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Observing Reports: December 2003

December 31, 2003 - January 1, 2004 - Of Endings and Beginnings...

Comments: And so another year draws to a close, does it not? As always, I find myself traveling across the open countryside to visit with my relatives on this eve of a New Year. The sunset is glorious and promises clear and beautiful skies tonight. Venus blazes like a torch, giving the scene a wonderful astronomical appeal. By the time I arrive at my destination, it has gone low to the horizon, but the Moon and Mars sing out in their glory. I park my car and retrieve my pies that have somehow made it safely. I can see inside the steamy windows the "Farm" house is full, and I know laughter and good food are soon to follow. It is good to see them, for time has a way of making my family larger one year and smaller the next. One small word of advice from my somewhat jaded philosophy? Don't ever miss an opportunity to tell someone you love them... Don't pass by a hug from a friend. And remember...

Sometimes tomorrow won't come.

With full belly, the time has come for me to journey back across the flat lands. Ohio is an unusual place... In this part, the land is as flat as Kansas and as barren as North Dakota. Only the lights from a few distant farm houses wink here and there, and you can see small "glow domes" from larger towns spaced all around the horizon. The sky above is a tremendous canopy, filled with stars, and lit by the Moon and the lure of the planets. Yet if I drive a similar distance from the backyard in another direction? It is hills and valleys... The roads curve and climb rather than the long straightaways I run on now. And the sky? Just as beautiful there, mon ami... But I dig the horizon of the flats. There is nothing like seeing those constellations emerge from the very edge of the Earth.

Once again in the backyard, I find myself ready to set out a scope and "play" with the night. The very beauty of the Moon will take away the depth of the sky, but it matters not. I bring the 12.5 out tonight, for it is my "light eater" and I just wish its company. As it stabilizes, I put on some coffee and find warm, comfortable clothes. I am tired from my long hours and part of my old soul would be just as content to go to bed right now... But my mind is still young enough to want to be awake to greet the new year.

"Roll me on your frozen fields... Break my bones to watch them heal. Drown me in your thirsty veins.... Where I'll watch... and I'll wait... And pray for the day."

I think about all the things that have happened this last year.... Both good and bad. The loss of Challenger and the triumph of the final hours of Gallileo. We watched a waited as Mars drew ever closer, capturing the public eye like no other event. It is to Mars I journey first, for it, too, will soon be gone. With all the magnification that I can throw at it, Mars is still pretty incredible. It is still quite possible to draw out some of those dark and dusty albeido features and you can see what appears to be a "blue halo" around the polar areas. We are there again, my friends. In just a few short days "Spirit" rover will hopefully make a successful landing!

I smile and go on to the Moon. Plato catches my eye, and as I watch I remember all the fun I once had trying to draw the "craterlets" out. The Appeninne Mountains are just incredible, but the features that keep me in place tonight are Ptlomaeus, Alphonsus and Arzachel. It is blinding in the dob, but I've no real wish to fetch a filter. I came to this place on the lunar surface tonight to remember Ranger 7. Yep. It crashed... But sent back some of the most incredible photos before it bit the lunar dust! I watch for as long as I can stand the light... It is a bit windy and cold. I think perhaps it is time for me to find that cup of coffee and go warm up for a bit.

"Curl like smoke and breathe again... Down your throat. Inside your ribs... Through your spine and every nerve... Where I wait and I watch and I yield to the hurt."

I come out a bit later to view Saturn next. What a treat this truly is in my own scope! Although I cannot hold the view in place the way the drive on the 31" does, Saturn is darn near as gorgeous. Again, the Cassini is a deep and wide gap... Each ring shows a fine and tiny line during a moment of perfect stability. Across the mid section of Saturn runs the shadow of the rings, and tonight I note that the planet does not look quite as colorful. Position? Difference in aperture? A good question to ponder as I look at Titan, Tethys, Rhea and Dione noting that they have switched positions so rapidly! It doesn't take long until I have had my fill of chasing Saturn... Without drive? It drives me nutz at high power! I love the movement when studying a DSO... But it will about half make you sick when chasing a planet.

There is about two hours to go until this year ends and I find myself wandering about in the stars. I wish I had thought earlier to have looked for LINEAR, but it is enough to remember all the great comets I have seen this year! 2P Encke was perhaps the best. Not that it was the best looking comet I've ever seen, but it was one that I did manage to chase from when it first came into visiblity until the Moon and horizon robbed it from view. And now? Just think! Just like with Mars, we are now just hours away from sampling a comet. I heard that "Stardust" has already entered the coma area of Comet Wilde and will soon return to Earth carrying its' precious cargo of "space seeds". How cool to know it's out there!

"And if you don't believe the Sun will rise? Stand alone and greet the coming night... In the last remaining light."

I hop away to the stars. It is my wish to see "Hind's Crimson" tonight, and it is a wish for a Happy New Year to another friend who also appreciates the singular beauty of a red star. Either it is a maximum tonight, or else I am just being rather receptive, but it seems to be a deep and perfect ruby color. Just what the doctor ordered...

I head for Rigel next and again I appreciate the 12.5. Rigel is tremendously bright, it's blue/white color striking and almost blinding... But it is its' disparate blue companion that completes this picture. Another such fine star is Mintaka, whose companion almost mirrors Rigel. 20 Tau is much easier to seperate, and again its' companion is blue. More doubles? Ah, then let's go back up to Gemini and watch the incredible Castor and smile at the duplicity of Wasat. And how could I forget Theta Aurigae? Ah.... Now that one is a true beauty!

