December 31/January 1, 2002/2003...
It rained today. Not the kind rains of summer, encouraging things to grow and giving welcome relief to parched ground. No, this was a December rain. The dim rumble of thunder in the distance, the drops warm enough to melt the snow... Yet they feel like cold tears on a frozen smile face. It swells the banks of the overburdened creeks, and lay upon the winter hard fields like sheets of liquid glass. This rain and I are old friends.
Because that's all it ever does...
"Seems like everyday's the same and I'm left to discover on my own... Seems like everything is grey and there's no color to behold. They say it's over... And I'm fine again. Again... Try to stay sober when it feels like I'm dyin' again...."
I know it's a natural phenomena. I know I'm not alone. We're all tired of the cloudy days and nights. Sooner or later those clouds will part and the Sun and stars will walk back into my life again. I might be dreaming... But, I believe it. This faith is all I have. I hold onto it like the warm that holds onto my empty coffee cup.
"And I am aware now, how everything is gonna' be fine. One day... Too late. I'm in hell. And I am prepared now, and everything is gonna' be fine. One day... Too late. Just as well."
It's the end of the year. I've got no complaints. It's been kind to me. I've seen more of my dreams realized in this one year than I could have ever dreamed possible. Why should I feel depressed just because it's cloudy? After all, it's just another night. There's nothing any more significant to it than watching the odometer in your car roll over to the next set of numbers. That's all it is...
Just a new set of numbers.
I head out across country to keep with a tradition that continues in my life, rain or shine. For as long as I can remember, the majority of my extended family meets at my Aunt's home - "The Farm". It's always a warm and pleasant place... Filled with foods prepared by many hands. All of these aunts, uncles, cousins, and ever-expanding circle of relatives gather here. We exchange hugs and kisses, tell our stories, and marvel over how the children have grown. The laughter here is free... And the love is genuine.
How good it is to see these people! It is a constant... As sure as the stars above. Yes, there are some that could not be there.... And we all feel the loss of our beloved "Uncle Herman". But is he lost? No, my family. How could he be lost when we remember exactly what it's like to hear his laughter in the other room? He can never be gone as long as we can remember...
Just like the stars.
Amidst even more hugs and kisses, we bid each other a "Happy New Year"... And go on back to our lives. It is the way of things. A constant... And we know that we shall see each other again some day. And if we don't? We'll remember...
Heading back across country, I marvel at the beauty of the night. You would have to understand Ohio's open plains to understand what I am about to tell you. The flat land allows you to see in all directions until the very curvature of the Earth blocks the view. The clouds are like a thick blanket above... And here, deep in the countryside, the glow of distant towns lights up the bottoms of those clouds like the warm glow of fire. They look almost like you could reach out and touch them... Gray sands kissed with soft orange light. In each cardinal direction you can name those cities... But I'm headed for that "Dark Zone" over there, eh? And I know that even though there are no lights?
There are no stars as well.
"I feel the dream in me expire... And there's no one left to blame it on. I hear you label me as tired... Cuz' I can't see to get this through. You say it's over... I can sigh again. Again... Why try to stay sober? When I'm dyin' again..."
Patting my full belly, it's time to find some "soft clothes"... Time to build a fire and open a Corona, eh? "Star Trek IV" awaits me, and I'm ready for it now. I can only smile as the tale plays itself out. Somewhere in time Ranger still howls along to the whale song... Because he's not gone either. Not as long as I can remember him. H feels no such compulsion to join them in their eerie melodies, but he's more than happy to pester me with a variety of toys and allow me to rub the hair off his shiny hide. The hour of midnight is fast approaching, and I take out the 12 gauge and load it with a single shell. Ah, tradition....
Around 11:00 or so, I notice a point of light on the window that doesn't jive with any reflection. Smiling, I can only shake my head.... I don't believe this! Is the Great Cosmic Joker actually going to smile my way???
"And I am aware now, that everything is gonna' be fine. One day... Too late. I'm in hell. And I am prepared now... Singing everything is gonna' be fine. One day... Too late. Just as well..."
Hey, hey. I can see Orion! And some stars in Perseus and Auriga... Have 4.5? Will travel! And just how far would I travel to see something I love? How ever far it takes, baby...
How ever far it takes.
How about 520 light years to visit with Betelgeuse? A red supergiant who is a variable of the first magnitude. What a massive beauty! It is estimated that the circumference of this fantastic star may be a large as Jupiter's orbit around our own Sol. I like watching its' "flash" through the thin clouds. I catch a beautiful blue end spectral shift, and the colors delight me. Shall we speak to Rigel as well? Then I shall go 900 light years to see you... To be dazzled by your white hot beauty, and know that you are one of the most luminous stars in our galaxy! At 9mm all I can make out of your small companion is a blue shift in the spectrum. I know you're there... And I'll wait to see you again. Mintaka, Alnilam, Alnitak... 1600 light years. An eternity caught within my eye...
Shall we fly to the sixth brightest star in the sky? Tis' only 45 light years away... Capella! It is a soft, fine shade of yellow... But oh, my! What a spectra it casts through the haze! There is blue caught with in it, but the flash... the "fire"... is red! Or shall we journey 110 light years together to view Theta? My beautiful silicon star... How like a black diamond you are! You flash every color of the spectrum... But you flash one color that I have only seen in this one particular star.
You wear black.
"And I'm not scared now. I must assure you. You're never gonna' get away. And I'm not scared now... And I'm not scared now..."
In the distance I hear the sounds of shots being fired into the night. The time has come! A new year has begun!! Smiling, H and I run back to the house to fetch my own firearm, and salute the night and the time. We've done it, my friend! We've done it again...
Those numbers have rolled over.
Ejecting the spent shell, it take I before H can. It's time to pass the swab through the barrel and use the oiled cloth to wipe it down and put it away again. A fine piece of machinery... Never raised in anger, and never will be.
Time for us to journey again... Onto Perseus we go! To Algol, "the Demon", eh? You and your dark star companion lie 100 light years away... And how you shine! You are the "key" to everything, are you not? And how many know that? Would I change you? Never... You change yourself.
"And I am aware now that everything is gonna' be fine. One day... Too late. I'm in hell. And I am prepared now... Singing everything is gonna' be fine. One day. Too late. Just as well..."
Shall I just go light seconds away? To see only the form of Saturn? To know that Jupiter still has those dark belts upon it's surface? Always. No matter how near or how far. I keep looking up and thinking of you, mon ami... And sometimes?
You smile back.
And so the old year has ended and a new one begun. It has been my privelege to journey across the night with you once again. We often speak of faith, and again I will tempt it. As always, by this time my reports have grown so lengthy that they must be eradicated from WebTv and placed into a "retirement home". This frame will be saved to both begin... and end... yet another year with you. Ah, this is life! We begin. We end. The key will be pushed and the words will be gone. Does it matter if they exist? No more than I do, mon ami.
And I'm always wishing you the best...
"And I'm not scared now. I must assure you. And I'm not scared now... I am prepared now... And I am fine.
December 29/30, 2002 - Better Than Nothin'...
Comments: So I really don't remember much about the day. I know I got off work before noon, and I vaguely recall eating. The rest is just so much fur... I can't seem to keep my eyes open for more than an hour at a time.
At one point during the evening, H absolutely insisted that I wake up and let him out. No problem. Go for it, Big Guy. Of course, you and I know that he's smart enough to associate seeing stars with an outdoor romp... So he keeps barking and refusing to come in until I look up. Yeah, I see 'em H... But I also see a lot a high thin clouds as well. Not worth it. Now, get your tail in here and let's go back to sleep.
Then he stole my blanket.
OK, I got it. Alright? I put on some mis-matched clothes, stepped out on the deck and promptly fell down. Seems we're in the process of melt and freeze right now.... And you know H thinks I'm playing some sort of game. (actually i am... the game is called "did i hurt my back or not"? ;) After thoroughly washing my face and running off with one of my gloves, he stands off the deck barking at me to get up. After ascertaining that nothing is hurt but my pride, I went back in after some dry jeans and another coat. The bouncing idiot repels water... I don't.
H is doing his best to make me smile. He's snatching at the wheels of the "Grasshopper" as I go in to the garage to turn on the radio. I can feel myself lighten up a bit as I realize my old observing partner isn't gone at all. He's right here inside this massive black German Shepherd with the toothy white grin... He knows the routine. Unfortunately, I won't take the dob out in this kind of moisture. One stray drip from a tree branch on that mirror would be all it would take, H! But if you really want to go? Let's take the 4.5....
I just stuck with the old Celestron 25mm as well. No real point, tonight. Besides, it's a good eyepiece. I've always admired the flat field. Ready to tour? Then we've really got to keep it simple, because the sky won't support it. How about the M31? There ya' go, buddy! Nothing like a rockin' big galaxy to make one feel better! How about the M15 as well, eh? Just a cute little globular cluster that packs enough punch to be seen through stubborn skies. Wanna' try the M2? Hmmmmmmm.... Ouch. It's there, but as super faded and jaded as myself.
