May 31 - June 1, 2002 - The Sun... Jupiter and Venus... Serious Study... and the Moon...
Comments: Been chomping at the bit all day to catch a glimpse of the latest solar hotspot. Rumor has it this is one of the largest to been seen in quite some time, and since I'm a regular observer, I'd kinda' like to see for myself, thanks. It rained not too long after I got home from work, so I figured there was no chance.
As usual, I am wrong.
About an hour or so before sunset, the sky went clear and I went out. And you know what? 9973 IS everything its' cracked up to be! A complex series of huge umbra and regular penumbra regions... But the size? Oh, my my. I would safely bet this is the largest I've seen in over a year, and it is quite fine.
Now, realize this. Just because a spot is enormous, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is going to be active. From what I have observed in the past, 9973 actually looks kinda' quiet to be honest with you. The width and shape of the penumbra suggests that it is very normal indeed. And by checking the data, and M class flare is all is potentially harbours. It bears watching, however. For if the umbra breaks apart, or the penumbra fields narrow or become irregular, that could mean some great activity!
I'll sleep when I'm dead.
When I took the cover off the dob to chase away the last of the tube currents, the 4.5 and I took a walk to the west side yard for a peek at Venus and Jupiter. They look great together, you know that don't you? Two of the brightest planets in the solar system, moving closer to each other as each night passes. There was really no need to look at Venus, for I know the phase hasn't changed... But I did anyway. Phat and sassy as ever. Cool thing is? She'll slim down over the next few weeks! Watch and see... Jupiter? Not great because I waited so late... but even in the 4.5 I can pick up something "odd" on the surface when the trembling stops. My guess is a shadow transit, for the galieans sit very tight on either side of Jove tonight. Very tight, indeed...
Time to cap up the 4.5 and carry it back to the garage. Turn up the radio, and let's rock! There are sixteen studies marks I'm aiming for, and the sky is perfect. Hey, now. They don't always come easy, and tonight was no exception. A couple of them I "walked" past, and had to go over the field again. And as soon as I realize the problem, I corrected it. The red light...
I had been using the red light to read the chart, and during the first few to make rough field sketches to work from. Wrongo. The more you use the light, the more it bleaches "color sense" from your retina... Lose that? And you've lost the ability to quickly pick up on wide field, low contrast change galaxies. From that point on, I used it very sparingly... Just as I have in the past. No one truly cares about every single detail of an amateur's study... And I am no exception. What turns me own is to find them. Athough it took me over three hours, find them I did. And when I find them twice more?
Then I shall tell you.
By now, Selene has moved onto the scene. Eyes full of stardust, I am tired yet. I started to cover the dob back up and head for a nap, but you know me... Always curious. I had to look. I had to climb the Apennines in my heart. And the Caucasus?
Just because they were there.
"And it's been awhile... Since I could hold my head up high. And it's been awhile... Since I first saw you."
May 30, 2002 - M104, M65/66, The Field of Dreams, M53, M64, M51, M3, M13, and the M57...
Comments: Sssssssh.... I got a bit of sky last night! Fooled around the early evening hours playing with my long-unused html codings, thinking there was no hope. It finally got to the point where H "virtually" insisted that I take a break. (no. my dogs do not e.mail me when they have to go out, but H and Ranger both understand completely how to interfere with a remote keyboard! ;) And what happens when I open the sliding glass door out to the deck?
I have stars...
Far too humid outside to use the dob, I snatched the 4.5 from the garage and set it out on the still wet grass. How pleasant it is to at last be able to wander round the yard barefoot... To be dressed only in cut-offs and a t-shirt! I guess there is a bit of something good to be said about our steadily warming temperatures! I poked around the cosmos with the binoculars for 10 or 15 minutes, waiting on the Celestron to level out... Then I could stand it no more.
Starting in the south, (and how i wish it were the dob and my study area!) I picked off the "Sombrero" first. This was not the kick-asteroid view I had from Fremont Peak, but it sure made me smile in recollection. The M104 is a very subtle, UFO-shaped disc of light in a small aperature scope, but a prize nonetheless. So I worked my way up to the M65/66. The twin scratches of galaxy stuff are a welcome sight to tired eyes! And I push the scope over...
The M84/86 galaxy "Field of Dreams" is always a pleasure to me... Regardless of scope. Aperature makes them dance. But, the music is fine... the night is warm... and I have missed it much more than I tell you. Continuing across the sky, I head for the M53. It is a nice, compacted globular cluster... Fine concentrated core area, which thins to the outer edges of this small ball, bordering on the limits of resolvability. And the M64? As spineless as a jellyfish in the 4.5... but how glad I am to see this "tear drop" on the face of the sky!
Pushing northward, the M51 and spin-off are next. I truly appreciate the 4.5. It is scope enough that the average person would be fascinated with it for a life-time. While I can't swoop structure out of it as the 12.5 provides, M51 is still very much spiral in structure, and the NGC5195 most apparent as a companion! Heading back toward the centerline, the M3 and basics in resolution come next. Which means I am quite obligated to visit the M13 as well! Both are very fine globulars, with pinpoint stars that come forward even with limitations... But hey! No one can say anything "bad" about the M13, eh?
Last stop of the night? The M57. The "Ring" was also not as fine as I'd like to see it... Not as crisply defined. But, don't get me wrong. I am not growling... I could stand out here all night and listen to rock and roll while touring the stars! Averted vision and patience brings out the dark center to the M57, and the field is fine.
Now, I best head back in. The hour is rather late, and I will hate myself when the alarm goes off in the morning. (are you kidding?! i'll sleep when i'm dead, thanx! there be stars out here... ;) It was good to be back in the night again...
"Into this life we're born... Into this world we're thrown..."
May 29, 2002 - Brat nasty weather here... The black clouds and lightning as only Ohio can when touched by Spring.
It really doesn't matter that much, (although I'd like to be studying galaxies!) for I know that it will eventually end. So, I think I'll just curl up here in the chair by the window... Drink a glass of wine...
And watch the lightning dance.
I fell safe tonight. Still it storms, but the clouds don't speak of tornadoes... Perhaps I shall visit Oz in my dreams, eh?
For we all are...
"Riders on the storm..."
Comments: Ah, the best laid plans of mice and astronomers... How they often go astray! The game plan for this evening was to have one of my favourite people over to walk the sky. Cory was willing, and so was I. But the sky? Had other plans for us...
I had spent quite a bit of time earlier that day observing the Sun (and lounging in it too, thank you.). The array of sunspot activity was highly varied, from perfect umbral/penumbral blacks like 9963, to the twisted and unusual 9957. What held my attention most was the western limb. Sure, faculae and granulation are apparent on the eastern side, but you know me...
The west is what keeps me coming back for more.
The remainder of the large coronal hole and the remnants of 9957 are going round the bend, which is nothing unusual. But to see the Wilson Effect centered on an area where there is no spots, only faculae rocks my little world! Dropping in magnification, I study the area carefully. What I am seeing is not heat waiver, it is the genuine article. And it is fine... So chalk up another new experience!
As the time moved closer to sunset, so did the clouds. Just before the planets would appear, so did the lightning! Zipping the scopes back into the garage, I stood outside shaking my head. Isn't that the way of things? Make plans to take someone a sky tour... And now it rains.
Cory called, and we had a fine laugh. No matter how many times I tell someone "You don't make a date with the sky... The sky makes a date with you!" It's never more perfectly illustrated than when you actually try. Joking that the sky would probably clear later, after we had both gone our seperate ways, we bid each other "adieu" with promise of another time. And wouldn't you know it?
The sky cleared later.
Hey. It's OK. I couldn't sleep anyhow. It wasn't hard to step out on the rain-washed grass with the 4.5 to view the Moon. It always smells so good, and the sky looks so fresh. It was unstable, to be sure... But Mare Crisium and Humboldt Crater were beautiful anyway.
When I drank my fill of the Moon, I continued down to the lower reaches of Cornona Borealis to seek out Comet Ikeya/Zhang. Moonwashed, its' soft structure was embedded in a rich field of stars. How wonderful to see it once again!
For it is fading away...
"I just needed someone to talk to... And you were just to busy with yourself. You were never there for me to express how I felt, I just stuffed it down. Now I'm older and I think that I could let some of this anger fade. But it seems the surface I am scratching is the bed that I have made...
Comments: What a terrific day! By the time I finally dragged my head out of work and studies, I found absolutely cloudless skies and very, very still. So, do I spend a few hours napping in the Sun, (or better yet viewing it!) or do I play? One up and four down... full throttle. If you take away everything that I am, you would find the person I was before. Under control... and it ain't gonna' happen again. I am a warrior. Love me as I am, or love me not at all.