Beginning to feel the hunger for star clusters, I go back in the garage for a few moments to enjoy a cup of coffee while I look at the maps and go for a switch in eyepieces. It is time to move over to the 2" and really suck in some starlight. When I go back out it is time to just enjoy the M35 (and john? the big scope shows ngc2158 at low power like a little "patch" at the edge.) I know it's kinda' dumb but I really appreciate the M45 in this scope as well... The tiny red star in the center in unrevealed to most scopes, but the power of aperture makes it as clean and perfect as Alycone's and Atlas' companions. After a bit of a search, I turn up NGC1647 and find it to be a real cool one as well. It has perhaps two dozen brighter stars... But underneath? Oh, my... I can see tiny pinpricks of light that make me wish I still had to power in!

Going back toward Orion, I stop to stare into the M42 for the longest time. A lot of the subtle edge variations are undetectable thanks to the moonlight, but the majority of this sprawling cloud of nebula still holds that fascinating quality of looking almost like hair caught under water. Power isn't everything, gents... Take the time to look at some of this sutff under minimum magnfication! Ooooh, lah, lah.... Just have a look at the "Double Cluster" if you don't believe me... Or just how much more gorgeous the M36, M37 and M38 appear. And if you want stellar? M41 will satisfy... Right down to the tiny red stars that hang out on the lunatic fringe of this ancient open cluster.

"Seven moons and seven suns... Heaven waits for those who run. Down your winter and underneath your waves... Where I wait and I watch and I pray for the day."

The hour is fast approaching midnight, and I lay the dob down and cover my eyepiece and finder. It is time for me to kill my night eyes and turn the television set on. What New Year would be complete without watching the Big Ball drop in Times Square? Using the minutes before, I also go back to the bedroom and load the shotgun. Yes, it's a redneck tradition... But out here we still believe in our freedom of choice to not only own a gun but to know how to use it as well. Placing a single 12 guage shell into the chamber, I pull it home and double check the safety. Let's watch! And as the folks in New York cheer, we usher in a New Year. Stepping outside, I flip the safety off and pull the trigger. Grinning at the sweet action of the old and treasured Browning, I eject the spent shell and put it in my pocket lest H find it. The barrel smokes ever so slightly as I carry it back into the house to wipe it off with with an oiled rag and put it away again.

Never raised in anger and never will be.

H is quite going crazy. From all about us, there are the sounds of others firing guns as well and more than one who sets off a few fireworks. It's pretty cool to see the streak and pop of a rocket from across the fields, to be answered from a neighboring farm. Celebrate, my friends! The New Year has come at last....

And I spend those first few precious moments with the light of Sirius in my eyes.

Finding myself hungry again, I re-cover the dob and decide to take a break for a couple of hours. The Moon has already gone way west and Jupiter has started its' rise. I am happy to stop for awhile to cuddle Z and watch H take his place by the fire. In just a very short time we can begin the new year looking into a distant galaxy, and I'm all for that. Making myself a sandwich, I open a beer as well and somehow I find that it's not long until my eyes have become heavy and the hours have passed. When I awake, my first thoughts turn to the telescope that I have carelessly left unguarded in the backyard. Not to fear... There is no rain nor snow tonight. All things are covered and with the exception of a bit of frost, she is as right as rain. I have to laugh at myself as I see that Jupiter now sits at the zenith and realize that the galaxies I had in mind are now going to be a back breaking chore! Making the switch back to my study grade eyepieces, I would scold myself, but I simply don't have the heart to. Instead I chose something else... Something filled with as many promises of Spring as the new year is filled with exciting possibilities. Beautiful blue Spica has risen very well above the horizon...

And I'm heading eleven degees due west.

"And if you don't believe the Sun will rise? Stand alone and greet the coming light.

In the last remaining night..."

December 30, 2003 - Remembering "First Light"...

Comments: I had a sort of "anniversary" to celebrate today. It has to do with that old Celestron telescope of mine. It was a Christmas present, and fourteen years ago upon this day I viewed the night sky with it for the very first time. How serious I was! I had it out long before dark, cooling down. I had gotten the precise latitude to set it by. I used a level to make sure everything was perfect... I even used a compass to make sure it was properly polar aligned! And the very first thing I looked at?

Was the Moon...

How long ago that seems! I look back on that now and remember how innocent I was then. I thought that old Tasco refractor I had was the living end, and you can imagine how blown away I was when I first looked through a "real" telescope. I thought that Moon was the greatest thing I'd ever seen. Guess things don't change all that much do they? For there is a Moon tonight and I'm packing that old, travel worn Celestron with its' rickety, cobbled together mount in the back of my car and heading for the Observatory. How many miles have we traveled together, eh? Thousands upon thousands in my car and million of light years through the night. That old scope has been with me through some of the most fantastic things the night has had to offer. It has healed me when my heart was broken... And it has rejoiced with me when times were good.

It was my teacher.

Arriving at the Observatory, I greet our newest member John as we both begin set-up. The light of the Moon is enough for me, for I know this old scope as well as I know my own hands. I am no longer the serious, sober astronomer I once aspired to be. It doesn't matter to me if the old scope is level or not... Stable is all I care about. My years with a dobsonian have taught me that polar alignment is a fantasy needed only by those who require it. Going back down the steps, I reverently carry the optical tube up and set it in its cradle. I tighten it down, set for comfort, and kinda' sorta' turn the mount north. Spoiled by aperture, there is little that keeps my attention enough in the 114 to worry over much about tracking it. I gotta' grin, though... I've battered that finderscope over and over again, and still it's on the mark. Once in awhile I have to adjust it... But hey. Them garage doors can be tuff at times. A quick peek is all it takes and I realize I might just as well go talk to John for awhile, because the warmth of my car is making the view pitch and roll.

Go on, old friend. Cool down. I'll wait....