Ah, well. On to the bright ones! The "Double Cluster" doesn't do too badly under these conditions and suprisingly enough, the M34 as well! Of course, they are both VERY open and bright enough to be satisfactory. The M36, M37 and M38 are easy as well... But they lack something. Their position isn't the greatest under these hazy skies... And we'd be best to wait awhile. And Saturn? Just plain sucks.
Come on, H. Let's set the scope just back inside the door and go nap for a bit more...
Yeah, he skulked for a bit, but realized that since I left the radio on and the side door open, that I'd be back out. I set the alarm for three hours into the future, because the way I feel? I wouldn't get back up. But after more sleep and a cup of coffee? Hey, hey... The skies had improved a bit. (or else my attitude had... tough call.)
This time it was my turn to laugh, for the clumsy black fool forgot about what laid just outside the door! Noble German Shepherd, indeed... The look of surprise on his face was priceless as it was his turn to end up arse over teakettle! Taking care to walk very cautiously over that icy spot, we headed back out once again.
The M42 is beautiful no matter what scope it is viewed through. I appreciate the 4.5's capabilites at times... for only through it can I see the picture as a whole. Truly magnificent... The little scope also does justice to the M41. Although I know how many more stars lie "behind" the picture, it is still quite fine!
Smiling once again, we head out for the M50. It took a bit of time for me to find because I didn't bring any maps, but when I saw the signature "Y" formation and the colors, I knew I had it. This is one very fine open for all scopes! Might as well keep hopping east, huh? For the equally open form of the M47 is easy as well. Let's see.... just a tad this way and.... Yeah! There's the M46! Nice grainly texture complete with a notch and a bright star inside of it. Mostly blue... But there's an orange or two in here as well! Now, keep going down... More... Right there. Howdy, M93! Ah, now... You are one VERY pretty open cluster! The 4.5 sees it as a bar of stars with many on the aching edge of resolvability. To the northwest side is where they really sparkle and come to life!
I can feel myself yawning a bit, but it would be a good time to go capture the M35, A nice smattering of stars that again make me think of sequence and evolution. Stop it, ~T! You tend to spoil observing sessions when you think too much... And speaking of thinking? I'm thinking the M44 is an easy catch because it's RIGHT THERE! Oooooh, yeah.... Been awhile since I looked at that one as well. Lotsa' memories there, kid... But they are all nice ones!
Next stop on the hop? M67... Hello, you little "rule breaker".... I like ya'! Not only is this a splendid cloud of stars, but it is one that is actually older than our galaxy itself and spans ten light years across! At a distance of 2,500 light years away it is impossible to pick out with a small scope that its' sequence stars have gone to "red"... But those of us who know the sky, know this one well. Right outside our galactic plane, aren't you? Maybe the distance is what's kept you together this long... Very nice. One better? What will be a study point this season. (i'm trying to round out my astronomy knowlege, ok?) Also in the field is a variable star called VZ Cancri. It fluctuates just under a magnitude in around four hours, so this one is going to be fun to watch!
I can feel myself yawning again. I should be ashamed, but I'm not. What I should be doing is seeing if I can't pull the M65 and 66 out of the sky... But I won't. I know the weather forecast is for rain the next several days, and that means I probably won't get to celebrate the New Year as I have in the past. Ask me if I care? I've gotta' work anyway. And I am just so tired.... But I'll keep looking up!
Cuz' that's just who I am.
"So there's problems in your life? Well, that's mucked up... But I'm not blind. I'm just see-through faded, super-jaded...
December 28/29, 2002 - Are You Kidding?
Comments: Ah, now... Don't you know it's another working night? Sure, I got up early as always. (i think the clock has been stuck at 3:00 a.m. for weeks and weeks now...) I could see stars from my office window, but what I wasn't counting on happened by the time I got my shift together enough to go out.
Hey, even as fearless as the 4.5 is, it won't cut through fog.... No matter how much I'd like to see the stars. It lays in thick sheets over the frozen, snow covered terrain and turns driving into a real "trip". It's like running through a long, low tunnel... One of impenetrable white. I feel the need...
The need for speed.
Who needs Magic Mountain? I've got dry, black roads with banked curves and straightaways. From between three and four feet down, the vision is perfect... But there's nothing above. Occasionally I crest a slight hill and the stars light up above. It's like running through a dream...
One I can't quite remember.
"Do what you want to do... Go out and seek your truth. When I'm down and blue... Rather be me than you.
December 27, 2002 - Cassiopeia - Corner Pocket...
Comments: I guess I really hadn't opened my eyes in a long time, so I didn't realize just how very long it's been since I went out and did anything. Taking a "cue" from Mr. Wizard, I decided to head toward Smalltown, and try my hand at billiards for awhile. Like all things, it's a sport that takes a certain measure of practice, and you would have thought I had fleas as much as I "scratched" in the first few games. I know part of my problem is that I'm just "thinking" too much. (i can't help it!) I know I need to relax...
But my mind keeps wandering.
Oh, sure. It all came back to me in the end. (geez... is that linkin park i hear? "i've tried so hard and gone so far... but in the end it doesn't really matter. i had to fall , to lose it all... but in the end? it doesn't even matter..." ;) I figured out how to just let go and listen to the music. And although it was nothing more than a bizzare coincidence, when they started playing Jethro Tull's "Aqualung"? That's when I got good...
Wonder what I was thinking??
Although I'm not really anti-social, by that time the place was starting to fill up with people and I decided to step outside for a bit of fresh air. Don't you know, I just had to look up? Even parking lot lights couldn't eradicate the familiar form of Orion... And as long as it's been since I've seen the stars? I am outta' here...
Trying to pay attention to the road, and not kill myself by looking up through the T-tops, I arrived back in record time. Thirty seconds later I realized that I was either going to have to use:
A) shovel... or
B) happy with what I could see from the driveway.
Even with as much ground clearance as the "Grasshopper" gives me, it's going to be highly unstable trying to pull it through drifts, so I think I'll just pull a "Purcell" and be a "Driveway Astronomer" tonight! Smiling, I set the 12.5 out and remembered Victor... Hey, Doc? Now I know just how you feel.
Cassiopeia was headed for the corner pocket in a mighty big hurry, but I've got two dollars that says we can cut those open clusters out of there before we lose it! Snatching a lesser detailed map, it's time to head out... And the first destination is M103!
Very nice... With a bright star captured at either edge of this finely resolved open cluster, perhaps a hundred or more individual points of light make up this compact and colorful open! Just a short hop away is the NGC663... Also a real beauty! this one is much larger than the M103 and its' primary stars tend to run more toward the yellow end of the spectrum. A bit of magnification turns this one into a real wonderland as so many stars begin to resolve themselves out that I won't even hazard a guess as to how many it contains!
A bump to the northwest is all it takes to find the NGC654. Although it's not as large and exciting as its' predecessors, the several dozen components that make up this small star cloud resolve out purely at 17mm. Now a drop dead south brings up the NGC659. To me, this one appears like a malformed globular cluster. Amost egg-shaped, it pulls its' definition slightly to one edge that makes it remind me of a miniature M3.
Touring on, I had to go "do" the NGC457 for you, Doc! You're quite correct. I've always referred to this one as an "angel"... But ET certainly fits! Did you know at 9mm there are perhaps a hundred very fine stars that lie below the central pattern? Go check it out... I think you'll like. ;)
A hop to Epsilon is next, and fade west for the NGC637. Hola! It has been a very long time since I've seen this one! Its' general configuration reminds me of a delta wing... And the resolvability is excellent. Even with as little as 17mm the tiny stars and differences in magnitude snap to attention.
Still smiling up at the night, I slipped off to the M52. The bright star at the edge is a dead identifier of this open cluster... and it makes me hear the words "main sequence" very loudly. I'm trying not to wear my science hat tonight, but it's still a point of curiousity. The main sequence stars in this galactic cluster all appear blue, so why then do we have two yellows? Hmmmm... Now I have given my own self a point to ponder.
Last for me here is the NGC7789, and again I raise my eyebrows in curiousity. For appearance sake, the NGC7789 is an incredibly rich galactic cluster... I mean, we're talking about probably a thousand stars here! If we could stand back and look at our own galaxy from a distance this particular cluster would be a noticable knot at the outer edge of the spiral arms. And here we go again... The main sequence stars have evolved to the giant orange end of the cosmic evolutionary scale. We're talking about sequence stars that are almost as old as those contained in globular clusters! Absolutely fascinating...
Of course, the hour is getting rather late for a working kid. A brief glance at my watch confirms that old rust bucket here has taken a good ninety minutes just to tour Cassiopeia. But, I don't mind. I'd really rather be hopping some of the Andromeda family galaxies out, because I don't think I've even looked at the NGC185 and NGC147 this season. Part of me would like to know if I can capture the "Bubble" nebula as well... But it ain't gonna' happen tonight. The problem in just too much ambient light. Ordinarily I could just shield myself a bit and have success if I really, really wanted to find something....
