titan across the sky with you. Mind if I take a closer look? Yes, there you are my tiny friends, collected at the edge again. How delighted I am to see the fine hair line of the Cassini once more.

Jupiter! Ah, yes. What a terrific display of dimension your galiean moons make tonight. Ganymede, Callisto and Europa as so very visbily coming toward us in single file... While at the otherside, friend Io stands by the mighty Jove. The equatorial zones are crisp and clean, the north temperate like a smudged brown line. None of the "swept" look to the south tonight. Too bad.

And the Moon? Hey, she's a "full figured" gal. Painful to look at perhaps, but still a beauty. The bright points of landscape, smooth maria, and notable features are still nice. And at the edge? Maybe not as "full" as you thought, eh? For just a bit of detail still shows to the south.

Not ready to go in, I decide to have a go at some of my favorite (and easy, ok?) double stars. Castor split well and clean. Theta Aurigura a bit more tough, but I dig the spectra. Ever constant Polaris and its' tiny companion...

Travel with me a hundred light years away... Algeiba awaits us. A bit tight tonight, but resolved with patience. Wouldn't it be grand to have a double star as our Sun.. One yellow, the other a cooler orange? I'm glad the Arabs could do it, because I require my glasses to split Mizar and Alcore, and the telescope pulls the double white of Mizar out with such ease.

One more? Then make it Cor Caroli... And let us sing a requiem for a dead king. I like your colors, my friend.

Sapphire kissed by gold...

"You took for granted all the times I never let you down..."



April 25, 2002 - The Moon...

Comments: It's time to take the Vixen off the mount. The fast-paced days ahead mean that I should really prepare it for a journey. Myself? It doesn't matter to me. But getting the scope there in one piece does. It has been a pleasure to use, and we make our way slowly up the stairs to my office. You will be safe there...

When I made my way back down to the ground, I put the 4.5 back in its' rightful place. Like the dob, it's been far too long... And I want it back.

How I hurt! No one can ever understand but you, Sister Moon.

And that battered, old Celestron.

You make fun of my ways... But you know me not at all. Nuit knows me for what I am... And I am welcome there. Always... Now fly me away to the Moon! And take away my pain.

Crater Gimaldi assaults the eye. (hey. laugh, clown... laugh.) Almost all detail of the selenographic surface is gone at this phase, but the tiniest fine line of mountain ranges and craters are still visible. Behind the mask of Grimaldi is Riccioli, offering up a bit of pleasant detail.

To the south, Tycho's rays are truly beautiful. I guess if there were to be a redeeming feature at this phase, this would be it. They stretch for such grand distances... At the edge is Crater Bailley. Smooth on the inside, what appears to be a shallow crater within shows well.

Journey north... Cardanus, Cavalerius, and at last the multiple form of Struve. Named perhaps after the man of double-star fame?

Time for me to walk about... Admire the sky above me. How simple the constellations look under the moon-washed sky! Gone is their cystalline finery, and only the shell of their brightest stars remain. Who loves you when your beauty is gone, eh? I do... I walk to the east side yard, to see Saturn on the verge of setting. I shall have to make a date with that one before it is gone, like Mercury, Venus and Mars before it.

Jupiter is still high enough. Want to rock?

Off to fetch the scope, and let's have a look. Check it out! One of the little galieans is right on the edge... Ganymede, I think. Setting a bit of power on it reveals no shadow, so it's not a transit. Must be a graze, because it is definately "in front". Actually, they all look pretty darn even tonight... Like a row of beads on an abacus. I don't feel like stressing over surface features tonight, although I can see them. To view the north temperate zone is enough for me.

I thought perhaps to journey on to some double stars, but the hour is late. Reluctantly I cover the scope and put it away. On the railing of the deck is the two tylenol, a glass and the rest of the bottle of wine I set there earlier. And I want them, thank you.

Grabbing my old quilt, I find the cushion in the equally old redwood chair to suit my fancy now. It's time for me to warm my old bones... Listen to the radio. Let the sky get a bit furry. Look up and the Moon, and wonder if you did, too. Time to think... Time not to think... Time to let go.

And hide in the shadows...

"You call me strong... You call me weak. But still your secrets I will keep."


April 24, 2002 - A Morning Walk...

Comments: H was in my face. I contentedly patted at him, hoping he would just curl up here beside me... But he wouldn't stop. He nuzzled, he whined, he chewed at my eyelids. If you can sleep through a hundred pounds of pitch black german shepherd standing on your hair and eating your eyebrows... Then you are more dedicated to sleep than I.

It didn't take long to figure out why he was in such an itching hurry. The sky was clear and beautiful! Morning walk? Oh, let's go...

Coffee on, dogs running free, I went to the garage to turn on the radio and set out the scope. But which scope? Vixen was first in the doorway. And behind it sits the dob...

I've been igoring it far too long.

Off we go! To dance across the sky together, you and I. So many things I haven't seen in such a long time! Like the M13, the M56, the M57, the M27, Brocchi's Cluster and the M11. Beta Delphini gave me a wink, and to the South? Saggitarius, Ophiuchus and Scorpius.

I shall not tarry long on details. They will be a summer study. But how wonderful it is to see the beauty of the southern skies with the power of aperature! (Besides, you know the walk I took, don't you? ;) But before the dawn steals the sky, I seek Comet Ikeya/Zhang. Oh, my my... So very bright and beautiful in the Great White! And the field? Whoa... I know you're tired of hearing about it, but say it again, will you?

Zhang!

"If I go crazy now... Will you still call me, Superman? If I'm alive and well... Will you still be here holding my hand? I'll take you by my side, with my superhuman might...

Because you're like Kryptonite."


April 23, 2002 - A Vixen Moon...

Comments: You've had me bent over, you've had me upon my hands and knees, you've had me in every conceivable position, (plus a few i didn't know i could.) and tonight, Vixen? You have me laying on a blanket in the fresh, green grass...

Journeying to the Moon.

Gassendi captures the eye. The landscape about it rugged, beautiful, and oh-so dimensional. Across the crater-scarred sands of Mare Humorum, sits the duplicty of the inner structure of Dopplemayer. The moonscape about them is simply exquisite. And so I am moved to at least try to photograph them. I know that my temporary shots are nothing like what can be truly seen at the eyepiece... But if for one moment, they give you pleasure? Then they are yours...

Traveling south it is to the shallow form of Schiller. I wonder if anyone can gaze upon Selene and NOT be impressed by the sheer height and depth of the lunar features! Although Schiller itself appears flat, the upslope behind it toward Phyoclides and Hainzel is absolutely towering!!! Truly amazing...

Continuing onward, we sweep the terminator... kissing the lips of Aristarchus. The Sinus Iridum is grossly over-illuminated, but the light serves Pythagoras and Babbage well.

As I look back over these photos, here today, and gone tomorrow... I am ashamed of how the pixels scatter and blur. But what I have seen in my eyes, Vixen?

Is very handsome, indeed...

"You know, I really don't mind, what happens now and then... As long as you'll be my friend at the end."


April 23, 2002 - "Leftover" Lyrids and Comet Ikeya/Zhang... The Vixen Vs. Southern Skyline...

Comments: The sky was rotten last night... As it had been for days. Temperatures in the upper 80's had brought clouds along, but a rapid drop was only the way. And around 4:00 a.m.? We had 29 degrees and crystal clear horizons...

Turn on the coffee, H. We're going out!

Radio on, Vixen weaviled out of the garage, and binoculars out, we're headed toward the east side to check on Comet I/Z. No sooner than eyes turned toward the skies, a beautiful, quick-silver bright meteor zoomed silently out of Lyra toward Hercules. All right! Left-over Lyrids... like left-over pizza make a great breakfast.

Yep. That crazy Comet is exactly where we thought it would be. Hanging out with King Cephus and the stars of the Milky Way. Still appearing much like a globular cluster in the binoculars, we give it a quick smile and head for the scope. Scope? Well, hey... Why not? Adventure is our middle name.