The countryside sped by in such beauty! How easy it would be to shut my eyes and go ever faster until it ends. (And how Harleyesque! "Goin' down in a blaze of glory..." Hehhehee... Not me, brother. The thought may have been there, but I'd want to take a Honda or two with me. ;) The need to "walk on the edge" satisfied, I returned to find a great deal of time left before sunset. What next, eh? To soothe my soul? Why, the accoustic guitar of course. How fine it is to hear the music smooth out as practice makes perfect. And what a rush it is to harmonize your own voice with that of a piece of wood! (Eddie Vedder would be so proud... and Aaron Lewis? I'm comin' for ya', kid. Your vocals challenge me to the limits, but the songs your sing reach me on the inside...)
So, five facets of my personality have been satisified so far today. I have worked, and done a good job. I have written, and created a story. I have studied, and put together a plan for exploring the realm of galaxies. I have harnessed 1340 cc's of fine-tuned engine, and made it dance to my commands. I have made love to the stings on a Fender guitar, and it loved me back... But, only one thought remains for me.
The need of the night...
And it comes for me, at last. The atmosphere most cooperative with a minimum of Rayleigh scattering at sunset. The 4.5 and the 12.5 have been out since the Fender and I sat down upon the steps of the deck. Brillant, phat Venus cuts through the twilight like a torch held in the night... But she's not what I'm looking for right now. What I'm looking for will be coming out of the south/southeast in just minutes.... Whoa. And there it is! (I appreciate Heavens-Above.com perfect accuracy...) The ISS appears exactly where it should, and how I love to watch it curve slowly over the Earth, gaining in magnitude, and sailing so wonderfully along the edge. What a marvel it is...
So, I go to the 4.5 to observe Jupiter and the galieans. Happy to see all four, with three forming a tight configuration... like a tense smile. When I can see details begin to rock out in the 25mm, it's time to set the 12.5 toward it. To combat the brightness, I move the counterbalance at drop in with more than 300X. Here is your Jupiter. I laugh at minimal aperature... Both polar zones are destined to the dark grey hues of characoal. The north temperate belt is a deep rust color, with a darker, deep brown line against it below. And below that? Soft tan streak... The north equatorial zone appears as deep rust and looks outlined. The central equatorial zone a brilliant eggshell white, with soft grey curls within it. Above it, the cinnamon color of the south equatorial zone displays darker, almost slash-like markings within it. Then the dark grey lines of the south, softly smeared... Looking "windswept" as only Jupiter can. The sky holds so steady...
But what of the Moon?
I like "Moon Illusion". It rises, magnified by our atmosphere, full and a deep peach color. Tonight there will be a penumbral eclipse for many parts of the world, but there is no point in telling you. For I am sure you would find that as boing as watching the ISS fly-by. Turning the 4.5 in the direction of Selene, my jaw drops. This cannot be. Less than 30 degrees above the horizon, the edge holds still? No, no, no.... Confirm it.
I slip the 26mm into the 12.5 and tip it that way. One glance is all it takes. I go to the accessory case for the polarizing filter and the 17mm. Time to readjust the counterbalance, for tonight is worthy of "sitting down on the job with the dob". What did I see that would make me want to stay?
Tycho smacks the eye, spraying across the southern highlands. Two powerful rays extend towards the southern limb, and where the intersect? The Doerfel Mountains. At 26,000 feet they are about half the height of the Himalayas!
Close to the limb, is Bailly. At 200 miles across, it is the largest crater visible on the Moon.
Continuing westward along the limb, the bright southern highland area shows ragged peaks and the dark oval of Grimaldi, stands out. Tonight it is joined by Riccioli, just to the northwest. Named after Giovanni Riccioli, who in 1651 named the majority of the lunar features, shows only a small part of its dark floor.
I head for the eastern limb, north of the Mare Crisium. I know this crater not... but I do now. It is Gauss, a large walled plain. Intent on study, I switch to 9mm for I see a small crater. unmarked on my maps. Committing it to memory, I make a soft sketch of the area, for I am ready for a cup of coffee and the next pass of the ISS!
This time it loops in from the west/southwest. How can you find this boring?! To me it is eternally fascinating to visualize the International Space Station slingshotting its' way around the Earth. It sails by oh-so-slowly, rivaling the bright stars and challenging magnitude... What a beauty!
It take my sketch and head toward my office, because I just want to KNOW, ok? The tiny crater fascinated me, and it's not listed. Using the inexhaustable resources of the web, I find its' name is Giordano Bruno. the youngest crater on the Moon. It is the only impact ever to have been witnessed, and documented in the Chronicle of Gervaise, a monk at Canterbury Cathedral in 1178. The written tale was fascinating....
Taking my coffee back out with me, and loathe to leave such a clear and steady night, I turn my attention towards my maps and double stars. I touch on old favourites and seek the new. I do not approach this in a "scientific manner", for the pleasure I take from double stars is simple. Like seeing the ISS appear on one horizon, to disapear on the other.
I just like watching the disparates fade away....
"I try to breathe. But memories are overtaking me. I try to face them all, but the thought is just too much to conceive. I only know that I can change... Everything else just stays the same.
May 24, 2002 - The Sun...
Comments: Hey, hey... The rain is back on its' way. One advantage to working a later shift once in awhile is the opportunity to do solar observance. Since the weather, the Moon and my schedule are going to put a nix on the kind of astronomy I crave, I figure I might as well have one last look at Sol and 9957 before it rotates away.
Magnetic activity still continues on a frenzied pace, and the broken 9957 and deep black 9960 are responsible for most of it. They are very grand spots and will be around for a day or two yet. I have often wondered if their particle streams affect our local weather, for it always seems the more activity on the Sun, the better the chance of rain and clouds here! Curious, that...
Ah, well. The "down time" will give me an opportunity to study my maps and direct an observing plan for study in the Crater area and the galaxy fields in lower Virgo. Too bad we couldn't have done this together. But, hey...
I can walk alone.
"Because you can't feel my anger. You can't feel my pain... You can't feel my torment. Driving me insane. I can't fight these feelings... They bring only pain.
Comments: As always, I enjoy the heck out of the kids. I've learned to streamline them.... Play video footage of the Moon accompanied by soft, popular rock music. It keeps them engaged while I play with a handful of them with models and strings... meteors and things. It's always a pleasure to watch their faces light up with understanding at the concept of size, relationship, and the numerical value of a light year! I think I have as much fun as they do...
The second half of the theme deals with our nearest star. And good timing, too... My time frame does not allow us to do lunar or planetary viewing, but the Sun provides us with a fantastic array of spots to look at today. Each one takes a turn at the scope, and I love to hear their exclamations at the true orb of Sol! One by one, they take their turn at the eyepiece. I may not be able to contribute great things to this life, but if for one second in history, I can open the eyes of child to the wonders of astronomy? I am rewarded.
And, daggone it... I set back up for solar viewing as soon as I made it to the Backyard. After having read the reports, I knew I had to check out the generating systems to see if there were changes in the umbral/penumbra field! Curiously... there is! Oddly enough, (though I do not own proper monitoring equipment) it seems to me that the penumbral area increases and "evens out" after activity. Most unusual... I shall have to pay closer attention in the future!
I would have liked to played with the 12.5 tonight, but nature had other plans. The field that borders on my observing area was disked today, and leaving a hand mirror lay out on the deck railing tells me with no uncertainty that I will not risk the dob's mirror... No matter what the sky!
And the fine sky held through the evening hours. Not as transparent as last night, but far from bad. Set the 4.5's sights on Jupiter, while I am still able to visit. Initial response proves to be the best as I pass on further magnification. It is enough tonight to see the belted structure and the galieans flung out before it. Like Jupiter, we have "Moon" tonight, and Selene will ask for attention.
Will I comply? Why, heck yes!
Hansteen and Billy are the first features to be called to my attention. Although Crater Hansteen is but 900 feet more in elevation, Billy is the kicker. It is always dressed in black. Always... It makes one speculate, "Why?" Is there a chemical make up in its' interior sands that is responsible? Perhaps. Could be the color just suits its' mood.
Aristarchus is what captures me tonight. I like its' bright, punctuated form. What really makes this one is the long, narrow mountain range... And you know what? You've pulled a rabbit out of your hat again, dammit!!! Five minutes ago, I was angry... Now I'm laughing!! For the bright, narrow straight that claimed my imagination tonight was none other the Schroter's Valley! (i'd be pissed if i wasn't laughing so hard... there is nothing like a fine, natural irony!) This highlighted mountain range is only 2-5 miles wide, but runs a respectable 125 miles in length. Funny, that. Of all the times on earth to have finally noticed this feature! Magic, I tell you... ;)
I had been keeping an eye over my shoulder on the northern expanse. By 10:00 or so, the aurora was in full swing. Thanks, to Sister Selene, what could have been a magnificent display is pretty much reduced to pearly blue/grey spires. Now, don't get me wrong, because I'm sure not complaining! The northern sector of the sky resembles an ampitheatre in light. Our outrageous solar activity has produced a fine display of the Aurora Borealis... Capable of cutting through the moonlight!