But I'm just not that ambitious anymore.
Right now I'm happy to slide the good 32mm in and breath the stars of the "Double Cluster" in deeply. I'm tired inside and just a walk over the M36, M37 and M38 are all it takes to finish me. I cover the scope back up and roll it away. It's been a good night. Leaving the radio on for just a bit longer, H and I walk out to the south field to dream our clandestine dreams over the beautiful forms of Orion and Canis Major. I don't think H's thoughts are quite as deep as mine and I envy his simplistic life. Would that I had nothing more to think about than digging holes in the snow! He wanders about, almost like he's looking for a scent that's no longer there...
And I know just how he feels.
"So there's problems in my life... Well, that's mucked up... But I'm just fine. I'm simply see-through faded, super-jaded...
December 26, 2002 - Just snow...
Comments: You know this weather is slowly driving me insane, don't you? (ok, ok... i know. short drive, eh? ;) For so many years I've been accoustomed to being outside at night, and I feel so "cooped up" when the weather forces me in!
Solution? Time for H and I to take a walk....
Yeah. Ohio got dumped on with snow yesterday. There are drifts here and there that are a couple of feet deep. But I gotta' get out! It's really kinda' pretty... The way the ground is such stark white and the sky a dark lead grey. And there are acres and acres ahead of us with nothing but virgin snow... Let's go make some tracks, H.
We walk back to the woods, he and I. Thankfully the scar on the ground is covered with a cloth of white. It's seems so bright out, even though there is not a Moon. We find the woods peaceful as well... All the little creatures of the night, save for us, are quietly hiding. We wander about in the trees for awhile and turn to retrace our steps.
I keep looking up. But there's just no sky.
"Be what you want to be. See what you came to see. I've been what I want to be. I don't always like what I see...
December 23, 2002...
Ranger was laying by the sliding glass door which has become his "observing station" since he can no longer walk with confidence. Just laying there, under the branches of the Christmas tree... I gave him a cookie and a handful of his favourite gumdrops... I petted his head and talked to him... wiped his wet eyes and I went to change my clothes. With H in tow, I stopped to pet him once again before we went out...
But he's gone.
I'm not really sure of how I feel about all of this. I'm just numb. It was a good death, you know? He wasn't afraid, he was just tired. And I suppose somewhere in my mind, I don't think I could ask for better. Hey, hey... He just went to sleep in the Sun... Cookie crumbs on his whiskers beneath the branches of the Christmas tree.
The ground at the edge of the east field was frozen... But it's funny how when you have to do something, you can. It's dry underneath, just like my cheeks. Wrapped in the old blue blanket from the redwood chair, and laid to rest. He's where I've stood so many times... Watching the Sun come up... Seeing the constellations rise. It's fitting.
And the stars were out and shining tonight.
I stood by that pile of fresh dirt for the longest time. You know my cheeks aren't dry anymore. I cry for a lot of things... Things I will not explain to you here. The beauty of the Plieades, the foreclosure of a dream, the rise of Jupiter and the Moon, the longing to see you again...
And the death of a friend.
"And I say, baby... It's 3:00 a.m. and I must be lonely. And I say, baby... I can't help but be scared of it all sometimes. You know I used to think that the rain could wash it all away...
December 22, 2002 - Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, Mars and the Moon...
Comments: I can't sleep. I've been trying for the last several hours and it's just not working. I don't look at the clock, because I know it's not long til' morning... But, for me? It is still Monday night. I can see the blue light of the Moon on the snow, and the glitter of the stars. So, I make myself some coffee and I guess I'll just start the day early, huh? Stop and scratch old Ranger's crinkly ears and make sure he's comfortable... Put some wood in the stove...
And dance in the moonlight.
It's very cold here. I can feel the shivers begin as I set out the 4.5, but I don't care. Seems like I don't care about too much of anything any more. And it's OK. Looking up I see that Jupiter waltzes close to Selene along the ecliptic and Venus is just beginning to rise above the treetops with her partner, Mars. And Saturn? Leading the way...
Shall we go say hello?
The little Celestron never gives awesome views of Saturn... But it's collimation is spot on. At 9mm the Cassini is a slender black thread and the planet body shows limb darkening and the grey zone of a polar cap. Around it dance the moons, and they are always so slow compared to Jupiter. Titan is the only one who moves rapidly, for the "little troopers" make their way around the edge at their own pace. Giving it a nod, I move on to Jupiter. The divisions between the equatorial zones are crisp and clean. The northern band looks almost a chocolate brown. I always admire the windswept look of the central equatorial zone, and the soft hash marks the cut through the southern. All galieans are present and accounted for... With one following behind the planet while the other three dance in front. Splendid fellow, this Jupiter. A glance a Venus shows that's she's happily gaining a bit of weight for the holiday... For what once was a thin crescent? Now is either affected by position, or is increasing in illumination. And Mars? Ah, just the little red traveller is all. Kinda' like a dirty red marble thrown in the mix...
I stuff my cold hands into my coat pocket and whistle for H. He gallops across the lawn to my call, bringing me a branch for inspection. Silly dog. Don't you know it's too cold to play fetch? I smile at this antics and he turns what some might consider a small tree into so much kindling. It was windy last night... And he's in heaven. I look around the sky, surprised to see how well Virgo has risen. Won't be long to we'll be dancin' in the field of dreams again...
Setting the scope on the Moon, I find myself dwelling for a long time around Posidonus. Such a beautiful crater... The Serpentine Ridge is just a highlight curve at the moment, and I stop to contemplate the area between Dionysius and Pliny. Did you know that NASA crashed the Ranger 6 there? About a year or so later, they sent the Ranger 8 to the same spot with success. It's also the area of Surveyor 5... and eventually became the touchdown spot for the Apollo 11. Such a barren place... "Magnificent desolation", Mr. Aldrin? Aye...
I move on to the beautiful area of Mare Nectaris and delight in the craters of Theophilus, Fraucastorius, and Madler... But if there were one spot that I would wish to show you?
This would be it...
At about 56 miles in diameter, Piccolomini has a great set of mountains inside of it that tower up approximately 11,800 feet. It is wonderfully stepped, with those walls rising up at about 5,600 feet. The Altai Scarp cuts a brilliant presentation nearby, while Craters Rothman, Zagut and Lindenau share the field. The tiny craters that surround it are unnamed, except for numbers... But they are grand.
I think I've had enough for now. Come on, H... Time to pack it away and start the day...
"I believe that life is made up of all that you're used to... And the clock has been stuck at 3:00 for days and days. I believe happiness is just a mat that lays on door way.
December 21/22, 2002 - The Sun... and the Moon...
Comments: Hey. It's been awhile, hasn't it? I had heard about the new kid in town, and I guess it's about time I strolled up and introduced myself, huh?
I remember seeing the Moon. I tried not to look, but it was there anyway. I wanted so badly just t take the scope out and lose myself for awhile, but I'm caught in that duty and honour thing at the moment. For what it's worth? I fell asleep watching it from the window...
And when I woke up? You know I had to go.
Although the sleep was short, and the time limited, practicing astronomy gives me something inside like nothing else. Yeah, I was fighting against some stringy clouds, but I honestly don't care anymore. Just whack the 4.5 out here, put a cup of coffee in my hand... And leave me alone!
I had talked to Otto earlier in the day, and told him what craters would be interesting tonight, and they were there. But where did I go? Walkin' on the edge of Crisium. I don't know why I find this area so fascinating during this phase. Perhaps because the curvature of the lunar surface is so pronounced. Maybe because the promentoriums and mountains that surround it stand in such stark relief above the terminator...
And maybe just because I like it.
The Palus Somni was incredibly highlighted. Rilles at the edge of Mare Crisium bulged like veins. Tiny craters that hold no names, only letters shine like jewels. And I want the Rukl!
I see that in this chewed edge, a familiar "face" is in evidence, and I start my identifications from there. Crater Lick (named for famous James and the magnificent memory of an Observatory) is quite shallow looking, with a deeper one at the edge identified as Greaves. I find myself drawn to a series of "waves" known as DaVinci and an ancient looking, ruined crater named Watts. The Rukl, although written in German, gives an unusual tidbit of information here... For Watts is named after an American astronomer. Smiling to myself, I can only wonder if we're related... (nah, no "s" ;)
Taruntius is the next destination, and I am spellbound by the soft escarpments and fine detail. At 9mm it looks somehow domed in the center with a peak. It is "pulled up" somehow... and it makes me curious to know if it was formed by volcanic activity. Casting my eye around, I begin to follow some rilles into Fecunditatis named Dorsum Cushman and Dorsum Cayeux.... Quite fine looking!
Dropping the magnification back, I started cruising the terminator. I saw Langrenus and Lame buzz past, but what caught my eye was a double ring that I know.
Steinheil and Watt...