John sets up his self-engineered 8" dobsonian and we shoot the breeze for awhile. The skies are very picturesque here at the Observatory. Mars races ahead of the Moon and Venus flashes in the western tree branches. You can see Orion rising to the west and Auriga sparkles like gemstones. John is new to astronomy, and I watch as he lays his maps out and formulates his observing plans for the night. I'm afraid I've traveled rather light, for all I have is my red flashlight, my camera and one eyepiece. I knew what feature would be on the Moon tonight, and as soon as I knew the scope had cooled, it was time to go "capture" it...

Not bad for a little old scope that's seen it's better days, huh?

Thirty seconds of filming is enough. The moment I see the Alpine Valley snap into focus is fine. How many times over the years have I been here, eh? Walked the walk from Peavy, Byrd, Scoresby, Meton, Barrow, Archytas and Protogoras to cross the sands of Mare Frigoris and view the ancient scar of Vallis Alpis? I have stood on Egede and upon the peaks of Mt. Blanc. I have wandered about on Deville and Agassiz Promentoriums and scaled the Caucasus Mountains. I have been on Mts. Hadley and Bradley and toured the Appenines across the years. Aristotle and Eudoxus... Do you know my name? I know yours.

I smile to myself and I think of Joe. He took my challenge! The feature I viewed the other night IS unnamed. When lunar notables like Thierry LeGault and Akanna Peck do not know... It has no name. They called it "Dorsae Beaumont", commenting themselves that it is unnamed. And I still think someone, somewhere should have named it "Corona Wall"...

But enough! My companion for tonight and I have things to look up. We tag team for awhile on those things which can be achieved under the circumstances, like M35, M36, M37 and M38. Easy light... M45. And still magnificent? M42... He calls the M74 out and I am delighted to appreciate what double the aperture can do with moonlit skies. We talk for awhile as we view Saturn and when I can see the little "troopers" sparkling in even my scope? Ah, man... We gotta' open the dome for a few minutes!

Words cannot describe, my friends, how awesome Saturn is in this scope. If it's a sesame seed in mine? It's a dinner plate in the 31". Every detail you can image is there. Titan is simply huge, and Tethys, Rhea and Dione are perfect little orbs. Titan leads the way across the sky, while two of the inner moons are to the north and south of the western ring edge and the last trails behind. There is so much here! Other tiny sparkles... More minor sattelites? Nah. Just field stars. Well... Maybe? The natural yellow/orange of Saturn is striking and the shadow of the rings upon in it is so clear cut. The Cassini looks like you could drive a truck through it - One the size of the state of Texas! The Encke division is a slim, perfect line and all along the rings are tiny divisions and easily detectable differences in their wispy nature. Long and short?

I could look at Saturn for hours in this scope.

Unfortunately, I do have to work the next day, so we politely close everything back down again. I am just pleased to have been here for awhile, looking at Saturn as it is in opposition, and soaking up a few photons. It was a pleasure to have had an opportunity to get to know John a bit, and I am sure our paths will cross many times in the future. For now?

Time for me to drive...

"Whatever tomorrow brings? I'll be there.... With open arms and open eyes, yeah... What ever tomorrow brings? I'll be there.

I'll be there."

December 28, 2003 - Venus, the Moon and Mars...

Comments: Told ya' my hours are strange! One day you'll catch me up before midnight studying DSOs, and eighteen hours later I'm back out there doin' the Moon. Once upon a time, I used to try and conform to what people wanted me to be... Go to bed at this time, eat at that time, work at this time... Do this, don't do that, blah, blah, blah. Now I please myself, eh? I do what I want, when I want. If ya' try to change me? You make me into someone you don't want...

Right, Mr. Wizard?

So here I am. Love me as I am, or leave me the heck alone. Yep. I'm tired after the weekend's long hours, but rather than vegetate in front of the television set or computer screen, I find I'm happiest just being outside with nothing more than an old, small aperture telescope, a handful of eyepieces, some rock and roll in the headphones, and some time with the sky. There's a beer sitting on the corner of the deck that I fully intend on drinking as well. Sue me. ;)

First up? Bright and lovely Venus. Tonight I don't bother with filters, cuz' I just feel like looking at my zodiacal ruling sign. Saturn might be my teacher, but Venus is my soul. I like being able to occasionally see its phasic nature during a split second of stability. I like knowing that the Sun is reflecting off its volatile gas atmosphere. It appeals to my artistic, mystical, self-indulgent nature...

And it goes down fine with Corona.

Wanna' MoonWalk? The weather is incredibly warm tonight for end of December Ohio. So warm that I even blew the dust off the Harley earlier this afternoon. It feels good to be out here and not freezing to death. It feels good to feel good. And it feels even better to see a lunar feature that absolutely defies identification.

Every single map I own, every resource that I can tap... And still this one feature remains unnamed. Can you spot it? Don't know how you can miss it... It runs from Theophilus to Beaumont - A bright line that cuts across Mare Necatris, bordered on the upper edge of my rotten photo by the incomplete Fracastorius. I know its a ridge, but its one that has no name! Look for yourself if you don't believe me... And answer me if you can. The Rukl intersects right at this point. On-line lunar maps don't have a clue as to what it is... And if you got software that calls the shot?

Brother - I wanna' know where they came up with the name!

Am I challenging you? Darn right. I am not the only person who enjoys looking at the Moon, and I guarantee I'm far from the only one who has ever noticed this bright ridge. How can such a prominent lunar feature not have a name, huh? Mr. Cherrington mentions it... But doesn't identify it either. Shall we come up with a name? Nah. Mysteries are more fun!