Resembling "fingers", "pillars", or "beams" if you will, the virtual "dome" stops at the upturned cup of Ursa Major. It's distinguishing characteristics is the "ripple" effect... and I ain't talkin' wine here. Magnetic activity in our atmosphere excites the little ions, and the result to our eyes causes the beams to shift and waiver to the unaided eye. Thanks to lunation, all color sense is lost... But you know what?
I like what I see.
" You take away.... I feel the same. All the promises you made to me you made in vain. I lost myself inside your tainted smile again. 'Cause you can't feel my ANGER. You can't feel my pain.... You can't feel my torment. Driving me insane... I can't fight these feelings. They bring only pain. You can't take away...
"For the love she had... She has no more. And she gathers rain... Yes, she gathers rain. To rinse away all her guilt and pain... She gathers rain. Yes, she gathers rain. To wash and cleanse and make her whole again..."
Comments: Yeah, baby... A bit of clear sky MY way! Went outside twice today at work to take a break. First time? Dismal grey clouds. Second time? Dismal grey clouds with blue patches in between. Could this be? Possibly? A break in the weather?
By the time I got home from work, the cloud masses had parted enough to allow me some occasional glimpses of the Sun. All right! First thing to catch my eye was 9945. Massive black umbra with a very abbreviate penumbra region, cleanly displaying the Wilson Effect and surrounded by faculae at the outgoing edge. Splendid spot! First impulse was to run in and e.mail my compadres to go look, but a glance at the sky said another open window was coming.
So, I stood my ground...
Have mercy! This time the scope had stabilized fully and the image was crisp and clean. And you should see 9957...
Centered roughly halfway across the equator, 9957, is more dispersion field than umbra. Broken into literally scores of pieces, this magnetic solar scab dominates the scene. I had to drop magification on it, because this one deserves more than just a passing glance. The dark umbra areas simply spray about a larger one... and what is curious is there is very little penumbral activity. That means this one is HOT! The magnetism that causes these spots is staying very concentrated, and simply defies logic. These are the type of spots that produce serious activity! Researching a corona (i'll pass right now, thanx... it's a bit early. ;) photo shows that just west of 9957 a huge coronal hole has developed, which means the earth could pass into a solar wind stream in just days. Break out the sails, boys... We're going to Vega!
And speaking of serious activity, there's a loner in the crowd. And it's name is 9961... Now, why should it be a loner when the solar surface is peppered with spots at the moment? Because this bad boy sits toward a pole and not on the equator! Already responsible for an X-1 class flare...
So what, you say? Think on this... An X-1 class flare is capable of a planet-wide radio blackout, and a massive on-going radiation storm! (is this the part where we say, "whew! thank the starz, it wasn't directed toward earth!"?) The twisted magnetic energy still stored inside this spot make it one "bad boy" indeed!
But, don't stop there. Because on the incoming edge sits another tough customer, and the prominent faculae and granulation means this one could be exciting as well....
Now... Cross your fingers. Perhaps I'll get some Moonshine as well as a Corona!
Do you realized how funny the ecliptic plane looks to me now? After having spent some quality time viewing at a different latitude, it looks like such a shallow arc here. The planets look like they are in the wrong place... But, mind you, it only took me a few minutes to get used to it.
By taking the scope out to the east side yard, I can still pick up Saturn before it slips into the trees. The view is not devastating, but quite passible. Titan still struts its' stuff, but the smaller, inner moons no longer show. Occassionally, the Cassini Division will waiver into view, and the shadow wedge behind the orb of the planet is still quite delightful. Fantasy detail? Nope. But I am pleased to see it once again!
Venus? Ever boiling.... Phat and sassy at the moment, this bright monument to the early evening skies appeal lies in its' very brightness. When you stop to think about the Sun being reflected off of all those runaway greenhouse gas effect clouds that make up Venus' surface, it gives it an appeal of its' own.
Now for Jupiter... Oh, yes. This is much more like it! First thought for me always is the dimensionaity of the galieans... Something I noticed that is far less prominent in other scopes. Last night, there was one clearly behind, while the other three came toward us. And as I watch those moons, surface detail on Jupiter begins to reveal itself, so I switch my attentions and eyepiece to the 9mm.
Wow. The north temperate zone walks out immediately, and the southern temperate zones appear as soft, characoal smudged line smeared across the globe. What grabs me and keeps me here is the equatorial zone itself! At the northern edge, it appears almost "outlined", and the lines wave... One juts down in an almost "sawtooth" shaped asterism. How nostalgic this is... I remember other times. Times when this sort of view was so fresh and pure and clean to me that I used to honestly sketch Jupiter. Perhaps a few of those still exist that I drew directly into my observing logs... But the rest? Ah, well... That is a different story. So I content myself to watch as the features slowly rotate across the globe. So very fascinating!
And when I have had my fill of Jupiter, it is time to move on to Selene...
Dropping the magnification back to a comfortable 26mm, I take in the entire surface in one great gulp. The first feature to call attention to itself is Copernicus, but it is such an "over-studied" crater. Plato calls next, but it's past its' prime. And then the odd shaped of Archimedes sucks me in....
It is in the highlight tonight! Fifty one mile wide, 6,800 feet high (i love the book! thank you!!!) ancient crater Archimedes is casting long shadows. It's thick structured walls, and odd "keyhole" shape cry out for magnification. Let's comply, shall we? Yeah, baby... Thanks to a very steady view, tiny craterlets within the main body show themselves. Three very noticable, deep ones lay toward the edges. The walls themselves are rather smooth and very layered looking. To the western edge, soft, dune-like interior mountain ranges cup against the main wall, and the structure continues toward a "widow's peak" to the south. Utterly incredible! Mt. Bradley completes the scene... And you know what? There's two little craters toward the west... one whose name is Feuillee, and the other? Beer! (by gosh, maybe scientists do have a sense of humor after all... ;)
Reluctant to leave after having been so sky-starved, I continued on to the south... And what have we here?! Why, noneother than the leading edge of the "Straight Wall", and right on the terminator, too! (wonder if i can make myself get back up in a few hours to look? nah...) Pushing father south, I lost myself for some time in Clavius. Hey, who can't?! The structure of this crater under magnifications (and boy howdy, did it ever photograph well, too... i'm just out of "space" or i'd show you.) revealing the central peak in Rutherford, and all the many, many interior craters that make it up. It was great!
But now? The stars call, mon ami. Telling me to sit a spell here on the steps. It's been most pleasant, but the hour grows late.
And I'm ready to dream awhile...
"Her imagination... Has started stretching wide. And her new convictions? No longer will she hide. Because she's not branded when the prophets speak words of fire. For the same love she gives? She requires...
"Well, today she dresses, for the change she faces now. In the storm that's raging, a safe haven she has found. She doesn't care what the prophets say anymore. For the love she had she has no more.
May 8 - 15, 2002:
Time for me to fly...
Hey, now... Vacation is over and I've rotated back to the real world. I've taken the reports below, and filed them chronologically without personal pictures at Hotel California. Or, as long as space permits, you may just read on, eh?
In the mean time? Keep rockin' the night, my friends... You know I am.
"And still those voices are calling from far away.... They wake me up in the middle of the night... Just to hear them say,
May 17-18, 2002 - On The Rocks At Lake Erie...
Comments: I needed my space. I wanted the companionship of the Celestron 4.5 and the night sky. Need and want... Two words theAstronomer would do well without. Have you not gotten everything you "needed"? Has every "want" not been met? Then look into the telescope, ~T... and it will give you the answers you seek.
"The soul shall find itself alone
Like these brave creatures, so resilient against the power that Nature throws against them, I face the Sea. The relentless wind running cold fingers through my mind.... What a beautiful gift I have been given!
When I walk away from this place, I return to my world. Numbers and study... Work and play. Ah, but what I keep tucked inside? That, that is mine...
"The breeze -- the breath of the sky -- is still --
May 16, 2002 - La Tourista...
Comments: This is my last full day here in California. The time has passed much too quickly, but I have had so many great experiences and met so many terrific people that it will take me a week just to assimilate it all. Only one thing remains undone... Just a tiny thing, really. Perhaps a peek at the Pacific Ocean just once before I go?