For once? I'm not joking. Crater Watt is named for one of my great grandfathers! As soon as I see the words Schottischer Ingenieur and the dates 1736-1819... I know. For one my great grandfathers was indeed a Scottish engineer! (and although you might remember him as the inventor of the steam engine? he merely perfected it. his real claim to fame? he holds the patent for being the first person to use a telescope in surveying. ;) For once the Moon doesn't look like such a lonely place, huh? And he shares his border with Steinheil, a Dutch physicist, mathematician, optician and astronomer!
Too cool, Grandda... We share a lot in common.
A quick glance at my watch says it's time for me to go be a working kid. Put away the scope, lock things up and commute. But ya' know what? Even though I might be lonely at times?
I ain't never alone.
"And I say baby... It's 3:00 a.m. and I must be lonely. And I say baby... Well, I can't help but be scared of it all sometimes. But I think the rain is going to wash it all away...
December 16/17, 2002 - Saturn at Opposition... Nightwalking...
Comments: There was sunrise this morning. I watched it. I stood in the backyard with my old coat pulled tightly around my pajamas, feeling the winter cold find its' way through my slippers. I hold a mug of coffee and watch H prowl about the fading shadows. The harsh wind dries my cheeks leaving a bitter feel. Ranger cannot come with us, for he can barely walk, let alone conquer the three steps off the deck. He no longer eats and refuses his place by the fire. He lays by the sliding glass door and our eyes meet.
They still shine, you know.
I sense no pain. No feel or anger or remorse. There is something I can do, that I do not practice often. I can let go and feel what is inside of another living thing... Be it animal or human. I do not do this often, for if a creature is in pain? I will feel it. If a soul is troubled? So mine will become... But I need to know, my friend. I need to know what goes on in his mind for he has been my companion for beyond his span of years. And so I look into his eyes and he looks into mine...
He is living through H.
I somehow came back around when I felt myself on the ground. I told you this was not pretty. And I don't honestly care if you believe it. He cannot stand and neither can I. As we hold this "connection" we watch H wander about in his youth and strength. He sees H and knows what it is like to feel the snow beneath his paws. He knows what it's like to chew on the sticks that lay on the frozen grass and chase the squirrel up the tree. He knows the smells carried along on the wind and the feel of frosty breath.
And I let it go.
Brushing myself off, I pick up my coffee mug, still steaming from its' spilled contents. I have seen what I needed to know and I will not "go inside" him again. I know this has nothing to do with astronomy... But it has everything to do with "the astronomer". I am about to lose him... And it hurts.
Somehow the desire to solar observe today is gone. I am sure you can understand it. Fittingly enough, the clouds came back to cover the Sun's face. Another grey day. The weather forecast predicts deepening cold and clearing skies later, but will it happen? Saturn is closing in on opposition and I would like to see it. The little weather icons on my homepage show rain and snow in the days to come, so tonight will likely be my only chance. Even after the Sun set, the clouds remained. What little of the Moon could be seen looked like a shining pearl behind smoke... And yet I had this feeling.
You know I trust what I feel, don't you? Even when I'm afraid I'm wrong.
I was wimbling. I had a hard time convincing myself of what I believed would happen and the desire to just stay here and wallow in self pity. I tried to convince myself that it would be best not to go... and yet my son said to leave. I had promised my friends at AstroTalk that I would try to film Saturn... my simplistic way of sharing. Seldom do I feel so much doubt about what I do, and as I look up at the sky, the words of a friend echo loudly...
"Live it to every last nanosecond."
Grabbing whatever extra warm clothing was handy, I threw it in the car and headed toward the Observatory with my two favorite eyepieces and my video camera. At worst, I would get away for awhile... At best? Well... shall I just show you?
"I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep..."
When I return, it is to a peaceful setting. A tendril of smoke curls from the chimney and the soft lights of Christmas are all I see. I am not a holiday person, but I am gently comforted by the scene. Inside is warm, and all are sleeping. From my old zebra finch cozied in his nest, to my transient son sprawled across an ever-shrinking bed. H comes to greet me and he is upset. I follow him to Ranger fearing the worst. I reach out a hand to stroke the old dog's head and it is cold. Sinking to the floor, I take his head in my lap and his eyes open and shine once again.
"I've not left you yet, old friend."
Smiling, I force the tears away and leave him to his slumber. I could use a cup of tea... Could you? I busy myself in the darkened kitchen trying not to think. I watch the Moon from the window as I sip my cup.... The stars are shining brightly and calling loudly. As always, they give me comfort. Should I go to them?
Every last nanosecond...
Tonight I chose to use the Intes. Setting it in my favourite observing spot, I uncapped it and went to get "the book". Perhaps I was looking for a comfort factor... This feeling of being so alone overwhelms me at times, and I take simple pleasure from having things about me that have meaning to me. And tonight I want to walk upon the Moon...
The view is crisp, clean and perfect. The combination of my good Meade 9mm and the power of a Maksuktov make for good companions. My eyes are grateful for the beauty of Gassendi, and I feel pleasure in the walk across the shallow floor of Schiller. Ultra-bright Aristarchus calls, and I put the barlow in as an answer. I feel myself literally holding my breath as the fine, bright thread of Schroter's Valley rivets my attention. The "splash marks" that eminate from the region look like mute testimony that this may have been an impact crater... Almost eradicating the shallow Prinz.
Smiling up at the Night, I drop back the magnification to wander on to other places of beauty. Sigma Orionis is no challenge for this scope, dazzling in its' red, white and blue. Beta Monocerotis gives that fantasy airy disc that makes me worry that perhaps I am fogging the lens, until I remember "why" I am seeing it as thus. And I let go with my mind.... Just enjoying the white star with the two blue companions. And Castor? Castor is glorious in this scope! The influence of the two giant white stars overlapping each other, and the tiny orange by-stander in the distance.
I thought perhaps then to journey on to some open clusters, but I still have difficulty aiming this fine scope. So, I settle for one I can easily locate and head toward Tau Canis Major and the NGC2362. Quite fine, it displays far less visible stars than what I am accoustomed to, but I am pleased to make out the red signature in some of them. Out of curiousity, I turn next toward the M41 and a realization dawns on me. Otto could never have seen those stars which reside there. To be sure, the M41 is still a rather incredible open cluster... But those fine, tiny red stars are beyond the light grasp of a six inch scope.
Singing quietly along with the rock and roll, I stretch my back and look round for H. The moonlight glistens blue on his shiny black coat, and when I see him, the scene breaks my heart all over again. Laying on the deck on the outside of the door is H. On the inside, is Ranger. He lays beneath the branches of the Christmas tree, and the lights sparkle in his eyes. All the fight, all the dreams, all the desire in me is gone... And I put my things away.
I go to him with a blanket and lie down on the floor beside him. He is so cold, yet he doesn't shiver. I cover us both, and feel H curl against my back. I reach out to stroke his greying head and see the collar that he has worn all his life stand out like a hula hoop against his thin neck. There is so little of him left. He is nothing but a skeleton now, covered in fur that feels dead to the touch... Yet his eyes are so alive. We lay there, with the stars of Orion in our eyes.... Sirius sparkles like a jewel. Puppis follows along behind, and it is fitting. I sing to him softly and talk of the times we have spent together. The many meteor showers we have watched... The moonlight we have danced under. Ah, the cats you have chased! And you were right there with me, old friend... Watching the eclipse at Christmas, weren't you?
His breathing is so shallow, yet it is calm. I cannot see his eyes, but I hope the stars are in them...
For every last nanosecond.
"I've got a little bit of something. God, it's better than nothing. In my color portrait world I believe it's all I'll ever have. And I swear the Moon doesn't hang quite as high as it used to...
December 15, 2002 - Saturn, Jupiter and the M81 and M82...
Comments: Hey, hey... Duty and honor time. Those of you who know me also know that when I work weekends my Sunday begins at 3:00 a.m. And ya' know that if the sky is clear?
I'm gonna' be out there.
So was it clear? Not like I would have liked it to be, but I'll "take what I can get". The Moon was already ducking and running by the time I set the 4.5 out, but the planets are rockin' steady! Wanna' go have a look?
Saturn makes me smile. I find that at 17mm, although it might be very small, the view is exceptionally pleasing. The Cassini Division is such a fine line, only perceptible at the outer edges. The limb darkening and back shadow are very well defined, but what I like best at this magnification are the moons! Tonight Titan walks at the outside edge, and the inner moons follow along the same curve on the same side. How strange it looks to see it being pulled across the sky sideways! I have become spoiled with drive, and lost my edge. With a static image, you are no longer aware of which way is east or west... And up and down hold no significance to north and south. Does it matter? In one respect, no. When the scope continually tracks the planet, it's much easier to see fine detail on the surface. In the other respect? Yes. For tonight I can tell you at a glance that the saturnian moons are to the southern ring edge.
For, you see.... Saturn is standing on edge.