Finishing my beer I decide to take a fast look at Mars before I call it a night. At 9mm in the little scope, Mars isn't much more than a bruised-looking little reddish ball... But I know that Mars Express is up there circling round it, still hunting for Beagle 2. Perhaps one day we will look at Mars much like we look at the Moon now - able to pinpoint a spot and say: "Yep. That's where we crashed the first one.. There's where we set down Pathfinder. There's where Beagle 2 bit the dust. Over there is where the first outpost was built... And in two days we can see where the first colony was established." You might smile at my idealism... But aren't you my age as well? The Moon was a blank page when I was a child - and now we've written all over it. What a fantastic age we live in!! Visiting asteroids and sampling comets... Our machinery reaching beyond the boundaries of our own solar system and our telescopes to the very edges of our Cosmos.

Who needs TV??

"Whatever tomorrow brings? I'll be there. With open arms and open eyes..."

December 27/28, 2003 - NGC2282, NGC2262, NGC2269, NGC2286, NGC2311, NGC2346, PK219-1.1... Joyridin'...

Comments: I got the sky I asked for. A clear, dark and very transparent 6.0. With an hour less to work with tonight, I wasn't particularly in the mood for much joy riding. I worked for perhaps four hours last night achieving these studies, and tonight I have two and one half hours to repeat them. Readying myself for work in advance and well rested, the 12.5 followed its' tracks from the night before to the south field. A small table on which to lay my maps, notes and flashlight (and to hold my ever-present coffee mug) are all I require and these are set up while the dob is open and cooling to stability. My eyepieces of choice tonight are the 26mm Meade study grade and the 12.3mm ED Epic. I truly appreciate the Epic's super-wide field of view and it has a very honoured place in my eyepiece case. Ordinarily I also include starhop instructions when I do field studies, but I am working on a limited time basis, so please forgive if I forget to include them in any one particular study. Are you ready?

Then let's rock.

One field away from star Flamsteed 18 in Monoceros in bright nebula, NGC2282. It is a very pretty, small, a very definate patch of nebulosity in a stellar field. It is absolutely rolled around a small clump of stars making its' signature appear almost as if the stars are hazed.... Like a very tiny "Rosette" nebula. Rather than being bright and alone, I find it to be "breathy"... An even sort of diffuseness that makes it look almost galactic except for the amount of stars that accompany it.

Also nearby is open cluster, NGC2262. Very small, the major stars of this open resemble a tiny Cassiopeia. Under magnification, one of the major stars is revealed to be a nice double. There is also a faint smattering of stars underlying this primary asterism.

The NGC2269 is another small open cluster which sports a "dragon-like" chain of stars as its primary asterism. Again, we are working in a very stellar field when the 12.3mm is in place, making the margins of these opens somewhat difficult to determine. The NGC2269, unlike the previous study, however, definately has a wider variety of magnitudes.

Moving off on my next grid run, the NGC2286 is the next target. Yeah! Much brighter, larger and more easily recognized as an open cluster, the NGC2286 has several tight chains of stars and collections of groupings of threes. It has a more vague central portion where there is a very nice configuration that looks all for the world like the symbol for a planetary nebula! This is a good one...

Next pass over toward Flamsteed 19 brings up the NGC2311. Again, bright and very populous. At lower power, this one will catch your eye immediately as a delta-wing configuration. Use power... It's worth it. There are many faint magnitudes here in a very colorful array making this one worth the time!

Now let's head toward Delta Monocerotis and go go for the real gold in this starhop study... NGC2346. What a planetary nebula!! Wooo! Usually at best, small planetary nebulae resemble hairy little stars (of course, i see 'em weird, but then you know me... you could put a mag 15 pn in a field of stars and i'd tell ya' which one it is. ;) but not NGC2346. This one rocks! Very sufficently bright at low power, the 12.3mm reveals what is probably around a magnitude 11 phat planetary! Very stellar field, this one is "pinched" making it look incredibly similar to the M76, M27 and even the Hubble Variable in shape. For some strange reason, the daggone thing looks like a jellyfish to me... With stars caught in a chain across its' tentacles. (yeah, yeah... how scientific, huh?) I see no central star where it compresses, but there are perhaps a dozen stars that both surround it, and are caught within it. Look it up... It's a dandy!

Now, the last study eluded me on the previous night, but the transpareny is much better tonight. Going back to the area of Flamsteed 19 and 20, I'm trying for another planetary nebula that is a designation which has, so far, not been my privelege to work with. I'm not incredibly sure of what I should be seeing. I have no clues as to magnitude or shape. Being careful to keep my field stars in proper position, I try again tonight knowing I'm looking for a planetary nebula, but not what type. Double checking everything, I keep watch in the eyepiece, tapping averting, and trying my very best trick of revealing faint structure. I am not seeing a round signature, no a patchy structure... What I am catching looks like a very faint light bridge between two stars. At times it looks like a tilted, very diffuse spiral galaxy... In other words? I don't know what the heck it is. I know I'm on the right field and I'm seeing something on wide aversion. Is this a AINTNO classfication?

You tell me!

Having repeated my studies and feeling a bit frustrated because I've bit off something new and not sure if I can chew it, I walk back to the garage to fetch another cup of coffee and put away my notes. Mr. Clock says I still have 30 minutes to joyride, so I bring the dob a bit closer to its home and head off toward Ursa Major. Ah, you know it... I can't cram the M81 and M82 into the same field of view without going to the two inch eyepieces, but just because they aren't together doesn't mean they aren't still connected. One phat, with a kick-asteroid core and a densness unlike any other... The other mottled, slim and notched - Shooting off polarized light everywhere! I can't help but wonder what would happen if you used a variable polarizing filter on it? Oh, quit! Sometimes I think too much and enjoy too little. And the last stop of the night? M51... Just because.

Realizing I best put the scope away for now and head for work, I gotta' smile. The last two nights have been really great! I know the days in the future will mean a shift change, earlier sleeping hours, and the only place I'll have to travel to is the Moon... But hey!

Gotta' love it.

"Hold the wheel and drive."

December 27, 2003 - The Sun...