Picking out the 32mm, 2" Televue wasn't exactly
the most difficult choice. The field of view is outstanding in this eyepiece, and it's high time to see if this scope can perform. A bit of wriggling around, some minor contortions... and viola! Comet...

Oh yeah, baby. There is still some visible tail with averted vision, but what captures the imagination is the way the coma itself has changed. No longer a tear drop, nor is it a fan, the soft glow surrounds the "furry nucleas" in a very regular globe shape. Sensing no "stellar" points inside the body of the Comet, interest fades quickly. Or perhaps it's just because we've other things in mind...

Standing back up, just in time to catch another meteor flash, (long one, too!) bright Scorpius, silent Saggitarius, and the splendor of deep sky await. Wanna' rock?

Carrying the Vixen out to the south field, that long-legged mount makes us a bit nervous perhaps. Especially with the scope itself shoved up as high as it can go! Ready for some more T-engineering? Then you really won't mind if I fetch a short piece of tow chain from the garage and loop it through the tripod legs, will you? After all... It worked for Andromeda. ;)

Another silver streak scratches the face of the sky... And we're off.

Antares comes first... and I don't know what in the blazes is going on here, but there appears to be a cloud around it. Focusing in and out, watching what you told me to... and still there is a haze about it. (questions... always filled with questions...) No matter, for it will wait for another time, the M4 is now in sight. At this low magnification, we are quite pleased to see this evenly distributed, large globular cluster begin resolution. Averted vision brings out an almost "twisted" look to the outer stars.

Moving down and south, the M6 comes up. Ordinarily the "Butterfly" holds true to its' pattern, but this morning the stars seem more random. More of them! Well defined... Sweep up and capture the M7. Aaaahhhh. Very good! Out and out pinpoint resolution here. The basic X pattern shows a clean apparent double in the center with a small chain of four dropping away from it. Actually fine chains of stars are what this open is about... And one very black background.

Trying not to drool, cruising the Milky Way with you could become addicting! Pure resolution, and the stars just ache to be explored. And what do you know about that? Here's the M8! Wanna' swim in the "Lagoon"?

NGC6530 is perfect. Perhaps two dozen stars of varying magnitude set in a clean open cluster. Did you know it is one of the youngest? Ah, gotcha'! At the center, the two powerful stars fueling the nebula are bright against their dark background. The thicker portion of this ionized hydrogen gas cloud to the northwest glows with an ethereal light. In its' direction, a double handful of fine stars spray across the field.

Looking up to catch a breath, because that will take it away, another silver streak cuts across the dome of the pre-dawn skies...

On to the M20. Hey. We've got dark dustlanes here averted! Wow... The "Trifid Nebula" bears out its' name, but does not look like its' photographs. (do any of us?) Slightly elongated from north to south, its multiple star center is quite clearly seen as a point of light. By edging it to the bottom of the field, sweet little open, M21 joins the scene.

Time to head toward Kaus Borealis, and rock out the M22. You asked the Vixen for resolution? Then, m'man... You got it. Higher power would have shook this globular right down to it's core, but averted goes a long way. There is no problem picking up on that "squeezed" structure, nor the hundreds and hundreds of blue/white/silver stars! Very, very fine...

M25 is nearby, and it only takes a few moments to locate. A splendid teardrop shaped cloud of stars greets our eyes. Several dozen members smack you in direct vision, while so many, many more await on the edge...

M17? We're coming for you.

The deep wing of the most visible portion of the "Omega Nebula" captures both heart and eye. And see it with soft eyes... For the nebula is perhaps twice as large as you might think. The glowing "swoosh" resides in the southwest, and the soft cloud continues on to the northeast. When you look at it like this, you can see tiny "twinkles" within. The dob knows them as stars...

But the Vixen knows them as magic.

"I watched the world float to the dark side of the Moon... After all I knew it was something to do with you."


April 19, 2002 - Rain. 'Tis natural for this time for this time of year...

"And I feel there is nothing I can do. Yeah..."


April 18, 2002 - Playing with the Moon and the Vixen...

Comments: I found a position I could deal with... Perhaps a bit "unAstronomer-like", but I don't mind if you don't. The first time I just grazed around on the Moon, didn't really take the time to "play"! And now?

I wanna' play with you...

At 26mm, the view of the Moon is virtually undistinguishable from the 4.5 reflector. Sharp-edged craters, crisp shadows... You know, the usual stuff. But am I selling the Vixen short on lunar views? Then let's go have at it...

Straight to 9mm and cutting the focus in fine and clean. Many craters offered possiblities, but tonight my attention was captured by Aristoles and Eudoxus. Splendid shadow play, and despite some hazy cloud cover, and occasional waiver, the view remains crisp. Ready to go down?

Then let's add the barlow. Aristoles now displays an inner terraced structure, with several small craterlets actually on the southwest rim. Inside the crater proper, shallow concentric rings take shape to the south, and interior mountain peaks are very visible.

Moving attention to Eudoxus, the northern edge shows four bright peaks encased in a ring. To the south, a single dark hole displays itself. To the outside edges, the landscape ripples to the east, and turns stepped and rugged to the west. Very fine... Very fine indeed!

Just slighty away from this pair sits the visage of Crater Alexander. From soft peaks, to sharp high mountain tops, Alexander's circlet is completed by several dark markings within the floor. But what's this? Like an arrow pointing to the west, a "V" shaped enclave displays a wall structure bisecting it. Wow!!

Dropping the magnification back to a more comfortable 17mm, the journey continues acros the smooth, grey sands of Mare Serenitatis. The deep puncture wound of Bessel is excellent, but there are myriad others here as well... Not to mention a well lit rille!

Past Julius Ceasar, we continue on to explore the Rima Ariadaeus and delight in the Apollo 11 and Apollo 16 landing sites. But what is that?!

Crater Sacrobosco is beautiful. Three interior craters yawn like open mouths inside the structure, while hundred more pepper around it. Quite fine...

Time to stretch out on the blanket for awhile, shall we? Just lay here at watch Jupiter so close to the Moon as to feel its' breath... Just relax. Look at Leo... Look at the scope... Look at where the 2" eyepiece mounts in... ?!!!!

I think it took me ten seconds to make the switch...

Holy Mother of Pearl! At 32mm, we've got field... And what a field! Breezing right past the edge of Selene is a silent red star. Eta Geminorum? My. Doesn't that bring back some memories... No, we're not going to occult tonight, but what a pleasure it is to think about! A twist of the wrist, and Jupiter joins the scene... Sporting is well-defined equatorial belts and the dance of the galieans.

Vixen? I think I like you, kid...

"I watched a world float past the dark side of the moon..."


April 18, 2002 - Comet Ikeya/Zhang...

Comments: Oh. So you're tired of hearing about I/Z, huh. You know wanna' know what I say? Huh?

Better skip this part... ;)

Took the binoculars and the mug out to the east field for a look about this morning. And you know what I'm looking for. Comet Ikeya/Zhang...

(say it again.... comet ikeya/zhang....
whooooooo... zhang!... ;)

I tease only because I know just how much fun it is to follow a comet, and what a great pleasure it is to only need binoculars. Watching a comet move round in its' orbit is to see it cycle through many changes. When I/Z first arrived on the scene, the nucleas was much more "stellar", and the coma like an extremely bright nebula around it. Then, the dust tail was a thin line, with the entracing blue ion "scratch" jetting away from it.

As it moved more and more into the northwest skies, the dust tail brightened, and extended several degrees. Not only did the tail "brighten", but the coma itself increased in magnitude and changed in shape, causing the nucleas to be a "scope only" visible feature. It turned into a naked eye object. (sure! now everyone in the WORLD wants to see it, eh?)

As it cruised farther on, and lower on the horizon, I/Z became a prized catch between weather fronts. Now the "tale has turned"! Gone is the long, straight, sunlit trail of ice and dust particles... They become a "fan" shape, yet still continue to extend well beyond with "on the edge" averted vision.

Heading toward the north to loop around, Comet Ikeya/Zhang heads toward morning skies...