And Mr. Wizard grants me my wish...
"Just a song, before I go. Another lesson learned.... Travelling twice the speed of sound, it's easy to get burned..."
All of this... And more. Before I leave, I have seen the sealions upon the rocks, and flown with the pelican. I have stood at the Lighthouse and watched the surfers. I have waded in the Pacific Ocean, and walked across the sands. I have stolen a shoe and picked wildflowers. I have seen the Brookdale Lodge and peered over the railings at a rushing river far below...
I have seen Omega Centauri... and I have been fulfilled.
There will be no telescoping tonight. Only companionship. Let me fix you a fine dinner and ply you with chocolate cake. Let me just be close one last time...
"Because we may never pass this way, again...."
I wish to thank the many people who have made my stay here in California so memorable. The Barbour Family, the lady at the gas station who wouldn't let me pay for my coffee, the young man at the laundrymat, the smiling faces at the coffee shops, Tony, the many amateur astronomers I have met, and the people whom I have nodded and waved to over the last week. All of you are so very special...
And Mr. Wizard? The magic could have never happened without you... I'll never forget.
"All my bags are packed and I'm ready to go. I'm standing here, outside of your door. I hate to wake you up to say goodbye. But the dawn is breakin'..."
May 13, 2002 - Kickin' Back At Monte Bello...
Comments: Just another gorgeous day in sunny California. Required rest put in, coffee and food at one of Boulder Creek's finest... And plans made for observing tonight at Monte Bello.
Anxious to help, Jeff dictates while I sit at the keyboard... (Wanna' know something wicked, eh? He looks at his hands when he types. OW! OUCH! Ok, and he's pretty good at kicking and pulling my hair, too! ;) Just teasing. He's a wonderful guitar player... leaves me in the dirt. And I'm a fast typist... So it all works out. (Cuz' I look at my fingers sometimes when I play... ;)
When plans finalize, we prep for trip... Packing the Pup and the Vixen in the car. Warm clothes and notes gathered together, it's time to head out...
"You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant...."
So make mine a steak, eh? Alice's Restaurant is on the way to Monte Bello... Wonderful food and a sense of permanency that make it a unique place to eat. Thermos and belly filled, it's time to head toward the mountain before the darkness creeps up on us.
We set up on arrival, greeted by Phil who was ready for a photo workout. The Pup came first, with the solar filter firmly in place.... Just in time to enjoy the last rays of sunshine!
Quietly, Phil sets up his superfine FS102 scope... Never knowing this is going to be the "gathering" spot for the night!
While Jeff and James shoot the breeze after some solar observance, I wander happily about filming the countryside. Climbing the nature trails (and thank you, paul, for letting me know after the fact that the rattlesnake warning signs are quiet accurate! ;) and watching the Sun set. I see another person go into the parking area, so I know we have more company to enjoy.
Quite by accident, I'm afraid I rather scared a passing motorist. I was on the road, when I first heard the car... I'll admit that. I was looking for just the right camera angle to capture the planets. I know he wasn't expecting to be on a lonely mountain road and have a black vampyre with long hair step out from behind the trees. He didn't go far before he stoppped. (Oh, good lord... What have I done now?!) The car stayed there for a bit, and came back to the entry of the Monte Bello observing site. That is how we met Hugh.
Hugh had come, like the rest of us, to watch the Solar System put on an incredible display that night. And since he was here? Might as well give him "The Nickle Tour", eh? And so our new found friend was transported across space and time... Hopefully to be inspired by what he has seen tonight, and join the rest of us kooks with telescopes.
After some intial serious viewing, such as ZLUM 5.0, Stability 6/10, Jupiter displaying two bands, and a possible transit of a Moon, we visited with Lynn, who brought her excellent sky shots to share, and the park ranger who seemed to enjoy our company. Next thing you know, we set the only two scopes there side by side... The incomparable Vixen and Phil's most excellent FS102 refractor. It was there we found a certain ease with one another.... Like kids around a campfire. Swapping stories, and sipping brandy... Just kickin' back.
"Old man, take a look at my life. I'm forty-four and there's so much more. I live alone in a paradise, and it makes me think of you. Love lost, such a cost... You give me things that don't get lost. Like a coin that won't get tossed... Rollin' home to you."
Time for a bit of fun. Just taking on the M81/82, NGC3077, NGC2976 complex just for the heck of it. Playing with double stars and who could see what. Running amok in the "Field Of Dreams" , M84/86 galaxy complex. Listening to stories about people whose names I know... And lovin' every minute of it. About that time I stood u from the observing chair and almost tripped over my own feet! From the darkness comes a voice... "Whoa! Did you feel that? Quake!!" And sure enough, the radio playing the ball game reports it. My starz... Is that what an earthquake feels like? Here I thought it was a mix of the brandy and sitting too long!
Laughingly, we continue our voyages. Jeff drives the scope, and I about fell off the chair laughing when one of our compadres referred to him as a "Wizard".... able to wave his "wand" and make the stars appear! LOL! If only they knew, eh? For I have referred to Jeff as Mr. Wizard for almost as long as I've known him. A taste a de'ja vu....
On we go, to Cor Caroli, and off the the M65/66 to see which of us could spot the curl at the edge of the galaxy. Still more? Mr. Wizard complies as he calls the M98 from the sky... Edge on, baby. Edge-on...
"Lullabye look in your eyes. We run around the same old towns. It's doesn't mean that much to me... Does it mean that much to you? I've been first and last. Look at how the time goes past. And I'm all alone at last. Rollin' home to you...."
And our happy group tires. The time has indeed passed, and what a wonderful way to spend it. I thank you, my friends in the dark, for making me feel welcome in your circle. I shall remember this time always.
And once again, we travel the winding roads back to Boulder Creek. The night is still beautiful and young. Time for some much needed rest now, clocks set for a couple of hours into the future for some study time. Currently working on another article, some of the DSOs that belong to that study need to be viewed and documented. Now THAT sounds like some serious fun! Give me a cup of tea and a cherry danish... Put a notebook and pen in one hand, a red flashlight and a map in the other, and I'm one happy camper!
So, when the hour approached? Out we went for some true teamwork. It only took a few minutes to get used to each other's study styles, for we do things very much alike. These tiny globular clusters are not easy targets, and I am quite proud of Jeff and Argo as he takes on what I have studied with twice the aperature. Once again, I am impressed with the integrity of the Mak.
Studies complete for now, it's time for rest once again. A new day has come. And we'll be back in black....
Maybe we'll have another earthquake, huh?!
"And you.... You shook me all night long. Yes, you... You shook me."
May 12, 2002 - Backyard Boulder Creek and Comet Ikeya/Zhang...
Comments: The astronomical pace has been demanding, but we take it in stride. So many things we've done over the last few days have left me dizzy... Jeff is anxious to get to his reports, and this is a thing I understand more than anyone. For me, reporting what I see and do is a part of the astronomy I practice, and I do not feel complete without it. The scopes have been set up here in the Backyard Boulder Creek, awaiting the night. While Jeff types, I sneak away to find a six-pack of Corona, for if I can't write? Hey! I can drink a cold one and sky watch... ;)
And so we started the evening checking out the planets. No great shakes here, folks. Low sky position and high mountains against them make for less than desirable views. No matter... To me? Any night spent under the stars is a good night.
Jeff put Argo away and left the Vixen at my disposal. While he busied himself at the keyboard, I broke out my favourite CD's and the Walkman... And went to the eyepiece to spend some "real" time with Comet Ikeya/Zhang.
"Never made it as a wise man... Couldn't cut it as a poor man stealin'... Tired of livin' like a blind man... Sick of cybering without a sense of feeling... And this is how you remind me... Of what I really am. This is how you remind me... Of what I really am."
For 90 solid minutes I watched Comet I/Z fly across the starfield. You find comets boring?! Oh, my... Then sit a spell, and watch one truly move across the night sky. Starting at one side at the lower corner of a set of wide doubles, I/Z slowly, and silently cruised between them and beyond... It eventually occulted a minor star and still it moved. The night was quiet, I was alone, the beer was cold, the rock played in my head, and a comet danced before my eyes...
"Now why do I hide myself from you some days? Now why do I keep it bottled inside me? You came along and tore these walls down around me... Looks like you found me."
Taking Jeff away for a moment, I had him come to the eyepiece to help determine from the field just exactly HOW fast this bad boy cruises the sky. And the results we came up with? Four degrees in a 24 hour period... WOW! No wonder you can sit quietly at the eyepiece a see it streak across the sky!
The over-indulgence of a neighboring light source kept us from further study that evening, but rest is a welcome thing. For there are days to go yet...
And miles before I sleep...