Shall we have go at Jupiter? First glance is deceiving for there appear to be no moons!! Time for patience, then. (what's that? ;) Within seconds, two of the galieans make their appearance. Sitting tight and close, once again I am taken away by dimension. This pair has got o be Eurpoa and Io. Why? Because they're on the "inside track"! Clearly, Io seems much closer to the striated body of Jupiter, and the much brighter, larger orb of Europa dances just ahead and to the outside. Ganymede and Callisto have got to be hiding behind the planet. And speaking of Jupiter, it must be sitting in a bit of haze. About the only real planetary detail I can see at the moment are slighty darker delinations at the edges of both the northern and southern equatorial belts. But, still cool to see it again!
My time is growing short. It's well after 2:00 and I best hit the road. Before I go, I make the switch back to 26mm and head toward my favourite pair of galaxies - the M81 and M82. Like the simplicity of watching the moons orbit a distant planet, I don't much feel like picking them apart for detail.... I'm just happy to see them again! Silver fantasy objects that have played such a role in my observing over the years...
Capping things up, I set the 4.5 back in the garage and headed in to get my things. I had hoped to see a meteor, but there were none. Turning off the lights and coffee, I grabbed my keys and shut the door. I don't know why I looked up at the precise moment that I did... Maybe it's force of habit. Maybe I've just always done it... And maybe...
Maybe this time I just got lucky.
The meteor came from the eastern border of Leo and stretched its' way across the entire zenith to fall at the feet of Gemini. I froze in my tracks, unable to even cry out at its' beauty. Above me "the moving finger having writ... moves on"... Leaving a brilliant garland of golden, sparkling ions hanging in its' wake! For perhaps twenty seconds or more, the trail persisted. Turning and dancing in the atmosphere... Fading softly away. "Nor can all my piety and wit... Call it back to erase but a single line."
Time for me to go...
"And I say, baby... It's 3:00 a.m. and I must be lonely. I say, baby... I can't help but be scared of it all sometimes. I say the rain is going to wash it all away...
December 13/14, 2002 - Listenin' to the Geminids...
Comments: Welcome to Ohio. Right now it seems that all it ever does is rain or snow here. There are good times for astronomy and bad...
I guess this is just one of the bad times, huh?
Sure. I was disappointed with the freezing rain and snow. Just another meteor shower passing by... There will be others. I'm used to it. And so I set about my way... I practice guitar. I learn new codings....
And I remember how to "listen".
The rain was cold and gradually turned to ice. I was hoping that my experiment with the Leonids would still work as well with a less prolific shower. Turning on the old television set, I settled into a chair with a cup of tea. Mostly what I heard was static... That no-where white noise that surrounds us on all levels. But, once in a while, a sizzling noise would break through. Even more rarely I would catch a noise that reminded me greatly of "feedback"... Almost like I was trying to recieve a signal that just didn't quite make it.
Finishing up my cup of tea, I kicked back for awhile with my eyes shut - content to dream and listen. But dreams can sometimes be like memories... The further away they are, they harder they become to recall.
Kinda' like watching a meteor shower you can't see...
"I know it's cold outside, so I take my raincoat. You know I don't really worry about things like that. I think it's all going to end, and it might as well be my fault.
December 8, 2002 - Looking for Comet Brewington, Uranus, Neptune, the Moon and Sharp-shooting Doubles...
Comments: Not since Comet Schmausse have I found such a challenge!! Of course, the bright influence of the Moon wasn't exactly "helping" me any... But I figured I'd try anyhow. Armed with the maps, I happily pulled the dob out to the back field and began my search grid. And ran it again... And again... And again....
Finally, like with Schmausse before it, I decided that this hairy-looking, very soft globe had to be it, and made a sketch of the area. If I am correct in my assumptions, then Brewington is a very small, very faint little traveller! I can percieve no real nucleas and definately no tail. At best I can only describe it as a very faint unresolvable globular cluster that appears brighter in the center. Right or wrong? If it were a static study I wouldn't have reported it... But I do enjoy comet hunting, and if I can locate the others? Why not this one!
Brewington? I think I found ya'... ;)
Since I was hanging out in the holy house of Capricorn anyhow, I decided to drop in on the planets. Also a tough call with the Moon! Of course, there's never any detail to be seen on either Neptune or Uranus, but their colors and unmistakable "orb" shapes distinguish them from the stars.
And speaking of the Moon... Care to dance? It's been a rather long time since I've done that with the 12.5. I didn't bring my beloved book with me tonight. Sometimes things can burn, like looking at the Moon unfiltered through the dob. Guess blind is what I am then. And perhaps foolish as well... But I still enjoyed it. I recognized the dark grey floor of Endymion. Crisium and I are old friends, and the pock marks of Pierce and Pickard well remembered. Langrenus I know... And Fabricus as well. And the odd fellow in the center? Why that's Magellan... And so I walked on the Moon.
Then walked away.
For some reason tonight I had the urge to visit with some doubles. I dunno' why... Perhaps because it's been awhile. Polaris, 57 Peg, Almach, Theta Auriga and Rigel...
Maybe I haven't forgot what I've been missing.
"They say that any lovin' is good lovin'... So I took what I could get."
December 6/7, 2002 - At the Observatory...
Comments: And then there was this e.mail... All of us who find the internet a steady source of entertainment and communication understand the implications of e.mail. We tend to divide them into categories, do we not? A kind of self-prioritization... There are those a lot of us don't even open - like forwarded jokes or advertisements. There are e.mails that we look very forward to - such as some from a very special friend. There are letters from people who are a part of our daily lives - and the world doesn't seem the same without them. Some are questions... Some are answers... Some are just plain trash. And every now and then?
You get one from Bruce.
Subject: Observing Friday Night
Finally clear skies and no MOON. I'm coming down to the observatory tonight. Bring plenty of clothes and coffee. I'm not a coffee drinker, but I will tonight (could someone bring extra?). See you all soon.
See me soon? A chance to study with the best of the best?!? Only work could keep me from being there!! You do know that somewhere along the line, I had solar observed today... Dutifully filmed my sunspots and was in the process of making notes when I read that. (and you will also notice that somehow it got forgotten!) Suddenly my only priorities were to find you and invite you along... And to get my wet cold weather gear dry! (and trust me... watched longjohns take twice as long in the dryer. ;) We had another very clear, low teens night on our hands... And the steady wind was going to mean brat nasty cold.
By the time I got there, Bruce was already setting up inside the dome. Monty, Dave and "Goose" from the WAS were also setting up on the sheltered (har) side of the dome. Tossing the coffee supplies and food inside the Clubhouse, I carried my favourite notepad (everything from CA to my own studies in that one!), map book and CDs up the "Hill". Who cares about the cold? This is going to be an opportunity to study galaxies I haven't seen before (and perhaps just a few i have...) in a way I cannot by. Between Bruce's saavy, Megastar, and myself - We have two veteran galaxy observer's and perfect confirmation of position and designation. Where at best I am able to find five or so new studies during an observing session and follow my rules, Bruce will hand me dozens in one night. And the best part is?
I am 100% confident in my reporting.
I don't remember exactly how it came about, but I know from my notes that he set it on the M1 and had other things to attend to, leaving me freedom to study for as long as I liked. What can you say about the M1? Beautiful. Such as "moving" experience to be allowed ample time with this fantasy supernova remnant. The "Crab" Nebula holds true to so many other spectrascopic studies I have enjoyed over the years. The concept of differing lightwaves crossing over one another and canceling each other out... with each trough and crest revealing differing details to the eye is never more apparent than it is tonight. To truly watch the M1 is to at one moment see a "cloud" of nebulosity... The next a broad ribbon or filament... Another? A dark patch. And when you're lucky? An embedded star. Tonight has produced six such stars. I know this is a "record" for me during any given observing session... And this time I want to share. Calling Monty and friends inside to the eyepiece, I want them to "see" what I understand, but cannot always explain. It is more than just the pulsar at its' center teasing the eye... This is the "living" quality of which I speak... TRUE astronomy in action. So much information being fed into the brain by the eye! And so many years and studies that it took to make me understand it.
I guess I do not always communicate well, or perhaps I'm just weird. I think we are all born with the ability to see spectral qualities, but they just go undeveloped. From ionization to polarization... Our eye and brain are capable of seeing to the edge of infra-red and ultra-violet... And magnetism? Don't you tell me we cannot interpret magnetism visually! One only has to view the "Wilson Effect" to understand... And the spinning neutron star at its' heart? We've known since 1969 the daggone thing produces a "visual" pulsar effect! We know that about once every five minute, changes occuring in the pulsation affect the amount of polarization... And the light wave sweeps around like a giant "cosmic lighthouse" and flashes across our eyes. And... And... Oh, well. Let me get down of my "physics" soapbox and just let it suffice to say that the M1 is much, much more than just another Messier.