Pleased to have caught it at both times, the study again changes form.

Over the last several mornings, both telescopically and through binoculars, Ikeya/Zhang has changed structure radically. Yes, it still looks exactly like a comet. (and it looks like a "hairy star" to the unaided eye!) And it still has perceptable twin tails... But the coma and nucleas have transformed. The core has lost that "sharp" quality, and the coma is rounding itself off... Making it look much more like an unresolved globular smeared across the sky.

So what, you say? Then think on this...

If you have ever seen an ephemeris on a comet, then you will understand... It's beautiful.

Or an orbital plot??



Now THAT is fascinating!!

In watching Comet Ikeya/Zhang over a period of time, we have seen it move across star fields, near our neighboring galaxy... round the Sun, and into the circumpolar region...

Only to find it traveling against the backdrop of our own SPIRAL ARM!

And you know what? Let's continue to follow it's lead, as long as we can. For this gives us dimension... A sense of "place" in space.

And one of these days? It will give us a beautiful meteor shower....

("Woo Hooo! Did you see that one? Hey! There goes another!" ;)

"I left my body laying somewhere in the sands of time..."



April 17, 2002 - Comet Ikeya/Zhang... The Aurora, Meteors and Lightning...

Comments: It wasn't the greatest of mornings, but it sure wasn't the worst. Already missing my sidekick, I took the binoculars and a cup of coffee with me and headed toward the east field.

Comet Ikeya/Zhang rules the morning sky!

Sliding higher and higher every single morning, it won't be long until I/Z is visible as a late night object, too. I like watching it... There is something rather pleasing about sipping at your morning cup while admiring a "furry little star" where one doesn't belong... All the while knowing that the moment you put the binoculars to your eyes it turns into a Comet. It has a magical quality to it... And the starz only know that sometimes we could use a bit of magic in our lives.

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The day produced grey skies, and the unseasonably warm weather should have generated rain. I kept about half a watch out, but really didn't expect much. That's OK... For I wouldn't mind an evening just to relax a bit. So I did. Ate well, caught up on things, and poured myself a glass of very unaccoustomed wine. And then what do I see?

The Moon, baby. What else?

Cursing myself for having indulged in a bit of alcohol, (for wine sets me down hard!) I knew there was no way I was going to touch a telescope, much less one that is not mine. But hey... I take pleasure in being a stargazer, too.

So, I poured another. And went out on the deck with the guitar to sit on the railing and just enjoy the night. I ran through a few tunes... Watched some errant clouds slip across the Moon... And then just set it aside, content to sip and look.

Funny? Where did that light come from? I'm not THAT far gone. Huh? There it is again. Oh, my... We have aurora!!!

Like Poe's eternal raven, I sat perched on the railing, delighting in the occasional spear of light and the soft pink cloud of low slung aurora. From time to time, a bright meteor would scratch the face of the sky and make me smile. And it feels so good just to be mellow for a bit...

My back to the south meant I didn't know what was sneaking up on me. If it had been alive, I would have sensed it... But clouds move on silent cat feet.

The first flash of lightning took me so by surprise I almost fell off the railing! (and i assure you, the five foot drop to the ground on my back would have been most unpleasant...) That will teach me to let my guard down like that!!!

As the aurora gradually faded to nothing more than a soft pink haze, and then to sky... The storm moved across the southern skyline. The bright, electric veins of distant lightning a pleasing, natural display of nature's fury... Combined with electromagnetic displays to the north...

What more could I ask for?

"I took a walk around the world to ease my troubled mind..."


April 16, 2002 - Galaxies After Midnight - Comet Ikeya/Zhang and a Saggitarius Dawn... Playin' With An APO...

Comments: The night stayed warm and sweet, and I have no wish to leave. It is always so, when I am with you. Somehow tired is forgotten, pain becomes a distant memory, and only the excitement of exploring remains...

Let's rock...

Starting at Vindemiatrix, let's hop up and examine one of Bode's objects, M53. In 1775, this globular cluster was about 65,000 light years away from us, and my guess says it still is. Johann Bode described it as "a new nebula, appearing through the telescope as round and pretty lively." Hehehee... well, "pretty lively" is an excellent way of describing it. Compacted core area, this sweet globular is quite willing to "give up it's stuff" to you! While the majority of the stars that comprise it are of the blue/white variety, M53 wears a golden halo of resolvability. Twisted round it in a most charming fashion, the stars resolve cleanly and well... Leaving us with a taste for more!

And more is what the dobsonian gives you....

I have my own rules, and although you might persuade me to share with you personally, the field we are exploring now is unconfirmed. So very many galaxies in the Virgo/Coma Berenices area... And a lifetime together to explore them!

Ending the field study in somewhat familiar territory, (and feeling decidedly "galaxy giddy"!) we stop to examine the M60, one of the largest elliptical galaxies known. In the dob, this bright character is a treat after so many faint studies! Glowing with what is estimated to be an amazing one trillion suns, this is one of the few ellipticals to display a nucleas, and a faint halo around it. More interesting than that is the close proximity of a spiral! For NGC4647 appears to be interacting with the M60. Compared to its' brighter companion, the NGC4647 is very faint, but displays a bright, stellar core and softening swirl of spiral structure. Hard to catch with that distracting, yet similar size galaxy so near! Dropping back to low power before we leave, the M59 is also "right in the neighborhood." Also an ellipitcal galaxy, it hits right in between magnitudes of its' other two companions... a nice oval with a bright center!

Now the hour has grown most late. Let's rest for awhile....

**************************************************

(hey... hey, sleepyhead... wanna' catch a comet with me? come on... wake up! tickle, tickle... ooooh! got cha' going, didn't i? come on, now... let's go look...)

Comet Ikeya/Zhang answered some very real questions this morning. Straying into the border of the Milky Way, the starfield in which it is now cruising is rich and bright! And I'll be darned... You can tell it's coming toward Earth, because the thing looks as big as a house in the dob!!

The nucleas is absolutely stellar, but the coma is what rocks! At 26mm, its' size is considerably larger than the M13... And I mean considerably! (perhaps one day you'll teach a dyslexic old astronomer how to gauge size with confidence?) But what makes it special this morning is that field stars DO shine through the coma!!! Tail? Yes. I have seen that phenomena before... But the coma? Wooooo hoooo! Unless the nucleas of Ikeya/Zhang has split into three, there be stars here!!!!

And did we spend far too long admiring it? Nah... You can never spend enough time with a Traveller. For one day you will awake, and it will be gone. No regrets. There is no other road, no other way... But today!

Still with a bit of skydark before the dawn, we stop to journey through the riches of Saggitarius on the way back. But just a peek, eh? For I purposefully deny myself somethings so I may enjoy them more at others. But, hey... When it comes to you?

I'm easy.

***************************************************

Road Trip? Let's go... We've a scope to pick up!

Ready to dance a bit more than a hundred miles in 75 minutes? Then hop in, buckle up, shut up and let's drive...

And what I've come to get is a 4" refractor.

In the backyard, set up and ready to rock, I get broke in the hard way on this type of scope. Suddenly everything I am familiar with no longer exists. I don't look through the side, I look through the end. No finder means pure "reflex" only... And when I do find what I'm after? I can't reach the $%(^&! knobs on the mount to tighten up! Needless to say, it took me several attempts before I learned the finer art of holding it steady with one hand while reaching with the other.... WHEW!

First target? Something BIG... How about the Moon? Gotcha', Sister... I prowled around for a bit, trying various magnifications and was delighted with the crisp images, but my left knee was not quite so happy about it!

I figured I'd wait a bit, walk it off... and try again when things moved a bit lower. Back out, and the hunt for Jupiter began. Excellent. At 26mm the view compares 100% with the 4.5. At 17mm the same... At 9mm? Whoa... Precision lines. The 4.5 will do this, but not on this type of night! At 9mm plus barlow? WOW! Now we're talking about a 4" chunk of curved glass performing as well as a 12.5 mirror!! Very, very nice....