"I left without saying goodbye... Although you know I tried. Cuz' you were there... Right when I needed you the most. Now I still dream about it... And I hurt so bad, so bad, so bad... It's so bad, its so stupid, it's so wrong. It's too bad we had no time to rewind and change it all...."
May 11, 2002 - Bonny Doon...
Comments: "Wanna' go to the toy store?" Now which of the kids in us can refuse an offer like that?! So off we go to raid the Orion shop. What a pleasure it is to have such a facility close to hand. The things I would normally order and wait for are right here... And now it's time to outfit "Ms. Vicki" and take AstroTalk's project scope out to show her stuff. And where might that be?
Bonny Doon and the SCAC "Star Party"...
Although it was still quite light when we arrived, I got so excited meeting some of the people whom I knew so well from Jeff's reports, I almost forgot that I had a camera with me! Here was the famous "El Marko" and his 12.5 dob, Dan and the Tak, and Ralf with his soft german accent. What a great pleasure to meet these gentlemen! And to at last be at the infamous "Bonny Doon"...
"Vicki" was set up for its' public debut, and as the other astronomer's gathered round to admire this fine piece of equipment, darkness descended, and the real "stars" came out to play...
All eyes and scopes are trained toward the western horizon as the nightly "Dance of the Planets" begins in earnest. Each of us intensely watching the sky to see who could spot them as they made their appearance.
As they waltzed their way into the night, the scopes fixated on Jupiter, watching the Great Red Spot transit quietly across the face, while all four galieans angled away to the side. We moved from scope to scope, admiring the view...
"Now that she's back in the atmosphere, with drops of Jupiter in her hair, hey, hey... She acts like summer and walks like rain. Reminds me that there's time to change, hey, hey. Since the return from her stay on the moon, she listens like spring and she talks like June, hey, hey..."
And drops of Jupiter is indeed what we found... These fine telescopes offering up fantastic detail of the planet's surface as the GRS hit the center line at 9:00 p.m. The "shoot out" had begun, and "Vicki" was in the line of fire...
Continuing along the line of the bright planets, and sharing the view with the curious people who have come to see through the telescopes. Venus was blazing up the night, holding high court in the sky.
"And tell me, did Venus blow your mind? Was it everything you wanted to find?
May 10, 2002 - Fremont Peak Observatory...
Comments: Again, the daylight is filled with laughter and companionship. Jeff sits down to write his reports from the night before, his lean prophet's belly filled with fine food from one of Boulder Creek's exquisite coffee shops. There is more adventure in the making here...
And we both eagerly await the night.
Our destination? Fremont Peak Observatory... For a chance to view Venus and Mars less than one degree apart. A rare conjunction, and a pleasant treat. A stop by Taco Bell, a bag of fortification from San Juan Bautista's "Mission Burger", and once again, we climb the mountains. These are different from the day before, for they are part of a deep redwood forest, strong on shadows, and redolent of sense. And what a view!
--from FPOA website
Again, I am learning to become part mountain goat as we make the walk to the observatory proper. The fog lays in the valley below us like a smokey sea. The air is damp and crisp. Along the way we meet smiling faces of the young folk, and above us we hear the chattering laughter and bustle of many more. Sounds like a party! My kinda' place...
And truly a "Party" is what we have found. Groups of children mill happily about inside the observatory, waiting for the sky to clear and a look through the FPOA's terrific scope. Like kids ourselves, we join the merry throng... Talking to this one and that, inspiring a love of astronomy and respect for equipment as much as we can. The skies clear and the show begins. Just how many times DID we run back around in line? As many as it took... ;) What a present to see Venus and Mars in the same eyepiece! Detail? Oh, heck no. Any astronomer worth his salt knows even aperature won't do that. But, wow... Just to see them together is enough! Slowly, but steadily the crowd dwindled down until all that were left was FPOA members Pat and Paul...
What a pleasure it was to make their acquaintence. The Fremont Peak facility is very well maintained, and appears to be much loved by its' members. Of course, having them to ourselves meant perhaps.... a bit of request? Bwhahahhaha. Once again, we were off to explore the night...
First object up? The "Intergalactic Wanderer". This is perhaps one of the toughest targets to hit with an amateur scope, and Paul makes it look easy. And when we climb the ladder to the eyepiece? The FPOA scope makes it look incredible... I struggle to see just a bit of resolution in the dob on this one, now you can hold it direct. What a fine scope this is!! Slowly, but surely the conversation turns toward politics, and exit T. Time for me to take a walk...
"And yea though I walk through the shadow of the redwoods, I will fear no coyote. My pocket knife and lighter comfort me. Thou annointest my nostrils with the scent of redwood... My cup runneth over with coffee..."
Yeah, I was gone for awhile. My sense of direction is perfect even on the darkest of nights in unfamiliar territory. I walked straight back to the area that we came to first. And traced my way back down to where we actually parked. It was actually quite pleasant being alone in the dark woods. The smell of the redwoods is facinating to me. And I found 'ya again, didn't I? ;)
Upon my return, I passed a man locking the gate to the observatory drive. His long white braid charmed me in the dark, and I carried his message up the hill. I stood quietly below the observatory for some time, just listening. But I was ready to use that scope again when called!
The "Eskimo Nebula" was in the eyepiece, and finer than I have ever saw it. Detail crowded the eyepiece in ways that only photographs present. And there was more! So much more to explore... Our new friend, Paul displayed such proficiency between computer and navigating the telescope, that I felt quite humble. Having taken more than one turn at aiming an observatory scope myself, I appreciated the practiced ease with which he found his marks. No hangin' off the truss tubes here! This scope rocks...
You want to see just how good this guy was? Then check this out:
Object Type Mag Altitude Time Eyepiece FOV Magnification Aperture Focal Ratio
Mr. Bradshaw? You're incredible...
As we walked upon his journey, Centaurus came to grace the night. By now I have learned to recognize the stars, and I could find it in my dreams... So, why not make a dream come true? And so the scope was aimed at Omega...
It was like being transported. I could not help but be transfixed. So very long I've waited, so many miles travelled... And once again, it is with you that I find what I seek. Splendid resolution, each moment of clarity a glimpse of unreality. I cannot express with words, this moment... It shook me to the center of my being. A true epoch...
"I'm right behind you, partner."
I know now that I am forever changed. Just recounting the tale has pointed that out to me. But the views of the rest were no less spectacular, with the mighty "Sombrero Galaxy" sending off incredible detail... And every target from familiar galaxies to the visiting Ikeya/Zhang a splendid celebration. Of all the presents that I have ever recieved on this day of the year, this one is truly remarkable.
I shall never forget it, Paul. I thank you.
Reluctantly, but happily, the equipment is once again stowed for the night. The Fremont Peak Observatory has been my great privilege to have visited!
And we hit the downhill trail once again. When we reach the car, we find that a cold burger as never tasted so good in our lives.
"Smiling just to see the smile upon your face. These are the moments I thank the stars that I'm alive.These are the moments I'll remember all my life. I found all I've waited for. And I could not ask for more. Looking in your eyes, seeing all I need. Everything you are is everything to me. These are the moments I know heaven must exist. These are the moments I know all I need is this. I have all I've waited for... And I could not ask for more. I could not ask for more than this time together. I could not ask for more than this time with you. Every thought has been answered...Every dream I have's come true. And right here in this moment is right where I'm meant to be. Here with you here with me..."
Photo by: Ansel Adams
May 9, 2002 - Lick Observatory and Standing In The Shadows Of Greatness...
Comments: Just another beautiful day in California, eh? (What them crazy Californians aren't tell you is just how cold it gets at night! Ohio would be so proud... ;) We started off with coffee and sustainance at a local shop, Jeff worked on his reports from the night before while I played with his many guitars and scrawled my own notes in my books. Today's plans? The prestigious Lick Observatory...
We start by taking on fuel... In many forms. Mr. Wizard fasts today, so a cup of chai and a bottle of water suits him just fine. Me? Give me trail mix, crackers and a Coke. ;) Handed a map of the local territory, I try to navigate us through the streets of San Jose rather unsucessfully. (I must admit at this point there is a rather naughty smile on my face as I recount this. Shall we call it a personality test? For this is the first person I have ever been with that didn't freak and peak when we took a wrong turn. And I'm damn proud of 'ya...) Being testy aside, I did go back to map reading skills and it wasn't long before we began the twisting, grueling switchback turns up Mount Hamilton toward the Lick Observatory.
I know Jeff was a bit worried about the time of our arrival and ability to catch a tour of the facility, and now he's confronted with a person who is a bit opposite. I was just happy to be there. Just a glimpse of that famous "Observatory On The Hill" was enough for me. But, East meets West... And something is about to happen.