And speaking of Messiers... Wanna' visit with one more before we get serious about some faint galaxy studies? Then let the M76 be the next target and let's groove on a planetary nebula that greatly resembles the M27, but doesn't behave in the same way! Although the M76 is supposed to be one of the faintest of Messiers, it is anything but faint tonight. In the 9mm Nagler, it is perfectly large and easy to study. Like the M27, the expansion rate is almost identical at 15 miles per second... But did you know that the M76 was given two designations? The reason behind this is quite clear tonight, for it is easily observed as two distinctly differing areas, deliciously pinched apart in the center section. Of course, the more vague of the two obeys all the rules of physics, but the brighter portion shares something in common with the M27. The both omit light in the "forbidden zone"! The highly irregular (but, oh-so-exciting) dance performed along the single spectral line of 5007 angstroms... Doubly ionized oxygen! To me, this wonderful apparition can only be crowned by the embedded star at the edge. To be sure, these things are cool... But the most special part of tonight is a glimpse of Millikan 1974. Once again, the combination of a very clear and steady night coupled with Bruce's perfect telescope and 9mm Nagler give something to a perfectly ordinary starhop object that most never ever see... The Millikan 1974 is a barely perceptible halo that encompasses the body of the nebula. It is a true observer's delight! One that although you might offer the eyepiece to five people? Only one might actually notice that it is there.... Hey, Bruce? I noticed. ;)
Now, it's time to "get down". Magnitude 15.5 through 14 studies are what we came here for!
NGC1001 - Surprisingly large, but diffuse. Shows elongations. Easy on slight aversion.
NGC999 - Faint, even, and of a decent size. Requires slight aversion.
NGC996 - More difficult, but once it appears? Quite easy to see. Frontier perceptible on eye movement, and evenly distributed. Very smooth!
NGC995 - Also surprisingly large! Low surface brightness. Coolies? Confirmed star at the edge of the frontier. Slightly uneven in appearance.
NGC1005 - Requires aversion. A roundish patch. I see some condensation toward the nucleas region. Actually the nucleas itself is what I first noticed... Then caught structure around it as I called on my powers of perception.
NGC1000 - Requires aversion. Once again, suprisingly large! The marker stars triangluate with it in kind of a "hockey stick" shape with the NGC1000 at the bend. As you watch, the galaxy actually expands as perception takes over. Quite possibly a large, tilted spiral. Very nice! (obviously i started to pick up on some structure here, because my notes include a rough sketch in the margin.)
NGC1174 - A very stellar nucleas is what you see when first locating this galaxy. And that is the trick, eh? Keep watching and tap the eyepiece. A soft, highly elongated oval appears around the nucleas as soft arms. But even the greatest amount of patience here does not reveal any dark dustlanes. (again, i must have found this one exciting as well, because i've sketched in the margin!)
NGC1212 - A small, stellar nucleas is the signature of this also small, face-on spiral. Very circular in appearance, it requires slight aversion.
IC1883 - Requires wide aversion. Soft, not very regular in appearance. Very small.
IC290 - Very small, very round diffuse area. Requires full aversion.
NGC2224 - A rather uninteresting open cluster. Several differing magnitudes of stars that show no real pattern, nor any exciting colors.
NGC2234 - Open cluster. Hey, hey! At least we have an asterism here! Also possessed of several magnitudes, the NGC2234 contains several "circles" of stars which remind me of looking at a pistol cartridge. (six shooter, all the way, baby!). At least it's a bit more interesting!
NGC2294 - Back to faint galaxies. The NGC2294 is a very large and highly diffuse patch. Requires wide aversion. Evenly distributed.
NGC2289 and NGC2288 - Can be captured with almost direction vision. Small and round, they both appear at the same time when focusing attention on the stars between them. Upon study, they appear "non-formed" leading me to believe this is more than likely a pair of ellipticals.
NGC2290 - Slight aversion. Very large, diffuse patch. Shows a wide frontier. Probably a large, faint, face-on spiral.
And it was at this point that I decided to take a break for a bit and make us some more coffee. I had been popping in and out, visiting with our friends outside the dome and looking through their fine scopes. At one point in time, we had turned the dome round and put Saturn in the eyepiece with the 31". Always an awesome sight! They had had enough of the harshness of winter on the "Hill" and I don't blame them... The cold will find you. After all, it has found the last swig of coffee in the thermal mugs and frozen them to the desk! Sliding into the Clubhouse, I shook off a couple of layers of clothes to warm up a bit. The scent of the fresh brewing coffee was marvelous and I was just enjoying the aroma and watching the stars from the frosty window panes.
Curious, I opened the door and watched the shadow move across the snow covered ground. A stranger? No way, baby. I'd know this "shadow" anywhere! And what a pleasure it is to see you again, Victor... Snatching him inside, the conversation becomes animated as we catch up with one another. Filling up mugs, and layering on clothes again, we prepare to climb the drifted steps and there are more lights! What an unusual surprise... A fellow that I had met earlier on the way here had also decided to join us this evening. Keith? Welcome to "Dome Sweet Dome"...
Of course, galaxies studies continue to be the order of business... But somehow it's taken on a delicious twist now. One that I deeply appreciate... Another veteran starhopper with a 12.5 dobsonian. Let the games continue, eh? ;)
NGC2379 - Centered in a triangle of stars, this diffuse galaxy shows no real frontiers and requires mild aversion.
NGC2389 - A soft patch of light caught on wide aversion. Just a super-faded galaxy of low surface brightness and no detail.
NGC2388 - On the edge of perception. Very, very tough. Walking low surface brightness galaxies in the range of 15.3 magnitude! Very, very diffuse... Shows an irregular frontier upon study.
NGC2376 - Slight aversion. Very round and even in appearance. Forms a triangle with two nearby faint stars.
NGC2398 - 15.5 direct?! I'm here to tell you it can be done, and my observing partners confirm it as well!! Most likely a face-on spiral with a definate concentration toward the nucleas. Superb! (see? nothing like having someone who understands you...)
IC2191 - Possibly a tilted spiral. Shows decent elongation upon aversion. This one is also nice having co-galaxy geeks to enjoy with! We can see that the elongation spreads itself in the opposite direction of the two stars that mark it.
NGC2405 - Very, very dim but easy at slight aversion. Quite even, with a slightly textured look about it. Appears to pull slightly at one edge. Evidence of a spiral arm?
NGC2407 and NGC2406 - Very faded, almost indiscernable galactic pair. Widely averted vision brings on a small patch of light with no frontier, while the other is more noticably even.
NGC2440 - Yeah, baby! A wide edge-on! Requires slight aversion. Shows some concentration toward a central bulge... But even patience doesn't reveal a dark dust lane.
Bruce stops at this point to allow our non-astronomer friend, Keith a view of the "King of Rings". If this one doesn't "turn you on", nothing will! And yes, he finds it every bit as exciting as the rest of us do... And trust me. Bruce's scope does an awesome job with this planet! It was very nice to meet you... And you are welcome here anytime.
Now the dome and scope are turned toward Gemini studies and seret smiles are passed between co-conspiritors. (told ya' he was the best of the best...) Teasing about the cold, somebody said something about needed to get the blood circulating again... So I guess it's up to me to crank up "Godsmack" on the CD player, eh? "Moonbaby".... It's the way I feel.
Now let's rock...
NGC2418 - A very concentrated nucleas. Easy up and direct, it has a soft halo that is slightly egg-shaped. Tough call! (of course, i could cheat and look at bruce's notes... but i ain't that kind.) My instinctual guess is a spiral galaxy, because for the most part ellipticals tend to be more even.
NGC2435 - Oh, YESSS! Very long and pencil-slim edge-on!!! (lots of excited annotations on my notes here... ;) Very bright! At times, the whole galaxy just lights up!! The central dust lane is impossible to miss... Very dark, and very evident! And very fine!! Just incredible....
NGC2493 - Beautiful barred spiral! Extrememly evident central bar! Slight aversion brings on the outer arms. This one is as fine as the ones I saw in my Fornax/Eridanus studies! Sweet....
NGC2490 and NGC2492 - Splendid same field pair. Upper of the two shows a deeping of the nucleas. Most definately larger, or just perhaps more visibly structured than it's counterpart. The lower of the two is a softly haloed patch... Also easily held direct, but with no real frontiers.
Of course, you realize that dawn is not too far away. Bruce is our absolutely tireless and fearless leader... And after more than eight and a half hours? Even he is beginning to feel the cold. Setting the scope on the M65 for us, he and Monty head for the shelter of the Clubhouse leaving Vic and I alone with the invitation to use it as we wish. A couple of 12.5 dobbers alone with a 12.5 equatorial mount?
Darn right we played with it! Even though it moves a bit differently than what we're used to, both of us know the sky. No Megastar this time. What you get is a couple of kids happily bent over the desk with a red light and a map, eh? Laughing and turning the dome round... Up and down the ladder hopping to things we know best! (and i'l be damed if he doesn't know how to get there as well as i do. ;) We toured all around the M65 and 66 area... And off the the M105, 95 and 96 area. Sliding around, catching all those faint fuzzies... In other words? Play time.