Now I want color. And two places I can find "blind" are the M35 and M44. Splendid resolution to pinpoint stars, and every bit as handsome as the color provided by the dob. No. It will not pick up those faint members I know are there, but I am well pleased with what I see.

Ready to fondle a globular? The use your reflexes and find the M3 "in the dark"! Once again, I am impressed by what this small aperature scope does. It rivals my prized 4.5 mark for mark...

M81 and M82? Now, here's something a bit odd. The galaxies look a bit different, but I can't quite describe why! Puzzle another time, T... When you've had more time to play with it.

And where did I find myself? Laying, kneeling, bending, twisting.... And high on "Airy Disc"!!!! At first this drove my eye crazy. (and you ought to know why!) The is a phenomena that is lost to the reflector. Aye yi.... I am so used to picking up subtle contrast to mean other things, such as a faint galaxy, planetary nebula, or relfection nebula... I was unprepared! I kept trying to focus the thing in... And what did I get? A beautiful circle around the stars...

And you know I couldn't stop at one, didn't you? By then I really didn't much notice anything BUT the airy discs!! Simply superb....

But then, you knew that... Didn't you?

"Let's mingle.... And make it well. Come together now... And let's gel. Let's bungle... And live to tell. How we came together... Yeah.

And how we gelled."


April 15, 2002 - The Moon... Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter... Target Practice...

Comments: And what mystical quality is there about the Moon... so lit with "earthshine" that draws the eye and the heart toward it? I could no more walk past the Moon, than I could pass you on the street and not turn around.

And stop to stare...

Always Mare Crisum calls me at this phase. Who could not want to explore those plateau topped mountain ranges? Or wander about the dark grey sands? The deep wells of Pierce, Pickard, Shapely and Lick are like a siren song. So barren... and yet so intriguing.

Many craters sit well tonight... Cleomides displays itself well. As does Funerius, Richenbach and Rheita... But I keep going back for another look at Crisum. And admire the silver smile of Selene, as she stops to speak to Mars on her journey...

"And mid-time of night;
And stars in their orbits.
Shone pale, thro' the light
Of the brighter, cold Moon,
'Mid planets her slaves,
Herself in the Heavens,
Her beam on the waves.
I gazed awhile
On her cold smile..."

The ecliptic plane is truly an awesome sight, with the Moon skirting the southern edge. Shall we take awhile to contemplate the planets?

By stacking both the green and blue filters on Venus, the glare is toned down significantly well enough to see it's phat, gibbous stage. A world with no detail, forever baking away under its' runaway atmosphere...

Losing the filters, we journey on the Mars. Distance has robbed it of all but its' beautiful hue. Gone is the fantasy detail of last summer. But it will be back, and so shall we...

Saturn comes next, and still alive with detail. The movements of Titan has brought it close to the western edge of the ring system, while the inner ones dance with averted vision only along the south edge. Upping magnification gives a certain satisfaction, for when everything holds steady, the slim, black line of the Cassini grooves the bright rings. Tonight the shadow wedge and limb darkening keep attention more so than usual... For again there is a central brightening on the globe itself. Fascinating...

Hopping on the Jupiter, we spare a smile for the galieans. Near the planets limb, sits a tight pair. The magnification ante is upped, to search for shadow transit... but none exists. The north temperate belt cuts a line across the surface, and below the major features, we can see the soft skids of grey striation that make up the southern zones. What an amazing planet the Giant is!

Chosing to leave the dob covered until lunacy has passed, it is time for some practice. All too soon the Moon will flood the sky, and skills will dull from lack of use! Ready to take the 4.5 and make it hop? Race ya'....

M36, M37, M38... Excellent. M50, M41, M46, M47 and M93... Kickin'! M35, M44, M67... Oh, yeah. M65, M66, M81, M82, M51, M3... Ah, now that's the way to go! You will pardon me if I don't go into a complete descriptive narrative, won't you? For these objects have been repeated more often than my words about them!!

But you know what? I never tire of them... Always take the time to appreciate the beauty of the Messier objects. Thinking of a man so dedicated to exploring the sky with a primative telescope... And wondering if he and Pierre were as fascinated with the stellar profusion of open clusters? As curious about the formation of globulars? And as caught by the haunting vision of faraway galaxies...

For now? Let us appropriate that most excellent Fender guitar and sit for awhile here on the steps.

Stargaze for awhile...

"Clothe me in any fashion... But glitter is too mundane. Tell me how you'd love to change me... Tell me I can stay the same.

Well, I just want... To shake us up!"


April 14, 2002 - Moonshine, Venus and Comet Ikeya/Zhang... Saturn, Jupiter, M45 (the Plieades), M42, M41, M44, M67, M65 and M66, M81 and M82...

Comments: OK... I said I wasn't going to do it again, but I did anyway. Feel free to shoot me. ("i'm a loser, baby. so why don't you kill me?") As soon as I saw that beautiful crescent Moon teaming up with bright Venus, I had to get out and head out for an unobstructed western skyline.

Binoculars and camera with me, I chose tonight to head for Owl Creek. Thanks to the recent rains, it had swollen to the edges of the bank, and remembering an rather unpleasant "swim" from the past, I prefered to stick a bit closer to the high ground. How can I describe the beauty of "earthshine"? Intoxicating... As powerful as Moonshine can be. The picture it paints hanging above the water with bright Venus standing close to its' side makes me feel drunk on pleasure.

All around me, the sounds of the newly awakened amphibian life is deafening. Their cries in the night overwhelm the auditory senses... Trying to snap myself out of my dreamy state, I use the camera on the darkening skyline before the view slips away. The zoom lens pulls the picture in so close, the dark edge of the Moon almost appears to have a band of light about it. So beautiful...

And so I stand, as the sky bleeds from orange, to indigo, to black... Indulging myself. One by one, the costellations take form and the night comes to call. The sounds of the moving water is transcendental. Being "one with the night" sounds a bit stupid, doesn't it? But that's how it feels...

Before I head back, I set the binoculars on the sky in search of the comet. And I am rewarded. Ikeya/Zhang has definately lost itself in the horizon murk, but it satisfies me in a way that few things can. Will I try to capture it again? No. This is enough at chasing after the sunset. The dawn of new days and new ways has come...

When I return to the backyard, the prevading dampness still clings. Yes. I am particular about my equipment, and I will not subject the 12.5's mirror to dew. But, hey! That's why I love that old, battle-scarred 4.5 so much... It's willing to take a walk with me anytime!

And so we journey... to Saturn to catch the Cassini at the outer ring edges and the predictable pattern of its' moons. To Jupiter... to smile at Ganymede and Callisto dancing together off to the side, while Europa stands guard on the other... watching Io hide.

Stringing, hazy clouds have begun to appear, but there is time to visit with some old favourites. The Plieades and the M42 before the set too far west. The M41 before it goes into the trees. The M35 high and proud in the sky...

The M44? Still unaided, although not resolvable to the eye. Beautiful in the little scope at 26mm. The M67 simply because it's a personal favourite...

Can I make an equatorial mount behave like a dobsonian and take out the M65 and M66? You bet I can! I break all the rules of convention... Cuz' I love those galaxies!

Closer and closer the clouds come to edging out the sky... But before I go? The M81 and M82...

Just because.

"Let's mingle... And make it well. Come together now!

And let's gel..."



April 11, 2002 - Globular Studies in Ophiuchus and Comet Ikeya/Zhang... Venus, Comet Revisited, Saturn, Jupiter and Northern Galactic Studies: NGC4041, NGC4036, NGC2715, NGC544, NGC4102 and NGC3953...

Comments: Again, woke to superior morning sky. With plenty of time to spare before sunrise, I took the mug and the 4.5 and headed for the south field. It's been awhile since I've visited in Ophiuchus, and I think it's about time we got re-acquainted, don't you? So let's drop the Charlie Brown piano music... and forget the overplayed songs on the radio. Put the headphones on, spin the CD, and let's rock the sky...

Setting Antares as my marker, I brush past the M4 to the west just to have a check... Lovely as always. But, what I want is east... And the M19 is it.