Comments: Yes, yes... My hours are strange sometimes, but not only have I learned to live with them - but work with them as well. During my mid-day break, the ol' Sun was still shining just as pretty as it could be, and since it has been awhile since I've done a sunspot illustration I had quite enough time to set up a capture AR528...

As you can see, AR538 has now migrated almost to the western limb. Spanning more than 13 Earth diameters, 538 has had a beta/gamma classification for some time now, but produced no significant activity. It remains virtually unchanged since I viewed it yesterday and with the exception of making the granulation more visible on the limb edge, show no magnificent plague activity nor outstanding faculae. Of course, it's still a bit far away to show the Wilson Effect as well, but you gotta' admit...

It's kinda' pretty.

"Will I chose the water over wine?"

December 26/27, 2003 - Doin' Vampyre Duty...

Comments: And indeed the skies were still respectably clear when I got back up for work. There are a few things that I'd like to work on during this time, and given one or two more decent sessions, I should be able to complete them.

One very nice target for now is the M79 globular cluster in Lepus. Using the 12.5 Meade combined with the good 9mm, the M79 is quite beautiful in terms of resolution. The central core is bright and unresolvable, and upon study seems slightly uneven. The outer perimeters resolve cleanly into a random scattering of stars over the underlying density. At lower power, the M79 also contains a rare treat. In the same field of view is H3752, one of Herschel's multiple stars. The trio consists of a very close pair whose magnitudal difference is about perhaps 1.5, while further serperated is yet another disparate companion.

Moving off with the map to work on some of my studies for awhile, I find myself going back to have a look at NGC2264, also known as the "Christmas Tree Cluster". At low power, this relatively triangular grouping of mismatched magnitudes is also home to the Cone Nebula. Using averted vision, it isn't incredibly easily to make out this dark intrusion on the southern edge of the vague nebulosity that encases the entire star cluster, but it is rewarding when you notice it points the way toward the striking blue/white S Monocerotis. Epsilon Monocerotis also rocks as a multiple star. The primary is a soft yellow, the secondary is roughly half it's magnitude and rather white in appearance, while the C star is pale blue and very disparate by comparison. Another study that I also looked at last night and don't mind revealing for now is the Hubble Variable Nebula. I know I sing its' praises quite often, but there are very, very few deep sky studies of such striking color! I have seen blueISH nebula before, but the Hubble Variable is truly a magnificent gas flame blue. Tonight it must be at peak for there is no vagueness to it. The central is smokin', and the whole thing looks very much like a badmitton birdie caught in an attractive stellar background. Rate this baby five stars!

Once again I return back to my starhopping and seeking a few little planetary buddies, try to keep an eye on my watch because I know there is a Jupiter event soon to happen. After making my notes, I make a quick check and decide to hop off to Puppis for a few minutes and check out my three favourite opens there: M46, M47 and M93. The M46 is a well populated open cluster of similar magnitudes and probably the prettiest at low power, kick in the 9mm eyepiece though, and you will reveal a 10th magnitude planetary nebula NGC2348 in its northern corner. M47 appears much more "open" and less dense with similar magnitudes. Here we have chaining with perhaps 6th and 7th magnitude stars and perhaps 50 or more members that would safely go down in the magnitude 12 to 13 range. M93 is the best of this trio, appearing almost like an exploding firework in the 26mm eyepiece. Covering perhaps a third of a degree of sky, the M93 genuinely has a cluster of stars in its central portion. Comprised of hundreds of stars in varying magnitudes and soft pastel colors, the M93 is a worthy stopping point.

Now for Jupiter!

Turning the scope toward our "Gas Giant Great", I am not so much interested in planetary detail as I am simply watching for that little "bump" on the edge to seperate itself from the glare of the planet proper. At the eastern frontier, Callisto had already began its re-appearance from eclipse when I "tuned" in... But for the next 20 to 30 minutes, I had a splendid time enjoying a cup of coffee and watching it quickly traverse the miles in its orbit, going from a "growth" on the side of Jupiter until it had well spaced away and solidly re-established itself as a galiean sattelite. I smile as I keep my promise to remember Galielo and can't help but wonder if the Brits have found their lost dog, Beagle 2 yet.

Don't feel bad, guys... We did it too.

"Whatever tomorrow brings? I'll be there... I'll be there."

December 26, 2003 - The Sun, the Moon and Venus...

Comments: Is that Sun?? I don't believe it. If I didn't know any better I'd swear that someone mowed the mountains off and I actually live in Colorado. One day here it snows like crazy, and then a couple of days later the Sun comes out, warms everything up and melts it away. Of course, I ain't complainin' about getting a little bit of sunshine! Is that my body I hear?

Glug... glug... glug.....aaaaaAAAAH! Vitamin D! Thank you!

And it's good for my brain, too. Besides sneaking out every chance I had at work to stand in the sunshine, I actually made it home in enough time to view our latest solar "giant"... AR528. I had everything happily set up with just a few minutes to spare before it dipped into the trees, had the camera on it, focusing in... POW! Right across the field of view flies an airplane! Grinnin', I figure this is gonna' be one totally awesome shot, finished locking down on them, and then noticed the little blinking "reminder" in the corner of the viewscreen.

Duh, ~T? There's no film in there.

OK! So it's Murphy's Law in action... Nothing new for a blonde. Out of time to load the camera, I simply park it and just enjoy the latest solar activity. 528 and followers is now spanning approximately 13 Earth diameters across the solar surface and is definately a worthy show. The major spot is very mature - with an equally mature and very large penumbra. There's a good dozen follower spots and some of those are also beginning to develop penumbral regions. I think 525 is the other little dude here on the western edge of this grouping, but I've been out of the solar "loop" now (except passively) for awhile and my mind can't help but wonder if this is a remnant of some of those awesome record-breaking spots we had some time ago. Nah... Just wishful thinking. Hopefully I'll catch a little time tomorrow to view them again.