When Bruce came back, he said something about a desgination and all we could do was smile. Been there. Done that. He readjusted the Megastar program to show what field we were on and all the little numbers lit right up! (told ya' you shouldn't leave a dobber alone with a map and your scope! ;) But the smiles were genuine. We may go about things a bit differently, but we all share the same love of the night sky.
Dawn is staining the eastern skyline and Venus has never shone more brilliantly. (isn't that the way you wanted it, mr. wizard?) The cold and the hours have taken their toll on all of us. Time to close things down and pack up. We seek the refuge of the Clubhouse once again to continue our lively conversation. Shedding extra clothes to let in the welcome heat. Bruce? I cannot thank you enough for the study time. As always, you have given me the "galaxy fix" I admire. Between Moon and duty, it will probably be another month before we get the chance again... But I'll watch for that e.mail, eh? Monty? Happy Birthday, my friend. Thank you again for everything.
And so we are down to two... Warmth beginning to return... Starting to feel once again... Such pleasant company! Hey, "Doc"?
"And then... And then you looked at me with those dark brown eyes... And said....
December 3, 2002 - The Sun... At the Observatory... Playin' With the 12.5...
Comments: Well, well! We actually have Sun in Ohio? Fancy that... ;) Of course, I has been some time since I've solar observed, so out with the scope and onto our nearest "star".
Not exactly brimming over with activity today, there are a few decent spots to catch the eye...
SOHO MDI photo
Perhaps the best so far are the two lower ones on the photo - 207 and 209. They look pretty daggone regular to me... But what is on the incoming edge looks like it might harbor some potential! It's doubtful given the weather forecast for the days ahead that I'll get to follow it...
But it was nice to see Sol again!
"Are you crazy? It's like 10 below out there!"
(These were the words that greeted me when I stopped to tell the groundskeeper that I was going up to open the Dome for awhile. Of, course I'm crazy! And he knows it, too...)
The super cold has left Ohio with some of the finest clear skies I've seen in a very long time. I know that the exposure time at the Observatory is going to mean a limited session... But, oh how I crave dancing in the deep sky again! Leaving the car parked where the plows had stopped, I found myself in the open donning layers of clothes from my car's trunk (it made it up the hill! all right!) and gathering everything I could carry in one shot and making the trek to the Dome. The silence of the frozen landscape was deafening...
Following the only tracks that marred the snow's perfection, I realized that only a canine had been round these parts since it last snowed! And since I don't see a body? I think I'm safe. Opening the Clubhouse, I am pleased to find that its' subterrainean design keeps it far warmer than the outdoors, and I stash my thermos and head on up. A thorough scan with a bright flashlight shows no snow on the dome! We're in luck... By the time I had opened things up, I realized that I couldn't feel the thumb on my right hand despite the gloves, and retreated back to shelter until I could feel them again. When I was satisfied that I could make eyepiece switches with ease? It was time to turn on the rock and roll, baby...
The Perseus Galaxy Cluster was exactly what I had in mind. It takes me some work... I can't just point this telescope with practiced ease and that's why I am here. Practice... One of my major P's. After what felt like much too long, I found what I was looking for... A cluster of fuzzies! Suddenly excited, I ceased to feel the cold and awestruck by the immense clarity of the night, began to push around the field and start counting. I think somewhere around 12 or 14 is the best I've ever achieved with the dob and when I go beyond that? I'm in heaven! I stopped at 22, because 23 and 24 are quite away from the central portion of the cluster, and I'm not sure if they count. How many degrees? I don't honestly know. I'm sure I haven't pushed away more than 2 or perhaps 3... But I am still in the learning process with "Big Blue" and one day soon I'll become more accurate.
Definately feeling the effects of the cold, I come back down to the ground and seek shelter and a cup of coffee. And when I'm ready to go again? It is toward Saturn. (hey, hey! i can "hit" this one in seconds! ;) The moment I went to the eyepiece I no longer felt the cold. At a good 90 or so degrees in elevation, I had no "ground effects" to contend with tonight. Fantasy detail is the only way I can describe it. From Iaepetus and Titan, to tiny Tethys, Rhea and Dione the moons themselves looked like perfect orbs... Limb darkening on Saturn's moons? Outstanding! The planet itself was an awesome yellow with grey "windswept" details... But the show stealer was the rings. The Cassini wasn't just bold, it was a huge black void in the system. The Encke was a thin thread at the outer edge. The absolute outer and inner edges were very fine and "wispy" looking. The entire system showed variations beyond belief... But at one edge? From the Cassini inward there was a bright and jagged line that appears like "lightning". Once again, the 31" scope coupled with my good 26mm Meade Series IV shows "spoking". The chance to view this effect once again is far worth whatever cold I might endure!
And speaking of cold, the battery on the lift is getting a bit sluggish... Rather than finding myself 15 feet off the ground and stranded in the open cold, I go back down and plug it in to charge while I seek shelter again. After cradling a cup of coffe, I decided to simply let it charge until I am ready to leave and use the rollaway stairs. Orion has well cleared the horizon, and I don't mind hanging off a ladder to steal a look into the "Trapezium!"
Rather than switch eyepieces again, I leave my good 26mm in and just enjoy. The tiny red and blue stars are heartbreaking in their perfection. The scallops of nearby nebula simply erupt during moments of perfect clarity with the smallest points of light you can imagine. Again, I am not proficient enough with this scopes capabilites, but I'm guessing that some of these stars have got to be at least magnitude 18 or 19. Trying my best to leave the "science head" behind, I just push around the M42 itself... Each tendril becomes a place of exploration, and every dark pocket a secret to behold.
A quick check of my watch confirms the fact that I've been out here now for about three hours. As much as I hate to leave, I realize the body's limitations and begin the process of close-down. I realize in my excitement that there is a 12.5 about and hour away... And a fire which I can study my maps beside. After double and triple checking proceedure, I flip the final switches at last and lock the doors. Time for me to slide back on down the hill...
After a very cautious drive, I find myself drawn to the nearby ski area. Sure, I've got far less clothes on now than I did a bit ago... But when you see those huge snow making machines doing their "thing", it's hard not to stop and watch! Thanks to the car's heater, I'm feeling quite fine now and I decided to just put my overcoat on and watch the skiers. Despite their happy invitations to join them, I am quite content to stand here in a safe place and watch them "swisssssssh" by! And NO... I am not getting on a knee board for love nor money! You might be too young to remember "Wide World of Sports" and the agony of defeat... But I'm not!!
Smiling, I find myself on the road once again and anxious to get on back and set the 12.5 out. With no work tomorrow and these pefect skies?
We're gonna' rock all night long...
By the time I got the fire going well and the dob set out to stablize, Orion had reached it's maximum elevation. So where do we start? Wanna' play with the things we know? Or do you want to walk the edge? Let's chose the latter. Take the good 26mm and 9mm and set them out, and turn off all the lights. The glow of the fire is all we need and the red light to study the map... Cuz' we want to be very, very dark adapted.
About 30 minutes later, Orion has started to slide west and it's time to go. Put Epsilon Monoceros in the finder, shuffle it west and cap it up. First mark is the "Rosette" nebula. Almost like an airy disc surrounding open cluster NGC2244, the "Rosette" (NGC2237) is visible with the lower power and direct vision. By averting, some finer wisps become more apparent. A soft, greyish appearing "fog" that surrounds a pretty cluster of about 30 or so stars that have a concentration toward the yellowish star in the center. Very nice...
Touching the scope northward, I run across what is probably an open cluster... A pretty chain of a couple of dozen stars that I later identified as NGC2251, but what I want is just a hair east of this... Got it! The "Hubble Variable" nebula (NGC2261) is so blue! Tonight it is not stringy at all. It looks pefectly even... Like a brand new badmitton birdie! It almost rivals a nearby star and is quite easily head direct with no more magnification than the 26mm provides.
Leaving the 26mm in, the next hop north brings up the "Christmas Tree" cluster (NGC2264). This particular moniker I think is a bit inaccurate, for I find it more a teardrop shape. Now, here is the reason we neeed to be very dark adapted... Put the 9mm in for me and head for the brightest star in this group - S Monoceros. This is where experience counts, mon ami. Like the Merope Nebula, there is a soft, smeary looking sheen about this star that most would mistake. Don't you do the same. Avert your vision almost into the eyepiece barrel itself and you will see a "notch" in this haze. The Hubble makes it beautiful... The 12.5 makes it real. This is the "Cone" nebula. Right at the tip of the teardrop... This pretty little disparate double holds the secret to the "Cone". It is dark.
Feeling the cold once again, let's put the cap on the finder and eyepieces and slide the linen sleeve over the dob and go back to the fire and the charts. Let's see what other kinds of trouble we can get into tonight!!