Funny thing, that. I suppose a sense of "antiquation" holds true for almost all major observatories. In my mind, I suppose I had venerated the Lick Observatory just short of a state of grace. What I found there was not divine inspiration...
It was rather a bit of magic...
We had made the tortuous, twisting drive up the mountain. For once, I was quite happy to relinquish the wheel to more experienced hands. This was not flat-land Ohio. with its' long straightaways meant to build speed and banked turns to test gravity. Gravity, actually, would have been rather foremost in my mind, as the drop-offs made the scenes in "Cliffhanger" look rather mild! But, you know what? I trusted the skills of the one who took me there, and each bend in the road was an opportunity to look upon the landscape, and gaze at the many domes of Lick Observatory as it came closer and closer....
How to describe how impressive this facility is?! One of the few things I remember best about coming in for a landing at San Jose Airport was the sight of these sterile while domes crowning the mountain peaks. And so we have traded one form of altitude for another...
The major dome reached at last, scenery shearing away on all sides, inspired reverance. It was here, with only the sky above, that so many astronomer had spent countless hous under their own starry nights, in honest study. Stepping across the high-arched threshold between amateur and professional.
To be sure, it was done in the opulent style and grace of the past. Stucco over stone in true Spanish style, and well maintained. Oak inlay, carved woodwork, imposing chandeliers and marble tile... Our footsteps and voices echoed down the cavernous hallways in hushed tones. Tour time? Oh yeah, baby... I'm ready.
First destination? The original dome. I had to stifle a bit of a giggle as we walked through the double inlaid doors, for my first impression was that of a roller skating rink set in a palatial atmosphere! For, you see, the huge refractor telescope was set on a rotating, elevating platform of blonde oak. But, the smiles turned into awe as we followed the latticed panels upward, toward the brass framework of the dome proper. Not only was this the original observatory, but the final resting place of James Lick himself... Earthly remains forever entombed below this magnficent scope. A fitting monument to the observatory's founder, and astronomy itself...
Our guide, Lotus, gave us the history lesson and patiently answered questions. She, in herself, was a fascinating woman. Dedicating a substantial portion of her life in the transcription of the Observatory's written history.
Given free reign to explore the grounds, we did. Prowling about the remnants of the once opulent gardens... peering through the dusty windows of the hacienda-style dormatories, and admiring the scenery through the wind-scrubbed pines.
I think what preyed upon the minds of Jeff and I both was what seemed to be a monumental waste of a prime research facility. The time, energies and monies now diverted to the worthy progression of Keck Observatory, leaving the one magnificent facility of Lick to slide toward genteel retirement.
Driving toward, and exploring the other domes through time and grime encrusted windows, gave a sense of quiet desperation. Why were these fine telescopes covered in drop cloth and dust? Left to the cobwebs of time... Do you not know what I would give for the very least of these? I would give it my all... Heart and soul, baby. Heart and soul.
But, like the Phoenix, out of the ashes of despair rises hope. On one of our many mountain goat sojourns, we made the acquaintance of a lovely young woman still involved in active research. Her smiling face, filled with the freshness of youth, told us of the spectroscopic ccd imaging study of globular clusters. A progam that was still an ongoing part of a "not yet deceased" Lick Observatory. A smile, and words to another young man, whose fuzzy ponytail and odd accent bespoke of research. They came here to find a magic of their own...
But, would we?
Attaining permission to set up scopes directly on the walkway of an unused dome could not be... But these were friendly, "real" people; the caretakers. Although we could not observe directly from Lick itself, we were quiet welcome to stand in its' Shadow.
And I like the shadows...
Ever the perfectionist, Jeff found us a place to set up shop long before darkness arrived. A circle of iron, we were. Argo, Jeff, the Pup and myself... Perciptiously poised at of a southern exposed cliff, ready to brave both the wind and the night.
As we rested, I found myself walking up the incline to the west. A magnificent sunset behind the mountains and observatory graced my eyes The trees were filled with the warms hues, and the sky changed tone as the very last of Sol's edge dipped below high horizons. And then it happened for me...
I suddenly realized the valley below was filled with a golden, iridescent glow... The sea of a city, contained by the dark mountains surrounding it... With intense Venus rivaling its' place in the night.
"So I walked up on high, and stepped to the edge... To see my world below. And I laughed to myself, as the tears rolled down. Cuz' it's the world I know.... The world I know."
Let the observing begin...
If there were a way to package a night sky from Backyard Ohio across the United States, this would be one. Our access area faces south, leaving west to the right and east to the left... A vista spread before us. You don't accidentally step off the cliff in the Backyard, but what you get are skies like these. Now, let's rock the night together!
And we venture to the other planets as well, low Saturn, the aching brilliance of green Venus, the flat orb of ruddy Mars, and finally Mercury.
And magic happens again...
As Jeff trains Argo in the direction of the "Winged Messenger", I hear his sharp intake of breath, and see his smile in the dark. He calls me to the eyepiece, and I see why...
Never have I seen Mercury more perfect.
In the field of view resided the "cutting edge" of the elusive Mercury. Unfiltered, untouched... the hard-edge detail of a planet in phase. Absolutely incredible. (We don't seem 'em in the Backyard like that!) Neither one of us could believe the sheer luck of such a view. Lack of oxygen? Or lack of atmosphere? It doesn't matter, does it? For that one view alone was worth it all...
And we danced across the cosmos. Visiting with old favourites brought to fresh, new life by this time and place. Laughing like kids, we shivered from the cold driven into us by the relentless wind. Retreating to the car to wrap up in sleeping bags until the chill subsided. Then braving each other to go back out again.
I have only the utmost admiration for Jeff's navigational skills... Given each our own scopes, the man would match me mark for mark on locating DSOs. (Perhaps the cold was a bit of a motivator, eh... Mr. Wizard? ;) He called each object from each constellation in the sky with practiced ease, and the performance of both Argo and the Pup are truly worthy. But the wind! And the cold...
Having exhausted the majority of spring targets, we retreated once again to the warmth of shelter. He meditating and resting... With me trying quietly to munch my trail mix and tea, and pretending I do not hear the lean growl of a prophet's empty stomach. Sleep comes for me, too... With the promise of beautiful pre-dawn skies ahead.
Reluctant to leave the warmth, we banter each other once again into stepping up on the cliffside to train scopes on the southern skyline. The sky had remained transparent, and all the riches straight to the heart of our own galaxy lay before us. Tag teaming the sky between Scorpius and Saggitarius... First one scope, then the next, I learn. They may not be what I'm used to, but I know the "Morning Walk" in my soul.
As the inexorable hues of dawn color the east, we step up the pace. (Let's see now... just where WAS the M27? Ah... Right where you left it, huh? Brat. ;) Fulfilled by the beauty of the night, exhausted by the elements, and supercharged by the photons, it was time to come down from the mountain. Stowing away the gear, and listening to the wildlife greet a new day.
We make the winding descent down the mountain, filled with quiet conversation between two partners. It has been a great night, a we find ourselves far less faded and jaded as when the day began. Caught in the headlights, an animal claims the centerline on the run. What animal is this?! At first I thought it to be a fox... But, no... It runs wrong. Could it be a very young deer, perhaps? No... Oh my starz! It's a jackrabbit!! Jeff proclaims that we are going to give the animal a heart attack by chasing it so far down the road, and slows the car to let it veer off. Hahahhaa! It stands at the edge of the road, looking over its' shoulder at us, shooting a laughng challenge with its' eyes.... Come on! Let's race... And so we took up the gauntlet, and allow the rabbit to run ahead of us for as long as it liked. Race won, it finally took another trail.
Hey, Mr. Wizard? It looks like you just pulled a rabbit out of your hat... ;)
"Oh, oh, oh.... It's magic, you know. Never believe it's not so. It's magic..."
May 8, 2002 - Of Monte Bello and Omega Centauri...
Comments: I hit the ground running... Knowing it was you in my heart when I walked by, but also knowing half my life was in a suitcase and a precious Vixen telescope was going round and round in the luggage terminal. Priorities? Sure. What was in the suitcase could be replaced... But the telescope could not be.
"And there you come to take me away." And far away is where we went. Away from everything I know as familiar... People, places and things. Can I handle this new world? Damn, Skippy. I might trip over my feet, be totally unable to articulate more than four words in a meaningful way, and be incapable of using your telescope, but I operate on a wicked learning curve...
So, teach me.
First stop? Monte Bello and the Wednesday Night Star Party. What a fascinating place this is! All these turns and twists up mountain roads... We "flat-landers" do find that a bit unusual. But what I do understand are places and people. And I can think of no finer way to start than a "Star Party".