Minus the tree branches. ;)

Of course, "vampyre shift" means an early bedtime for Ol' ~T here... But I did get a chance to see the crescent Moon and Venus This was no more than an hour after I had solar viewed, and the Sun itself had just dipped below the horizon in a fiery display of color. I was just smilin' away at that clear sky, wishing my observing partner the best for tonight when I noticed the Moon.... And even in a still blue sky, Venus was rockin' the house. Just absolutely beautiful! The sunset colors made the pairing a remarkable image and one I kept in mind as I headed off toward the Land of Nod.

Perhaps those clear skies will still be there when I wake??

"Whatever tomorrow brings? I'll be there... With open arms and open eyes, yeah..."

December 25, 2003 - Merry Christmas to All... And To Ohio? A Cloudy Night...

Comments: Hey! Who ordered snow for Christmas? Bing Crosby? Heheheheeee... I guess in retrospect I cannot complain. (at least until i go out and shovel out my car so i can leave for work... ;) The all day snow meant for a very picturesque view from the windows and the cozy fire and smells of cooking gave everything a holiday ambience. Of course, those lead grey snow clouds were happy to stick around through the night. Murphy's Law strikes again, for I am sure that I am not the only one with new astronomy related toys anxious to give them a try.

Somewhere out there tonight, I know that the crescent Moon and Venus were singing in perfect harmony in the twilight sky. I know that Beagle 2 touched down on Mars, and even though we couldn't see it, it would have been grand to have looked its' way and said "We're there... Again!". I know the stars are out there calling, but sometimes I just don't seem to hear them so well. Perhaps the vampyre shift days ahead will see some clear skies and some time alone with the cosmos. Who knows? Maybe even the Sun will shine again! For I know there's a great sunspot out there as well...

Don't cha' ya'll worry, though. It'll be fine. It always is. The skies can't stay cloudy forever! Time to enjoy all the new goodies, and rest assured that Edj the Lizard is stuffed with strawberries, Z the cat is swelled with Whisker Lickin's and H not only has new toys and bones hidden all about the house, but has enjoyed more Christmas ham than any canine has a right to. (good, cuz' i don't know why it's here... i couldn't look one in the eye right now without turning green, much less consider eating it... ;) You'll see a few changes here and there - A Christmas present from a very thoughtful relative that I've thoroughly enjoyed. (no pop-up ads! yeah, baby! and i can link to my own stuff.... ;) I guess I better go and get some rest now, for my hours start early and the days after a holiday will be very long for me. Time to start setting up for the next!

A very Merry Christmas and all the best to you, my friends!

"It's driven me before... And it seem to be the way that everyone else gets around. Lately I'm beginning to find that when I drive myself my light is found."

December 23, 2003 - In Memory of Ranger 1...

Ranger 1

October 11, 1990 - December 23, 2002

I was deeply ill today. It was not in mourning for the loss of my old companion, but rather the flu that has hit me hard this year and not let go. So weak that I could not even work... And so ill that I didn't even look at the computer. Twice a rarity... But I did not forget my old friend.

And neither did the skies.

There were no stars tonight to shine above his grave. The ground has mellowed in the year that has past and a soft gentle snow weeps from a leaden grey sky. No longer is there a harsh pile of frozen earth, dug in the numbness of the moment to cover my old friend... In its place is a soft mound covered in white, the stark stone a reminder of where he rests. I dress myself in whatever is handy and walk haltingly to the edge of the field, fearful the illness will return and leave me on the wet ground. I have to be here. You know that. I have broken off a lower branch of the Christmas Tree, and a place it on that silent mound with a handful of cookies and the spice gumdrops he so loved to steal. I know of no other fitting tributes...

And if you think H does not remember? Then you are wrong. There shall always be two bowls on the kitchen floor for food... H will not eat from the one on the right - for that was Ranger's... Yet he insists it be filled with food. He will cry until I do, and will not eat unless both bowls are filled. He will not lay in Ranger's place under the coffee table. At times, he takes out his old toys and lays them on the floor... Yet he never plays with them. And as opportunistic an eater as this young, black german shepherd is... He does not touch the treats I have laid upon the old dog's grave.

I am so out of it that I cannot even offer a song... Be if of comfort to myself, or comfort to a soul laid to rest. What I have is a beautiful handful of memories... Memories of starlit nights where an old dog laid by the redwood chair counting meteors with me. Memories of sleeping under the stars and a deer frightening us both in its curiousity. Memories of chasing an solar eclipse on Christmas Day with my old bud and captured forever on a bit of film. Memories that make me laugh... Ranger and a raccoon wrangling in the night, making enough noise to wake up half the western world. Ranger prowling about in the moonlight - forever keeping any stray cats in the trees. Memories of him as active and viable as H is today while we chased Comet Hale-Bopp across the starry skies... Good things. How he loved to steal my blanket during the night, or take off with my towel while I was in the shower.

I smile as the fat flakes of snow decorate the lone branch and frost the cookies. He was a fine dog. I can still see the smile in his eyes when he played tricks on me and how very much he loved his car rides. He lived a good life... And he died a good death.

Light speed, Old Friend... We'll meet again.

"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?"

December 21, 2003 - Venus. M33, M31, M32, M110 and Comet 2002/LINEAR T7...

Comments: Wow! You should check out Venus... Not only is she gorgeous to the unaided eye, but that 40% phase is just killer to the filter stacked eyepiece! With flash and roll, she's outshining anything and everything in the sky...

But she doesn't beat out Comet LINEAR.