After a cup of chai very generously spiced with cinnamon schnapps, it's time to head again. First mark is Sirius, but do not look at it in anything more than the finder. All we want to do is slide dead south just a touch for galaxy NGC2283. Wow... In a stellar field, it requires full aversion, but the 9mm reveals what looks like a sideways coma of silver galaxy. This one has got to be a spiral to look like that! Just a real little beauty... Put the 26mm back in and let's drool over what we can cram in of the M41 at this magnification. What I appreciate most about this fine open cluster and the two very tiny red stars. Now, just admire the sky for a moment... Cuz' I'm gonna' drop us south again.
Now, come look. The NGC2271 is a real toughie. It requires wide aversion and patience. Like the trick in finding it... A bit of movement is the key. Once you see where it is at? Tap the eyepiece just a bit and you can perceive the frontier. Very small, this galaxy is a barely distinguishable elongated oval. And how grand it is to have skies that support a magnitude 14 study!
Still feelin' pretty good, and the fingers are still workin' fine to make eyepiece switches, let's go for the M47. Very rich with it's variences in magnitudes... Now let's bump east for the M46. Yahoo! (or shall i say "eureka"? ;) Gimme' that 9mm... Yep. No doubt about it. This very rich, very beautiful open cluster has a planetary nebula right inside! And speaking of such... Let's switch eyepeices again and go dead south. Yeah, baby... Now mag up. The NGC2440 is an excellent planetary nebula. Irregular in shape, and with a bluish tinge, it is a fine stopping point for now!
Covering up again, it's time to shuck the clothes and hold down a blanket by the fire. But for some odd reason, it turns into a sandwich and a beer! Still excited, I know there are things we'd still like to see... But let's set the clock and nap here a bit.
Making us a cup of coffee to clear away the fog, check the map and it's time to head back out. Time to re-layer on those clothes, and growl at me for getting you into this kinda' thing, huh? Come on, grouchy...
Let's go tame a Lion.
Jupiter is darn near at the zenith, and that means Leo is perfect. No standing on our heads to use the finder, eh? First mark is that little star, right there... 52 Leonis. Our target? Galaxy M105 and two companions... the NGC3384 and NGC3389. The M105 is the brightest of our threesome, and as an elliptical gives no great detail. The NGC3384 is fainter, and more oval with a pronounced nucleas. And, although the NGC3389 requires more aversion, I think it's more fun because this tilted spiral is a fine, thin streak of light that glows evenly from edge to edge.
Now, tap it south about a degree and let's get the M96! Easy, direct, and a true silver beauty, it has a bright core and a soft halo of wispy arms! Barred spiral M95 is here as well. Requiring a bit of aversion, the nucleas is absolutely stellar in intensity and just a bit of concentration brings out the faint sheen of its' faded arms. Cool? Positively cold, baby! Let's go warm up again...
This time I am content to to sip at my coffee and forget the maps. The last stop on tonight's star hop is an old familiar face... One I know in my dreams, eh? Ready? The let's go get the M65 and M66...
The M65 is a gorgeous galaxy. Beautiful bright nucleas haloed by a fine field of spiral structure. This is one I often wish that I could have more mirror for... Who knows? Maybe there's more there... Like the M66! It's brighter, and shorter. It doesn't take a whole lot of aversion to pick some dark areas out of it's structure, and one very prominent end of an arm at the southern edge extends itself like a beckonng finger to come explore.
Last stop is where I want to be. Edge-on with you, baby... The NGC3628 is elongated and pencil slim. The ends seem to almost pixelate themselves into space. Patience and aversion here are the key... For there are moments when the slightest motion of the eye reveals a hint of a dark dust lane.
I can never forget you.
"And I'll love you... Yes, I'll love you... Oh, how I'll love you..."
December 2, 2002 - M42, M31, NGC884 & 869, M36, M37, M38, M35, NGC2392, Saturn, Jupiter, M44 and the M67...
Comments: What do you know about this?! I sure wasn't expecting any clear sky tonight. As a matter of fact, the only thing I had planned was to study some coding lessons, drink a few beers and watch the highly over-advertised movie, "Taken". And, of course, that is exactly what I did. But, for some reason I always look up and when midnight came round?
So did the stars...
I only hesitated for about ten seconds. The below freezing temperatures and wind were going to take their toll, but who cares? Bundle up and I'll race ya' to the scopes! Turning on the rock and roll, the choice was simple tonight... The 4.5. Why? Again, I encourage anybody who reads these reports to get yourself a workhorse! Because the rest of my equipment is so valuable, I tend to not want to expose it to any chance of blowing ice crystals... and that's a good idea. But who wants to skip out on a chance to suck down some photons because "you're afraid" of your own scopes?! Not I, amigo... This is what the 4.5 and I live for.
Let's rock the night.
I am always blown away by how bright the Great Orion Nebula is in the little scope. Sure, it doesn't have all that fantasy structure that is the signature of the 12.5... But this wonderful "fan" of grey/green light can only be described as the finest of all the nebulae. Just like the M31... So bright and full of life! The core is striking suberb with a small aperature scope, and although the diminuative M32 and M110 are not as conspicuous, they are still quite "there"! Now, on to the "Double Cluster", who shall forever remain a favourite. The richness of these oft-visited open pair never cease to delight me. They just sparkle in the eyepiece! And speaking of sparkle, the Aurigan Messier Trio of M36, M37 and M38 have always caught my eye as well. To the small scope, they present a delightful mystery because they do not resolve out in there entirety. It makes them fascinating, because you realize that with just a tiny bit more light gather power, that these clusters would just explode with stars!
The cold has begun to find its' way through my haphazard assortment of clothing, and I find myself taking off my gloves and tucking my hands inside my coat to warm them. As I walk round a bit to get the juices flowing, (much to H's delight!) I find myself perhaps scolding my id for not bringing out the dob. This is a really beautiful sky! I could be studying the "Cone Nebula"... or making notes on "Hubble's Variable". Or, I could just be pleased that I'm out here, huh?
I think I'll settle for the latter.
Going back to the scope, I find myself wearing a secret smile and head off toward the M35. Now, here is an open cluster that delivers to any aperature! Such profusion.... I started thinking thoughts about the "Eskimo Nebula" and how appropriate it would be to locate it... And after a few futile attempts in the general direction of Wasat, (nice yellow double, by the way... with a very pinpoint red disparate companion ;) I was about to give up, thinking this aperature couldn't pull it down... Then I noticed a little fuzzy blue/green patch. Now the smiles really start! I'll rub noses with you anytime, my dear! The 4.5 can't conquer this small, but bright planetary as well as aperature can... But there is nothing wrong with this rather circular appearing, softly colored nebula with the orange star nearby! Just awesome...
Feeling definately more inspired and a lot less cold, I merely hopped on to Saturn by rote to watch Titan being pulled across the sky, and further down to Jupiter to see the dance of the galieans again. Such a wonderful feeling to know the neighbors are back again! Wondering where else to go before I best quit risking pnuemonia, I see a star cluster that makes my heart do a double thump. The M44...
Hey, hey... It may be long ago and far away, but I've never forgotten. The "Beehive" and I go back a few years, don't we? From a time when I wandered around the skies, lost and looking... Until it was found at last. I find myself reaching out to lay a hand on the 4.5. We go back a ways, too... Don't we buddy? You know it. And still... Here you are. Walking the night with me again. Then let's make one more hop before we both freeze to the spot, shall we? Off to the winter beauty of the M67...
Almost galaxy-like in appearance to the small scope, the M67 holds a certain appeal for me. Only the NGC6940 shares the honour of being my favourite open cluster! Why? I dunno'.... I've seen richer and I've seen more handsome. I've known open clusters that made me laugh, and others that bored me to tears. But through it all?
There's still only one that takes my fancy like no other.
"Some try to tell me... Thoughts they cannot defend. Just what you want to be.... You'll be in the end."
December 1, 2002 - Venus, Mars and the Moon...
Comments: I knew a conjunction was about to happen, but I didn't set much faith on my ability to catch it. Snow squalls and grey clouds have dominated the Ohio skies for so long, chances were slim that the sky would be clear in the morning. But you know me, eh? I am a firm believer that if opportunity knocks?
You gotta' be there to answer the door...
I kept watch, but the clouds kept an even stronger vigil. Still not feeling like myself, I sat down and found myself dozing off... Dreaming of things long ago... Dreaming I was seeing it. Dreaming you kept telling me to go look... At 6:00 I woke up like someone had turned on a switch. You had told me to quit dreaming and go look...
And there they were.
There was something so cosmically holy about the scene that I had no thoughts at all about using the telescope. Here, standing above the tranquil fields was a reaffirmation of faith in who I am and what I love to do. Not since my the week of my birth earlier in the year have I felt more "in tune" with the sky that I did right at that moment.
Although my camera cannot record the beauty of the earthshine Moon, nor can it describe the green brilliance of Venus... and it barely can reveal the small presence of Mars. To know me is to know that I would share all that I have with you. And so I make an attempt at capturing what cannot be captured... But most of the time?
I was just looking up and smiling.
"Gazing at people.... Some hand in hand. Just what I'm going through... They can't understand."