All around us, telescopes are being set up. Each as unique and wonderful as their owners. I can hardly wait for the darkness to descend!
Monte Bello is truly a beautiful place. Around us stretches the countryside, high mountains and deep valleys. Seeking a bit of "alone" time, I walk some of the nature trails to discover overlooks where towns lay nestled in the valleys below. Airplanes circle below, like busy bees awaiting their chance at the hive...
"And if I, decide to waiver my chance to be one of the hive? Will I chose water over wine and hold my own and drive?"
Walking from scope to scope, meeting new people and viewing old favourites, takes me to a new level. Why, these are friendly folk! And about them is enough money invested in equipment to feed a small country for a year... ;) From truss-tube dobsonians to expensive APOs, they are all here. Each scope offering a different view... Unique and ubiquitous. We walk to the planets, whose bright presence illuminate the dusky sky. And, as the night deepens, the galaxies and clusters come out to play.
Offered a chance to use Argo, I can hardly refuse.... But, oh my. This is not the scope my hands are so familiar with! I feel like a "shoobie" Unable to navigate in the ways that I know... And just barely able to find the controls! Relinquishing myself to Mr. Wizard, I find contentment in letting someone else "drive" for a change...
"It's driven me before, and it seems to be the way that everyone else gets around."
Actually, it's rather pleasant. I could just stand here all night watching Jupiter flung to the far left corner of the scene, with Mars, then Venus, the Saturn, and at the right, tiny Mercury decorating the twilight. But, view I did. Titan sitting above the glory of Saturn, the four galieans flung to one side of the might Jove, the boiling mass of Mercury, and the bright beauty of Venus. Splendid, I tell you. But I want to walk deep sky... And you comply.
And so we galaxy hop together. (A bit of a dream come true if you ask me...) To this one and that... First at one scope, then at another. From viewing the world stereoscopically in bino viewers to walking the cosmos through flourite. Mr. Wizard describes them well in his own reports.And all the while, the stars turn overhead, bringing closer and closer my own personal quest.
The time has come, and Mr. Wizard hands it to me. I am glad that I am upon my knees, for I would have fallen there. Before me in the eyepiece is the globular cluster I have waiting so very long, and travelled so many miles to see. At last, eh? Was it what I was expecting? Yes. It was all that... And much more. A globular cluster unafraid to be touched... And touch back.
How did Sir Percevail feel when he first beheld the Grail? As I knelt there in the gravel, the world slipped away from me. Each moment of clarity left the perfection of crystalline stars spangling across the face of the most beautiful globular cluster in the sky. Undisturbed, I was left with a variety of magnifications at my fingertips, and my heart and soul became transported as I walked the fields of my Quest. How long I knelt there, I do not know. When one's Spirit is being fulfilled, one does not ask "How long?". I was offered many opportunities to view Omega through other scopes, but I decline. Why? I came to this place and this time for you. You have given me something that all the voices in the night could not. I take the word "yours" not lightly... In my book, there is no other phrase that expresses my feelings more completely. And tonight you have given me what is "yours"...
I need nothing more.
image by: Wodaski
The night of exploration continued on, for the Centaurus Galaxy is yet another I have never seen. Such wonders to behold! From place to place and scope to scope, I wander. Eyes and heart filled with all the mysteries of the Universe. These fine people haven taken me, a stranger, into their midst, and accepted me for what I am. No finer welcome could I ask for. And I walk to be alone, for I do not always understand myself, and my "breaks" are part of my peace. A moment to contemplate and absorb...
One by one, scopes are stowed away, and the Star Party thins in a natural way. It won't be long until the dawn of a new day kisses the sky...
And tomorrow? Brings new adventures...
"What ever tomorrow brings, I'll be there. With open arms and open eyes, yeah..."
May 8, 2002 - "Checkin' In At The Hotel California"...
So I liked the raw power of jet engines. Sure, I have been on small airplaines before, and there are certain similarities between them and large jets, but similarities are where it ends. When one of these bad boys pushes you back in the seat, it's for keeps...
In my mind, gravity has never been so fully demonstrated. I imagine the flight crew was perhaps a bit leery of the one dressed in black occupying the wing seat, for I am sure that the grin that was pasted on my face the moment those engines began to wind approached manaical. "Speed", you see, is my middle name.... And to place me 45,000 feet above terra firma travelling at 550 mph is like offering me a place in Valhalla.
One curious thing I noticed is that sleep wants to take over as soon as the jet begins cruising. Why is that? All around me, the other passengers have floated into the land of Nod, and I feel myself wishing to join them. Brief moments of unreality follow as I do just that... Why?! Is it pressure? Is it altitude? Is it the comforting whine of the engines? Or perhaps the rush of air over the aircraft? No matter... For everyone else is quite welcome to be away. I am delighted to sit here with my face pressed up against the portal...
Just watchin' the world go by... ;)
"I'm still livin' with your ghost... Lonely and dreamin' of the West Coast..."
Comments: There's a new part-timer here in the Backyard. Her name is Brooke. A pretty, vivacious, ready to laugh, young woman with an interest in astronomy! And last night? We took a walk together...
I had been sitting on the steps of the deck, watching the sunset, practicing some tunes and just takin' life easy. It had been clear, warm and beautiful all day, but knowing the hours I've got to keep, serious astronomy was not on my mind.
I set up on the western skyline with the 4.5. My only real aim was to snatch a peek at the planets, perhaps a bit of target practice on pushing small aperature, and off to sleep. We don't often see one another, because we work odd shifts, but this is one time when our paths crossed.
"You know... I always wanted a telescope. Ever since I got to look through one in eighth grade, I've wanted to see that stuff again..."
And you can see me smile, can't you?
So, once again, I relinquished the eyepiece. Left the focus at what was best for her, and away we went! I don't care how many times I do it, I still love to hear someone exclaim the first time they see Saturn! We talked for a bit about Venus and Mercury, what causes their phasic nature. Powered up a bit on Saturn to view Titan... and to catch a glimpse of tiny Mars. Took a stroll to Jupiter to reveal those great equatorial belts and slow waltz of the galieans.... Answering questions the best I know how.
Although the sky was not as dark as I like it to be, there is no reason why we can't head toward a few Messiers, eh? And so we visited the M44, M67, M81, M82 and M3... More? Sure! As the sky darkened even more, it was quite easy to pick off the M51, M65 and M66, take out the M13, and pick up the "Ring", M57 in Lyra. So now we have seen prime examples of almost every type of deep sky object... But one.
Comet, anybody? First showing her how to locate it in binoculars, and then snatching it up with the 4.5. Hey! That was great, wasn't it? So...
And so we moved on to double stars... Perhaps I had an ulterior motive here. And maybe I just wanted to show her something else. Mizar and Alcore for starters, then a lesson is disparate with Polaris, and on to Cor Caroli for a color double. One problem, though... She doesn't "see" the colors! Ah, well.
"Can we use that big telescope? I've always wanted to see through one like that..."
Hey. Why not? You wanted to see color? The the dob will give it to you! Let's go fetch it...
So we started a lesson on star color. What finer example of orange than Arcturus? Or blue in Spica? Regulus is quite white, thanks... And about this time an evil grin spread across my face. What I have here is a young woman with a voice, one that caught Polaris... Can you say Dubhe? I split it first, keeping my findings to myself, then asking her to do the same. Guess what? The secondary is right where I left it. And when we returned to Cor Caroli, this time she was able to make more sense of the difference in hue.
"What does that other stuff look like in this scope?"
So, you want to take the same walk, eh? But see things through a different set of eyes? Then I comply... But only if you learn to drive, too! And the first lesson? M44... I liked her laughter! It's not THAT easy to aim! And resolution? Oh, you asked for it. All smiles! For now she sees color where there was none... and stars where there were none before. From there on out, I set the scope, and let her view. The M67 is awe inspiring in the dob... and by the time we made it back round the same track to the M51, I had a ready convert!
Last destination, Ikeya/Zhang once again. People are like comets... Here today and gone tomorrow. I always enjoy their company when they are here, but long for tomorrow. Been solo for so long, I don't always understand how to be around others. Yeah, it was great fun... But I felt like a tour guide.
"Please keep your hands and feet in the car at all times..."
Perhaps one day she will have a scope of her own... Maybe I just gave her a push in the right direction. Hey. Who knows? Maybe even one day I'll run across someone with whom I take pleasure in studying the night.
Instead of just giving the "Nickle Tour"...
"Come. Take a rest. As a friend, as a lover... As an old Memoria....
Comments: Yep. The sky was clear. The planets are aligning, there's no Moon, and it's bound to be beautiful. I know it's going to be a galaxy night! Unfortunately, I am a creature of duty and responsibility... at least some of the time. And right now? Dying from a cold, and need to work! So off to sleep with me... Perchance to dream?