Chosing the Orion 8" reflector tonight for stability against the wind, my first marks were set mainly for my own need to dark adapt and practice field. M33 is the reason I bought this telescope and it blows me away with the 32mm eyepiece. Although that magnification makes the Trianglum galaxy much smaller, it also sucks in all that low surface brightness and hands it back in a way that will rock your world. On this particular galaxy, the optimum aperature is indeed 8 inches, for the M33 is just the prettiest spiral galaxy you'll ever lay an eye on in this scope!

Keeping things low, I move on to Andromeda and companions. Here again, I deeply appreciate this "mid range" aperature. At low magnification, the grand sweep of M31 still extends beyond two fields of view, but the additonal light gathering ability snaps those two companion galaxies right out... Even in miniature! And now that I've had my little dose of "galactic stuff"... I'm on a hunt and I know right where to look.

Right off of the point star in Triangulum, Caput Trianguli, or Alpha if you prefer, to the west is a just on-the-edge of visibility 6th magnitude star. To those of us who routinely hunt down M33, we find it recognizable as a "star hop" denizen... Tonight? It's in the field with a kick asteroid comet! Using Paul's AAVSO trick of defocusing that star, I find that Comet 2002/LINEAR T7 is considerably fainter than its magnitude 6. There is also a nearby field star that is very comparable in magnitude de-focused, and by using Uranometria to identify it, I'm saying our latest "bad boy" comet is coming in at around magntiude 8.

Tonight I am in love all over again with the SVD8, and am delighted with it's performance. I am picking out a condensation in the comet's nucleas area, but nothing that outshines the coma. A soft field sweep at both 26mm and 9mm reveals no tail. There is a certain amount of extension to the coma area, but nothing that spans a significant distance yet. As always, T7 bears a strong resemblance to an unresolved globular cluster. One it's way west, we should see some ion tail in the very near future!

Rock on, Traveller!

"Whatever tomorrow brings? I'll be there... With open arms and open eyes, yeah. Whatever tomorrow brings? I'll be there....

I'll be there."

December 20, 2003 - The Astronomy For Youth "Christmas Party"...

Comments: Hey, there Venus... What a pleasure it is to see you again! As much pleasure as it is to see my friends with the AFY as well. It was a time to review the year, to laugh, eat, enjoy each other's company and plan for the future. Our merry group of members has exciting ideas and a willingness to excute them that I admire and dedicate myself to totally. I am looking very forward to working with Curt, Greg, Robert, Tim and the Crestline School System in the very near future! Hours were spent in comradeship and I tried my best not to look out the window to see if the stars were shining, eh?

Merry Christmas, my friends. Our future looks bright!

As I set off toward the backyard, I noticed the clouds had pretty much covered the scene again and figured my study partner at the Observatory had also left star watch for warmer locales. Not wishing to disturb him at home, I guess I'd best head west. For what it is worth... They were still cloudy when I got back here as well. I stepped out the door a time or two to look up... But there was nothing here. From what I've been told?

I shoulda' stuck around!

"Lately I'm beginning to find that I... Should be the one behind the wheel."

December 15, 2003 - Shiverin' Under The Stars...

Comments: But ho! What light through yonder windows breaks? It is the stars! Hehehehee.... Ah, Romeo... Where for art thou, dude? Next thing you know, I'm gonna' be quoting from "Merchant of Venice", ("if you prick us, do we not bleed?") even though "Julius Caesar" was my favorite. "The evil that men do lives after them... And the good is oft interred with their bones." And it is my old bones that have enjoyed their rest by the fire, the house redolent of baking cookies, fruit and candy... Hours spent stroking the mangy little hide off the tiny kitten who has entered my life, and reading the classics. A cat you say? Yep. A miniscule black beast who was the size of a piece of licorice when he turned up at my door - frozen, blind and starved. I named him Zero, because that was the chances I thought he actually had of making it. And now his eyes are open, his belly swelled with Friskies finest, and a genuine wood-burning cat if I ever saw one. Just another member of the menagerie of rodents, crustaceans, birds, reptiles, and a large canine named H who still allows him to coexist. Don't get too attached to Z, however...

For cats don't last long round these parts.

And neither do the stars! It is cold, windy and there is quite a bit of snow in the backyard. A 5.0 night is well worth taking at least one of the small scopes out for a few minutes, and I am happy to set the little ShorTube Orion out for the honours while I put a pot of tea on to keep me warm. Pulling the plug on the white lights, (yep, it's true.) I went out to see what I could see while I could stand the wind. M15 has gone so far west that I am surprised... The Fall constellations are definately exiting, and Winter has arrived. It was a challenge for me to find the M2 again, for the changes in position do not coincide with my memory! Triangulum galaxy M33 was also a challenge to the little scope, but a real pleasure when I had it's misty form in the eyepiece. Andromeda's M31 is never difficult, and I still enjoy this grand galaxy that I've looked at so many times over the years.

Sliding back inside for a warm up, I consult with the map to look for one a bit more difficult for small aperature and settle on the M76. Again, when I go back out, it is a challenge for the lapse in time means my star hopping skills have also gotten dusty. The tiny "bowtie" of nebula eventually happens and I am pleased to find it once again. Rather than go back in at the moment, I take the time to enjoy the "Double Cluster", the M103, M52, and the difficult NGC7789. Of course, I'm missing my large scope! Actually, I'm missing my finder... But hey! Can't have everything, right? Darn right. Red dot works for me.

Again, I return for a warm-up and a cup of tea. The wind and cold make for very unpleasant conditions in the open, but it seems like it has been so long! The hours have ticked by quietly, and Orion has pulled Sirius from the horizon. Shall we try for three more before we call it a night? Then let's do this. M1 was a major pain with this little scope. Again, it is not the scope, it is the reflex finder. (the cure is on the way... don't worry.) It took what seemed like forever before I found the little echo-looking cloud of contrast that I know to be the M1. Less than spectacular in the small scope, I am still pleased that I have found it and move on to something much simpler for sake of expediency because things are really lighting up. M44 is still a beauty in any scope... And once I have found it? I don't need a finder to capture the low down cloud of stars that is the M67.