M19 somehow looks a bit "off kilter" for a globular cluster, flattened a bit to the southeast side. But, that is also where the beginnings of resolution start with the 4.5. The core region appears quite large and even... It only begins to wisp away toward the outer edges.

Dropping south, the M62 is next. Now we have nucleas! The central, very bright core has "slipped" slightly off-center, but most definately is highly concentrated. The rest of the globular is a nice, grainy texture fading distinctly away at the edges. The cluster itself is nestled in a triangle formation of low magnitude stars.

Continuing with study, I push on toward Arcturus in search of the M10. All right. Different structure once again, easily revealed in small aperature. Roughly the same size as the last globular, M10 is "soft core". I get the sense when I look at it that the dob will take it out. It, too is slightly off-center... Averting vision brings out irregular edge structure, and tiny field stars that accompany it.

Sliding up the belly of the sky, M12 comes next. Whoa! Again, totally different structure. M12 strains at the bonds immediately upon direct vision. with tiny, bright stars popping right out. This globular really knows how to cut loose! Field stars form a tiny "box" at the edge...

By now, I figure my time is growing short. Only the very beginnings of sunrise show to the east, and the summer constellations sit fine in the sky. Carrying the 4.5 back toward the garage, I notice something...

Say. Isn't that Cassiopeia?

Damn Skippy it's Cassiopeia. And I know how to find things, even when the skies have turned. Because some of us know how to think "detrevni". ;)

Comet Ikeya/Zhang is very close to where I left it just hours ago. Yeah, rite! It might be in the same part of the sky, but this space kid knows other "positions"! Welcome back, I/Z! Although the part of the sky was "muddy"... I'm delighted to wrestle in it anytime. I/Z still has a great stellar core... soft, haloing coma... and a tail that would make you weep, it's so fine! Fully stretched across the field of view at 26mm, it is a beauty. Make no mistake... You won't forget this one for awhile!

************************************************
Skies continued to hold clear and steady through the evening. Venus has climbed well, and I stop to check it out through the scope. Nice phase. Somewhere betwen half and three quarters. But I'm still waiting on dark. Let's make a run out of town...

Comet Ikeya/Zhang still hangs on. (you think i really care what other people say? "No longer visible..." Hah! then shake your lazy backside out of that recliner and come look!) Directly below the most northern border of Cassiopeia and still pulling down great structure despite low position. I've got a feeling this will be my last trip out to the opens to catch it. I just kinda' liked seeing how long I could keep and eye on it.

Set up for a fast pass over the planets. It's 9:45 now, and I need to kill some time for quality dark. Saturn looks very good tonight! Titan is rounding the bend toward the north, and speaking of north, one of the inner moons in that direction is really shining tonight! The rest, chasing to the west edge and slightly to the south.

Jupiter's galiean show was fun. Io and Ganymede were as tight as double stars... And I can see Europa is heading for transit. The words, "Oh, Well." come to mind. I've got some studies to conquer and some sleep to catch. The shadow transit won't be for hours yet.

Spent a bit just practicing reflex stuff. It is no different than playing guitar, or typing... or anything else! You have to practice. Give me a week or two of clouds and Moon and I get slow. Give me a week of clear sky and I can snatch 'em right out of the sky! (Give me good skydark by 10:15 and I'm off to study... ;)

Although the whole sky lay before me, I've a mind to continue on with some studies. I know you think I "play" too much, but you'd be quite surprised at how seriously I can take the game. Or not!

While going to view galaxy NGC4125 back a few nights ago, I walked across this particular pair of galaxies I couldn't identify. Then I went back with the maps, and studied them again! And now? Let's rock...

NGC4041: Tiny, beautiful spiral in the 12.5. Best viewed with the 17mm and barlow, but equally impressive in the 9mm. Bright, stellar nucleas, surrounded by galactic "haze". Field stars circle round it comfortably. Nice galaxy...

NGC4036: Weird one, here. Strange? But don't change, eh? I like ya' like that! Hard call on this one, possibly an elliptical, because it holds even concentration all the way through... But the UFO shaped NGC4026 isn't the right shape! It is an "eye in the sky".... Call? Spiral. Bracketed by stars...

The next study, I stumbled across while trying to locate the NGC2665... Let's go check it out.

NGC2715: Ususual, loose spiral! Arms extend at either end, giving first impression that it is "barred". 9mm reveals a large core area, and defines the arms in a hazy, oval structure... Not a dark dust lane in sight, just the extensions of the galaxy itself. Many apparent doubles accompany it.

So... Play time over? No way, baby... Remember when we were out goofing around the other night? The one around the M101 area? Then let's go look again...

NGC5474: Low surface brightness here. Best viewed with the 17mm and use averted vision to grasp structure. Patience prevails, and what we see is very odd. Apparently, all the structure in this galaxy is to one side! The core area looks almost like an unresolvable globular cluster, and the soft sweep of outer material cups its' hand under it. What a handful... We've got stellar points here!

I might have been distracted a couple of days ago, but not so blind as to not notice two other studies while searching for the M109! So, we go back again last night... Tonight? Third time is a charm, mon ami... Tag! You're it... ;)

NGC4102: Nice spiral!! Caught inside a right angle of bright field stars, the NGC4102 is best viewed for structure with the 9mm. Stellar nucleas, and structure? It's a ring! A dark dust lane completely encircles the center upon aversion, cutting away the arms in what appears to be a ring. And set in the ring is one brigh, beautiful star... Like a cosmic gemstone. But, hey... "Say you don't want no diamond rings..." ;)

NGC3953: Also a very pretty spiral galaxy! Best viewed with the 17mm and barlow. Averted vision shows an irregular, odd shaped nucleas. No dark dust lanes apparent, but the sense of spiral arms remains as a faint swirling texture. This one lays in a bed of stars... I like the field!

So... Want to hop on? Nah. There's other nights and other times.

Besides, it's not as much fun without you.

"Color me in any color. Speak to me in tounges and share... Tell me how you'd love to hate me. Tell me how you'd love to care.

Well, I just want to shake us up..."


April 10, 2001 - Saggitarius Region... The Sun... Comet Ikeya/Zhang, Saturn, Jupiter, Messier Hopping, and Study...

Comments: I was a bit surprised when I woke up to see clear sky. As usual, I turned on the coffee and set out the 4.5. Time for a morning walk...

By rote, I turned toward Saggitarius... Still, in love, I guess, with the splendid deep sky there. Passing over the things I know so well, like the M8, M22, M20, M23 and M25... As always, the radio is on to keep me company. And Nickleback sings:

"Never made it as a wise man. Couldn't cut it as a poor man stealing. Tired of living like a blind man. Sick of cybering without a sense of feeling...

And this is how you remind me... Of what I really am."


I trace my path up the Milky Way, to view the star cloud of the M24...

"I'm not like you... So sorry. I'm always waitin' on a different story. One time I was mistaken... Before I knew it, yeah, my heart was breakin'."


Simply beautiful. I wonder how the M17 looks this morning?

"I've been wrong. I've been down. Into the bottom of every bottle..."


Ah, yes... The ethereal Nike Swoosh... I suppose I should go hunt up some globular clusters...

"Yet my reality screams you.. Yeah, yeah... You. Yeah, yeah... Numb. You."


But for some reason my heart just isn't into it today... So, I cap the scope back up. Set it in garage. Turn off the radio. And hear a very old song in my head as I walk away...

"It's early in the morning. Yes, early in the morning. And I ain't got nothing. But, I ain't got nothing, but...

The blues."


****************************************************
And the Sun rose a bit later, bringing low fog with it... and burned it away as the day moved on. Got home in plenty of time to soak up some rays and view tremendous sunspots 9893 - 9901. Spread out again over the solar surface, the "line" of magnetic scabs are incredible in the scope.


SOHO photo


Already responsible for a tremendous M-class flare, and unleashing a massive coronal ejection about the time it was rising today. (whoa.. break out the sunblock 6000... cuz' i'm gonna' be burned tomorrow.) Of course, it will be a bit of time before the impact reaches the Earth... but hey.