And up to catch a meteor shower!
When I stepped out the door, bundled up with my mug of coffee, there was a fire in the trees. Selene was on her way. On with the radio, drag the redwood chair out to the south field... and settle in.
Scorpius simply drips down to the ground. Saggitarius is well met, with the Milky Way steaming from the "Teapot". The M24 is easily visible, as is Brocchi's cluster. How fine it is just to sit here and admire the sky! Check my watch... 4:00 a.m. Let's do this...
It was some time before I saw the first one. The Moon had come out of the trees and sat like a glowing melon slice on the edge of the night. The first flat grey streak passed through Vega... That's one. Keep watching.. Singing to myself, trying to be patient and not want to take out the scopes. Then a few more, then a few more...
The best part about enjoying meteor showers is to note how they differ from one another. The Eta Aquarids hold right true to their radiant. The trail is short, perhaps 3 to 4 degrees at the most, and their color is flat silver. No, they are not particularly prolific, but after having observed Halleys Comet so many years ago, I just like watching them. Hey! There goes another! Sure, they are not as awe inspiring and the Leonids, or Perseids, but... There's another!
Stretching out for a bit, I pulled my hood up around my head, trying to keep out the damp chill of dawn. (and how i wish this cold would go away!) Eyes loosely fixed on Altair, and thinking about the M11... And another! Reach for a sip of coffee... Have a tough time finding where I set it... And another! (you know, i really must learn not to cry out like that... after all, what i somebody actually saw what looks like the grim reaper coughing its' head off and hooting at the sky? ;)
Needing a refill on the java, I slipped back inside and ending up taking the binoculars out with me. (Hello, Ikeya/Zhang! I'm keeping tabs on you... You shall be a present!) I scrolled around the sky for awhile... still itchin' to use the scope. And about that time? It cut loose...
At 5:00 the Earth turned into the particle stream and the rate soared! Not entirely fast and furious, but quite enough to keep me laughing out loud instead of coughing! 28, 29, 30... Yes! This is much more like it!! Looking up at Vega, I thought perhaps lack of oxygen had come to claim me at last... (fine, take me.) Or else Vega just went supernova!! Well, it only lasted a second, because I do know an iridium satellite flare when I see it... but WOW! That bad boy must have hit at least a -5 in magnitude!!
Dawn is creeping up on us now... Drawn up as tight as I can get, to keep the damp away. The owl expresses his displeasure at my invasion of his space, but he'll just have to live with it! 32... 33... The Milky Way is faded now. 34.... 35... Only the brightest stars in Cygnus remain... 36.... And now only the most major stars show... 37. "Prime" Time!
Time to go to work...
"Come, hurry up. Take your time. The choice is yours, don't be late."
Comments: Oh, yeah! We've got Sun today, and don't you just know I parked my old carcass in a secluded spot and soaked some up! (a bit brisk.. no wonder i've a cold! ;)
And I just couldn't lay there and not want to go look at the crazy thing! (hey, you know i love my astronomy. i might not be the sharpest pencil in the box, but i still write, eh?) The equatorial zone of Sol is just littered with sunspots, both large and small. At the incoming edge, one huge faculae cut right through the granulation, giving a superior display. Chains of finer series ran about on the surface, like tiny ants marching across an orange plate. But there's always one "bad boy" in the crowd, isn't there? And that's the one I want...
Oh, I know its' name... (remember mine. because you'll be screaming it, later. ;) Sunspot 9934 knows how to rock! Double umbra, spectacular surrounding penumbra... This particular one has a twisted magnetic field, (kinky, huh? i like that, too!) and poses an M-class flare threat. One thing is for sure, it's disturbing the field around it! Yeah, baby... Shake it up! Given its' position, I know that it will be around for about a week yet... Good one to keep an eye on for changes in that umbra. Both halves touch right now... But will they in the future? Perhaps they'll meld together... Maybe they will pull farther apart, and break up the penumbra region. What ever they do, I guarantee you sparks will fly!
Split for the western horizon spot as soon as the Sun went down. Yes. I can see all the planets from the backyard, but why look at them with a television antennae, tree, or roofline in picture when a hop in the car and 2 minutes of driving time brings us unobstructed horizon? Maybe because we aren't taking the scopes, huh? Maybe that's the way watching a planetary alignment should be...
Of course, Venus appeared first... Then Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury and Mars. Part of me itches to explore them closely, but the rest of me is quite content to watch the sunset hues, and see these bright neighbors of ours display the ecliptic plane! Jupiter is still well spaced away, but the other four planets I could cover with my hand. If you ask me, that makes for some mighty fine viewing!
Off to the backyard now... 4.5 has been out since I came home from work, 12.5 just before we left. As the sky darkens down to just where we want it, time for practice. Good, good... Off to this one and that. And the sky just keeps getting darker! Stars in Leo appear that I only see a few times a year... The constellation of Sextans becoming bold... The M44 and Coma Berenices resolving to the unaided eye. (or at least the one that still requires eyeglasses! curiousity far outweighs vanity in my case... ;)
Are you ready to rock?
So, you think all I do is play, huh? Then I want you to slide a little closer to the dob and me, because I've got something new to show you.
Put Vindemiatrix in the finder for me, and let's rock!
About 3, or so, degrees above it, ok? Cuz' I've got a surprise for you... Edge-on, baby! Sweet... A thick looking, UFO-shaped spiral oriented from east to west... NGC4866. There's a bright star on the edge in a field of plenty. Grasping a "sense" of a core area by upping the magnification is a good thing, but drop down and take it slow. This galaxy is worth it!
Move south now, less than two degrees back toward Vindemiatrix.... And we walk across the distinct oval form of NGC4880. Again, a bright field of stars from our Milky Way arm, but a strong nucleas in this galaxy. No sense of true "arm" defintion in this one, but mid-range the magnification, avert your vision and a fine halo surrounds its' galactic core. Very nice...
Now, take it back to Epsilon, and it's my turn. Shifiting west about 2 degrees and 26mm, we've got a same field pair here. NGC4754 and NGC4762... And what a pair they are! NGC4754 is buff. A soft, round spiral. Magnify a wee bit more and you've got a "smeared" appearance to the structure... But it fits very neatly into the pyramid of stars. And what of its' companion? Bwahahahhaa... Oh, we've got you on the edge again!! And you are very, very fine... A slim, bright fellow, holding three stars nearby. But there's more to this one than meets the eye. Up it a bit again, avert well out, and be patient. Oh yeah! You SEE!! From either end of this delightful edge-on galaxy, there are streamers. It looks almost as if the galaxy "stuff" jets away... Damn fine.
From here, we're going to drop south about another two degrees to take out galaxy NGC4698. OK, this one doesn't like me so well. (ask me if i care?) What we pick up is a small, ovoid spiral... slightly flattened, very even, and oriented from north to south. Again, we have brightish stars at either end, but fail to see structure.
Your turn again, Chief. Set the dob on Delta, and let's do it again!
About a degree and a half north of Delta is NGC4808. Sorry. This one isn't as spectacular as the edge-ons, but it's not bad. Magnifying doesn't help reveal much form. What we have is a flattened spiral, sort of "grainy" looking... I guess unevenly lighted would be the best way to describe it... A star a either end. Not the most outrageous one we've ever stumbled across, but hey!
Tonight? It's ours...
"As a lover... As a friend... As an old enemy...
Comments: I wasn't expecting it to happen. Hell, the way I feel, I'm not sure if I could handle it even if it did! Sure. It was late. But you know what?
I wanted it.
When I saw the stars of Hydra stretching across the southern horizon, my mind said "Study". Above it sat Corvus, and like that mythical Raven, I hear myself say, "Nevermore". Did you not promise yourself, T? That you would turn that circuit off? Yeah, I did.
Pulling the dob around to one of my favourite spots, I uncovered it. No, I didn't let it stablize. I can tell you with a glance that the skies will waiver, and so will the view for a bit... But I don't honestly care. I tipped the scope up between Leo and Coma Berenices, stepped up on the ladder,
And lost myself.
Slowly, but surely, I dark adapted. And the galaxies came out to play. Can I identify them all? No. But a great many I recognize the signature from past studies. It's cold, and I probably have no business being here, but it's been so long. The dob responds to each touch of my hand, and the smile it gives me is beyond worth. Silver clouds of galaxies, tiny and beautiful. So many different worlds, stretching across space/time... You always know just what I need, don't you? No plan. No map. No notes. Just you, and me, and the Field.
I kinda' like that.
"Come. As you are. As you were. As I want you to be..."