I can wait.

**************************************************

So the sky stayed clear as that magnificent Sun set... And what do you think I was anxious to do? Darn right. Comet hunt...

I've found a pull-off where the tractors enter the fields that's become my favourite haunt. Only a distant light here and there, and occasionally someone will stop to make sure I'm ok. (yeah, i'd be just ducky if you'd turn those headlights off!) What it gives me is unobstructed horizon...

And Comet Ikeya/Zhang.

About a binocular field and a half, and basically below (west) of Gamma Cassiopeia, the rascally comet is still holding on. The dust/ion tail is far more beautiful to the eye than any picture! And what a pleasure it has been watching it race across the sky...

Moonless nights are meant for study, and the dob was left out before I went comet hunting. First off I use the 4.5 to drop by the planets. Why not the 12.5, you ask? Because Jupiter will cook your eyes...

Saturn is excellent. The soft yellow color is very pleasing, as is Titan following "behind" in the east and the rest "leading" the way around the ring edge to the west. Jupiter displays it's finery easily, but I like the dance of the galieans. Tonight the trio on the side take my fancy. Just the dimension is enough for me... and I can see that two of them, Io and Europa, are heading toward and occultation. Cool! But I've got other fish to catch...

Open up the dob, and go hop across some Messier objects first, like the M35, M44, M67, M41, M42 (losing it fast!)... and head off. There were some galaxies I had blazed a trail across during a recent field study, and I'd like to study them again.

And again...

When I'd finished looking up what I was after, the hour had grown rather late for an astronomer with a day job. Reluctantly, I covered everything up and headed back in. Eyes filled with nebulae in the morning, Sun in the afternoon, a comet, planets, star clusters and distant galaxies that night...

And as I try to sleep, my mind is a bit harder to turn off. Filled with numbers, stars and thoughts...

I wonder if I can catch that Comet in the morning?

"Lying in my bed, I hear the clock tick... And I think of you."


April 7, 2002 - Time...

Comments: Noticing the western horizon was going to be exceptionally clear tonight, just knew we had to go hunt down Ikeyha/Zhang again. A fast run to the open grounds of farm land shows a deep orange Venus rapidly descending toward the distant treeline. Cassiopeia and Orion look huge as they edge toward their western decent. And what we're looking for? Is right there... Just percievable to the naked eye, the little "furball" is sure gorgeous in binoculars, isn't it? Dangling at the end of a beautiful trailing chain of stars tonight, and dust tail stretching half the field, this "Traveller" won't be around much longer... it's "time" for the evening grows short.

And many things will soon be gone... The 12.5 is out and ready... Let's explore them tonight, shall we?

Thanks for standing me back up and handing me my jaw, because Saturn knocked it off! (remind me not to start at high power like that, will you?) An incredibly BLUE star was so close to the ring system, that first glance blew me away. Knowing as a seasoned observer that the unexpected often happens, doesn't exactly prepare me for it! Now here's Titan, off to the south... one trailing to the east, and one to the north... and... ZIP! A bright sattelite cuts right through the middle of the whole thing and throws all concentration off again! One more time... Great Cassini, nice shadow wedge, central brightening... Enough! Lest I get freaked out again. ;)

Jupiter next, then we've done our duty by the planets. Score the galieans two to one... Superior north temperate belt, fine line dividing the southern equatorial belt, south also displays soft striations, and slash-like markings in the equatorial zones. No shadows to indicate transit, no "curls" to indicate the Great Red Spot. Ho hum...

Ready to rock?

Then let's get Orion... The M42 and M43... Wanna' get Trapped? By all means! Stability is great tonight. The the triple nebula, NGC 1973, 1975, and 1977... Just a bit north for open cluster NGC1981, Then off to Anitak and the "Flame"... Heading northeast for the M78... cuz' those two hot blue stars in that little round nebula are great! Back up for the NGC2112, and on to Rigel to pick it apart.

I suppose you want to catch your breath, eh? Then do it... Because Taurus is slipping away fast!

The M1 is incredible in this scope, isn't it? Filamentous, is perhaps the only way to describe it. Living... like the M27. Ready for the Plieades? Alcyone and Merope wear their robes of light well... On to Aldeberan, and up and over to the NGC1647. Wow... Look at all the doubles! Yes, I know the double handful of bright ones are distracting... but look "beyond" them, and watch them resolve! Ready for double 103 Tauri? Cool, now push the blue white beauty out of the edge and say hello to NGC1746! Very concentrated toward the center, and the fainter stars splay out around the edges. Terrific! Now, let's gaze awhile...

Whoa! Look at that, will you? Splendid long train meteor just ran right through Gemini! Oh, man... Just look around us, will you? The Plieades are here to the west, just above our heads is the M44, and to the east is Coma Berenices... Three fantasy open clusters. Each one of them resolving without the scope... Great, huh? Then let's go get Auriga....

Theta first for me, thanks. I don't know why I pick up on spectra... I just do. Indulge me. Now you take it to Almaaz, and bump west to NGC1664. Yeah, it's thin... I know. But doesn't it look like a celestial kite flying in the night? Keep driving... Pick up the M38 for me! Take out Italian sky food... thanks Mr. Hodierna! We'll do the M37 and M36, too! Now, give me the scope, and let's go back to the M38, admire the little NGC1907 for a bit, and thank Mr. Otto Struve for cataloging 698... a beautiful little double red. And NGC1893 is just a touch away, with it's stretched out, lazy form full of faint stars.

Aaaaaahhhh... SKY! (hooo! there goes another one! love them speedy little meteors... ;)

My turn to drive a bit? OK, choice is Canis Major and Puppis! Sirius, drop down and (ouch! that's my knee!) pick up the M41. Nice profusion... still dig the little red one. (what? oh, sure! here... have at it!) NGC2440... Good choice! Positively planetary, baby.. You can do these? Cool! M93.. Excellent! M47... Beautiful! M46? OK, go ahead and laugh... Positvely, baby. The joke's on me!

Wow... Want a cup of coffee? Here... Let's chill for a bit. Hard to believe how quickly the winter constellations have moved, isn't it? And time... (if you look at that watch, i shall break your wrist!) Tonight there is no time... Except for each other and this beautiful night sky. Gemini looks like it's holding still... Let's go tacke it!

M35 is fantastic! What a bright profusion... Oh! Let's do Cor's photo, ok? The NGC2392 is great in the big scope! Beautiful bright central, patchy egg-shaped planetary disc, and soft, hairy looking globe around it! Wish we could see that orange color, though... Well, yeah, I do know that star there is orange, but I'm talking about IN this pretty blue/green nebula! Sure, you can split the doubles! Castor and Wasat are always easy...

Hop on to M44 and smile! That was a fun study, but you didn't know all those other stars were there, did you? Neither did I until you hit me on the head with them... I figured everybody could see them. Now let's go resolve the heck out of the M67... ;)

Where to next? If we "do" Leo, we're gonna' be on the ladder... Hmmmm... Wooooo HOOOO! Yeah! Right through Ursa Major! Then let's DO it!!

Starting first at NGC3079, we LIKE what we see! A pretty, apparent double at one end, a soft curve at the opposite, more diffuse edge, a bright, fat, lenticular core, and (yeah, baby...) a dark dust lane! Hug that dob...

Let's pass on the others for now... And bop to the M97. The crazy thing is as big as Jupiter! Oh, hang on... Point it at Dubhe, and see if you don't believe! Now let's go snatch the M101, M109 and M108... Just because we can. Whoa. I want to show you something. No, I don't remember all their names! Just start running a grid through the middle of the dipper, because all those little galaixes are so cool!

And we've got time...

What's that light? Oh, check it out! Where I cleaned up the branches and left-over kindling has started to burn again! Come on... Let's do some good, old-fashioned Ohio Stargazing and stand by the fire for awhile. Here, you pour us a cup while I arrange the branches a bit to make it burn clean. Thanks... Feels good, doesn't it? Hehehhee... Check out H's shadow against the buildings. Looks like a werewolf, doesn't it?! No. Don't call him or he'll think we want to play! Uh, oh... Now he's seen us. Crazy nut dog...

Woooo! There goes another one!! Do you remember when the next meteor shower is? Huh? Nah... Me neither. I'll remind you in time. Check it out! You can already see Lyra coming up in the northeast over there... And Bootes... Won't be long until you see Antares right there over that small woods. Heck, you can see Altair already! Mmmmmmmmm... The fire feels good, doesn't it? I wonder how they managed to get a crow out of Corvus? Doesn't look anything like a crow to me... Yeah, that was a cool movie! Wow! Meteors... Dig it.

So what's next? Do you want to go explore Leo, or just go back out in the field and go crazy for a bit? Hmmmm? Oh, sure. Feels good to me, too. But it's about out... Kick it apart a bit so it doesn't smolder. There ya' go. Whistle for H and let's walk back out into the field.

And go tarn...

I see your smile. Even in the dark. Never knew there were so very many galaxies here, did you? I can feel your laughter... Come, give me a hug. And keep playing! Now you see why I get so silly in this "space" don't you? Hahahhaaa! Yeah, it IS like getting drunk! Sure. Let me see... Hooo hooo! I haven't a clue... Do you want to write them down? Me, neither... we can do that another time.

Ready to be serious, again? Then let's have at those great globular clusters: M3 and M5. The resolvability is just outstanding. What's that you say? We just gained an hour? Funny, that. Doesn't feel like we did.

Feels like there's all the time in the world...

Apparently Scorpius doesn't know it, either... We've still got time before the Moon rises, let's go look at the M57. Donut in the sky! (hey, it's officially sunday... wish i had one.) Perhaps Hercules and the M13? Done. Hey! NGC6940... Beauty. Oh, yeah... M27. Geez! I remember last summer I couldn't get anywhere IN this part of the sky without tripping on the "Dumbbell". Hey, look! I still remember how to find the M71, too. What else? M11, M10 and M12!

Coffee is gone, dude. And Saggitarius is on the rise. See that light in the trees? There's your Selene. Looks like an orange smile. Want to explore the "Teapot" for a bit? M8, M22, M20 and M17...

Scorpius in dead south. Want to go find the M4? How 'bout the M80? Cuz' it's almost sunrise, and I'm about to nod off on you.

I guess it's time...

"If you're lost you can look and you will find me. Time after time... If you fall, I will catch you. I will be waiting. Time after time...

Time after time..."


April 6, 2002 - Polaris, NGC3079, M81 and M82, Cor Caroli, M51, M94, Algieba, M65 and M66, M53. M3, M99 and the M100...

Comments: It was rather late when I returned, but the farther and farther I got away from the city lights the more stars appeared. How welcome they are! I am ready for the peace and pleasure they give me...

Tired, but needful of what I love, I chose to walk with the 4.5 tonight, I set my sights on Polaris. I was just happy to watch this pale yellow star quiver in the eyepiece... and when its' blue companion made an appearance, I knew it was time to set sail.

At times, I take a "shine" to certain things, and edge-on galaxy NGC3079 takes my fancy. Far from spectacular in limited aperature, I still find it beautiful. This pencil-slim scratch of silver light... standing straight up in the eyepiece is attractive to me. Others might not think it is so, but then... I'm not one to much care what others think!

I dropped the magnification back and headed toward the M81 and M82... How wonderful you two are together! The soft, rounded form of the M81 with its' generous curves compliments the slender, intense M82. I thought about drawing it in closer, but tonight left it alone. Somehow it feels "right" just to leave them together! I feel the weight of the day slip away... pain forgotten... as I practice my observational skills. Letting go into that "nowhere land" that is averted vision... Seeing the core of the M81 swell gently into view, and the mottled form of the M82 take on shape. They make me "feel"...

Taking a deep breath, I began to simply "star gaze".... Fascinated by the beauty of Coma Berenices. She cut off her hair for love, did you know that? She cared more for the one, than she did for herself... And the gods placed it in the sky.

Cor Caroli came next. Even though it is a "marker" for me, I always take the time to look at it. Like Albeiro, it is a simple favourite. And I stepped back to the M51, and put in the good 9mm. The core of the "Whirlpool" became immediately apparent, as did small companion NGC5195. Unwinding, I waited patiently for the 4.5 to reveal this particular galaxy's splendor, but it never came. I don't feel bad about it. That kind of structure is beyond my reach... And there are other nights and other scopes...

Brushing back past Cor Caroli, I headed toward the tiny barred-spiral, M94. At low power, it is barely larger than a good sized star, but when relaxed, averted vision reveals a lenticular nucleas that is the signature of this galactic structure. Magnify? Nah. Hop on rabbit...

Take a chance that Leo won't eat you tonight!

Between Chort and Iota Leonis, they play. Two ethereal lovers dancing the night away... And a wonder to behold. Again, I know what is there. I know this scope can't give it to me... But what it does give me is enough. The M65 stretches out before me, with a thick bar of a galactic center. Nearby, the M66 holds even... In a balancing act of brightness.

Arcturus sings tonight... So I find myself drawn between it and Denebola... Seeking the small M53. Hey, Alpha... You're the one I've been looking for. To the eyepiece, and a nudge away for the small ball of stars with the stellar core. And when I look up at last, Arcturus bid my journey between it and Cor Caroli for the M3... Because even I need resolution at times.

Denebola.... Come, Traveller. The M99 awaits! Look at it face-on, and see if you find beauty. Soft spiral structure... It's there if you know how to look. And not far away is the large, faint glow of the M100...

It's in the eye of the beholder.

"Some people thinkin' that my life is pretty plain... You don't like my point of view, cuz' I'm insane.

It's not sane... It's not sane... It's not sane...

I don't want someone to say to me... I always be there when you wake. You know, I'd like to keep my cheeks dry today... Just stay with me, and I'll have it made.

You know I'll have it made. I really will..."


April 3, 2002 - Comet Ikeya/Zhang, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Cassiopeia, Perseus, Orion.. M81/82, NGC2976, NGC3077, Return to Studies: NGC2655, NGC4125, NGC3079... Galaxy Hoppin'...

Comments: I really didn't think Ikeya/Zhang was achievable. I had no real plans to look for it. Truthfully, I had napped the late afternoon, early evening time away in hopes of clear sky. When I woke a bit before eight, and stepped out and saw Cassiopeia glittering in the bare tree branches... Well, it just "called", ok? So, I threw a coat on, grabbed my binoculars and keys, and headed out on the backroads...

I didn't have far to drive before I saw what I was looking for. Almach... and Ikeya/Zhang is naked eye. Pulling off the side of the road, I climbed out of the car, and with shaking hands, set the binoculars on this vision. No single word can sum up the cosmic beauty of a comet... I am not knowledgable of binoculars, but the tail stretched across better than half the field of view! Stunned, I simply stood, open-mouthed at the edge of the road, and gazed.

When at last I could look away, it was to see Venus deepening to orange as it set in the west, and I turned toward it. Boiling and rolling in the earth's atmosphere, all sense of phase was lost. Hanging above it, the red globe of Mars gave a very flat, "un-starlike" appearance to this new view.

(oh, what the heck... no one's around! roll down the window, turn up the tunes, and let's stay awhile!)

Turning my attention back to that magnificent comet, I knew I had a bit yet to explore before it set... so I did. Saturn is less than appealing in binoculars, but the extensions of the rings are quite noticable. Jupiter faired much better... When I steadied myself against the roof of the car, I could quite tell that al four galieans were off to the side, and see two dark lines running through the orb of Jove. All sense of dimension is lost to binoculars, but the starfields? Oh, my my...

Still drooling on Ikeya/Zhang, I began a sweep over Cassiopeia. So very rich! It's kind of a rush to me to see these things non-inverted... But it is a pleasure as well! Although Cassie's open clusters are not much more than grainy patches of light, I have no trouble making out the M103, NGC654, NGC663, and NGC659... And still I sweep, until the NGC7789 appears. WOW! This on is great! Located between a yellow star and wide, white multiple... it seems huge to my eyes! And at the bottom of it all, the M52... who's arm reaches out to join east and west.

I return again to Ikeya/Zhang... Brushing my way past to take in the ovoid cloud of the M31! Now, this is heaven... Chances are the weather won't hold for me to see the two of them together, but in my mind? In my mind, they are. I follow the sparkling train of Perseus, for the "Double Cluster" is a true delight to binoculars! But I keep going back to the Comet... And watch it fall away from me. Godspeed. Perhaps we shall meet again?

Orion is not long for me, either. Although I long to be at the telescope, I am enjoying my new "horizons", and stay a bit longer to explore. The M42 is a true fantasy, no matter how it is viewed. To my eyes tonight, it is an eagle... poised in flight. Wing spread across the night... Stars rippling in its' wake... A flight of fancy? Yes.

Time to go...

I set the scopes up on my return to the backyard, and went to brew a pot of coffee. So much time has passed, and I am starved for what I've been missing! A very real part of me wants to open the book of maps I've set out... But the part of me that need to know leaves it closed. I can either remember, or I cannot. The choice is mine...

Turning the scopes toward the "Great Bear", I begin the journey with the M81 and M82. I can never forget when these are! That splendid spiral, and knotted irregular take my fancy... They always have! I study them for a bit, with both scopes... deciding which eyepiece works best for tonight. Playing in other words... Buying time. I have been so tired. Can I really still do this?

I give the dob a big hug... and set out.

Guess what? NGC3077 is where I left it last. Fuzz-ball elliptical, bracket by stars and chewed at the edges. And the weird NGC2976 is there, too! A crystallized tear drop...

Wipe it away, astronomer... And find your markers in Polaris and Camelopardis.

I start my sweep with the dob... and whoa. Que? Back up and do it again... Heheheheee. There's two! But this is the one I've studied before... So I set the 4.5 on it to confirm my past notes:

NGC2655:

"Achievable in the 4.5 at 17mm with extreme aversion. Appears only as a very "soft ball of light" greatly resembling a faint planetary nebula or small, dim globular cluster.

At 26mm, the 12.5 reveals a faint field of stars containing several nearby doubles... Many of these form interesting configurations. The nucleas is roundish at 9mm... The spiral arms are very diffuse. No traces of dustlanes even at double the power. The structure itself is best at 17mm and seems to "steam" away from the core, making it appear about 200% larger than the nucleas itself.

Are there stars between us and this galaxy? Or am I seeing soft "knots" of distant clusters? Even with the 9mm and barlow set on it, the results are inconclusive at this point.

The clarity and stability during both observations was just outstanding. Prefer waiting on "quality" dark to either confirm "knots" or stars... "

And tonight is confirmation night. At my best guesstimation, our galaxy is fairly void in this area. I'm saying we've got structure!

Ready to roll again? Then Draco is the destination, and we're pushing the dob away from the open cup of the "Dipper"! (ahem... there's a same field pair here! and like before, i make a notation to return when using a map... cuz' exploring is cool!) And just a bit farther away is the study I was looking for...

NGC4125:

"At the edge of averted perception in the 4.5. Appears very diffuse, vague perception of a nucleas.

12.5 reveals at 26mm a very pretty field of stars, with many nearby chains... two almost part of the galaxy.

17mm and barlow gives best view. NGC4125 now reveals a UFO shaped nucleas... basically oval"esque". Once again, no claim to spiral arms... just spiral structure. However, the nucleas itself is very concentrated, and gives twice the visual impact of the outer regions. This galaxy appears to have a "glow" about it!"

There is a certain pleasure to be taken in confirmation... If only it were so easy to confirm other things in my life! No matter... The last "study" on my mental list for tonight I have not forgotten. Ursa Major... Theta... Phi...

NGC3079:

"Oh, yeah Baby! Edge-ON!!

Detectable averted in 4.5 as low as 26mm... straight up at 17mm as a bright "scratch" of light. 9mm averted hints at central bulge.

12.5 reveals direct vision at all magnifications. 26mm shows field stars beautifully... this one really "stands up"!!

At 17mm this long "streak of light" shows a double at one end. The galaxy also "diffuses" in this area. 9mm averted shows a curve of one arm at the opposite. With direct vision at either magnification, the core appears lenticular... definately off-set to one side. Avert thy vision and a hint of a dark dustlane appears!"

(Very fine, Mr. Wizard...Very fine!)

May I go play now? ;)

Leo has now gained center stage, and I feel like tickling the Lion's belly! Let's go hunt up the M105 furball and companion furball NGC3384! There's another here, too... and it's on the edge! Say howdy to NGC3389! How about M95 and M96, too? The M96 with its' sharp, bright core and smokey arms... The M95 "bars" the way with its' stellar core, and fuzzy fringes. Wanna' do the "Trio"? M65, M66 and NGC3628 are always welcome! Cuz' I still dig those edges on you, baby!

Memory targets... Memory... What memory? I'm doing well to remember Friday at this point! But I've not forgotten the "Whirlpool"...

Aaaaaaahhhhh... Suck me in. This is still possibly the finest galaxy in terms of structure. Who can resist when those strong arms come round you? And I find myself transfixed... Gazing with intensity, studying each knot and line in the face of the M51. Even it's interacting companion is beautiful. Such an interesting face... I think i quite like it.

I listen carefully to the radio for the time. I've promised an old friend of mine a chat. Sure. This is one who understands me well, and would quite forgive my star-hopping ways, but it's not often we get the chance! Virgo sits very well at the moment. Fitting, for he is a Virgo. But Corvus is perfect! Chose? Between what I know and what I've yet to explore... I'll wait for you.

A favourite of the Knight's, and one I think he has yet to find is the M104. So, I set the sights on cool, blue Spica and fade west. The 17mm was still in from my study of the M51, and it makes it more difficult. No matter. For when I find it, it was worth the wait. I find this galaxy, the "Sombrero" to be almost mystical. The deep, dark central dust lane... A "see-through" quality which I am at a loss to explain... I always feel like I could reach inside it with my eyes, somehow. Perhaps one day I shall see it... For now, it inspires me.

Time forgotten, I go back to the case to make a complete change-over in the dob. I want the field. The 32mm eyepiece in place, counterbalance moved... and my soul sings!

In the field of dreams...

"And I don't understand why I sleep all day... And I start to complain, cuz' there's no rain. All I can do is read a book to stay awake... And it rips my life away... But it's a great escape.

An escape... An escape... An escape..."




April 2, 2002 - The rain on the plain falls mainly on my brain...

I miss the stars...

"I just want someone to say to me... I'll always be there when you wake. You know, I'd like to keep my cheeks dry today. So stay with me, and I'll have it made."


April 1, 2002 - The Sun...

Comments: Guess the "April Fool's Joke" is on me, huh? I did get to watch the Moon for a bit very early this morning, but it was sans telescope. It really doesn't matter... I can't think of a finer way to spend a break from work than sitting outside gazing at Selene...

The clouds did part for a brief time later that day, and although the "hazies" kept running across the face of Sol, it did nothing to detract from those kick asteroid sunspots!


SOHO photo


This magnificent chain of activity was just breathtaking when the sky held stable. The SOHO photo is far better than my own, because it shows just how much of the surface group 9885-9888 covers... Telescopically? It rocked! The central region of 9887 had a deep black umbra region, and the penumbral field curved round... making it look like a giant seahorse. (gosh, i'm getting corny... seahorses on the sun... sheesh!) Anyway, the entire chain complex was just fascinating. From what I've read, a coronal mass ejection occured on the far side, and will be triggering auroral activity.

A very volatile creature, our nearest star... And how glad I am that I did have a chance to see it!

Cuz' the rain came back...

"Some people thinkin' that my life is pretty plain.... Because I like watchin' the puddles gather rain. And all I can do is to pour some tea for two... And speak my point of view. But it's not sane...

It's not sane..."