Yes, this was a starhop for the simple minded... But right now I am content to be simple. I take the little beast back into the garage and cover it up. Heading back for the house, I stand for awhile admiring the snow covered landscape. How "Christmasy" it looks! The huge pine covered picturesquely in snow... The ground smooth and white. Icicles hang from the eaves and the stars are still brightly shining. The Moon is hanging phat over the treetops, and lighting the snowy fields. Oh, what the hey... And so I stand in my frozen backyard and sing "Oh, Holy Night"... For a change, my voice is pure and clear.

And my spirits lifted to the stars...

"It's driven me before... And it seems to have a vague, haunting mass appeal..."

December 13/14, 2003 - The Geminid Meteor Shower...

Comments: Oh, yeah... We had meteors. Lots and lots of white fluffy meteors that probably piled up a good four inches or more and are still coming down. Of course, you know that snow totaled any chance I had of observing the Geminid Meteor Shower visually... But hey.

I've always got a few tricks up my sleeve.

I like working with the radio. It's not something I am fully acquainted with in terminology, but the addition of a large FM antenna has definately made radio meteor listening a part of my observations. After my intital experimentations with an old television antenna and set, I've found that what occurs across the radio band, depending on what frequency, sounds entirely different than the television signals. The TV gave echoey, almost squeal-like results... But the radio? Ah, the radio gives a variety!!

I listened for perhaps two hours or more last night while going about my normal "vamypre shift" routines. There are several different tones that happen across the radio frequency, depending on whether you chose a high or low setting, and I have only briefly researched what each of these meteor scatter signals mean. But, just because I don't know all about them doesn't mean I can't listen and tell you what I hear! I think the most fascinating one occured the least often... It is a long, low key kind of "bong" sound. I don't know how else to describe it except for it is followed by a sort of oscillation (if that is the correct term). The most frequent flier is the quick "ffffFFFT!" sound. I would have thought this a simple break in the radio static except it is followed directly by a reverberation that is like a copy of the original noise. Another noise you also catch can only be described as a "chirp". It is high pitched and totally without the background static for the second that it occurs. But I'm tellin' ya'...

Those bongs are cool!

There is correct terminology for these things, something over... something under... something sampling.. and something that definately needs to be studied further in my spare time Although I did not get to visually "see" any Geminid meteors... It was my pleasure to have listened to perhaps two dozen of their sounds over a period of two hours. I also tried recording these noises back through my video camera, but the results aren't really loud enough for you to hear clearly but you are more than welcome to listen to this sample clip. All in all, it is a pleasant adventure in experimentation, and I hope I continue to learn and perfect listening techniques. After all, as much cloudy weather as Ohio has right now?

It may be the only chance I get!

"Sometimes I feel the uncertainty... Stinging clear. And I can't help but ask myself how much I let the fear... Take the wheel and steer."

December 13, 2003 - The Moon, M36, M37, M38, M41, M42, M35 and Saturn...

Comments: Hey. They're simple, but I was delighted to get a few moments before I left for work tonight. I know I slept away the dark hours, but even vampyres have to crash every now and again. When I was getting ready for work, I could see the silver shadows the Moon was casting, so while my car warmed up (cuz' i hate scraping the windows), I decided I'd take the old Celestron out for a few minutes. The doc would probably have a cat if he knew I was out here... But it's all in a day's work, right?

Darn right.

The Moon was splendid, and although there were some very interesting craters I wish I had time to map out, it was still nice to see the Pyranees, the solitary form of Hercules and the Metius, Jannsen, Fabricus area. Realizing my time was short, I hoped off to the very well westered Auriga and enjoyed the three magnificent open clusters for the small scope - M36, M37 and M38. I did say westered, didn't I? And it blows me away that Orion has already gone past it's prime. (don't feel bad, orion... so am i.) Even moonlit skies don't quite destroy the beauty of the M42's soft glow. It is almost like a fog tonight.... Fanning out gently against it's backdrop of stars. I don't think anything save clouds can kill the M41! (nope. i don't feel that. i don't feel that at all. bubba? i'm comin' to join ya', dude...) Bright, beautiful and packed with stars, only Sirius above it can be more brilliant. I think for a few minutes on how to find the ones in Puppis.... But again, I don't have much time and chose the M35 instead. A quick look to Saturn shows Titan coming round the south bend and the troopers following behind.

A stray meteor completes the morning scene, and I whistle for H as I put the scope back in the garage. Just think... If I weren't so picky about keeping my scopes close to outdoor temperature, I would have my car in my garage so I didn't have to scrape the windows! Let's see now... If I kept my scopes indoors, I'd have to wait 30 minutes or so for them to cool down... But my car would be ready. Last time I checked, I definately had more fun peeking at the stars while waiting on my car thaw, than sitting in my car and waiting on my scope to cool. Tough choice, eh?

But somebody's gotta' make 'em...

"No, I can't live this way. I don't know how to love. I just know how to live. All I feel is pain. Will you forgive me? I don't know how to breathe with you too far away. I don't know how to love.

Past lives I've lived. Uncontrolled but sacred. You've finally seen all that's left of me. So hard to see... So hard to breathe...

Will you forgive me?"

December 11, 2003 - Still Grey...

Comments: Yep. Cold, rainy, snowy... Crappy. I'm still looking forward the the Geminid meteor shower this weekend, and I've got the radio all set and ready to go should the clouds remain. It will be a "vampyre shift" watch... But hey! It's winter... We cloud dwellers take what we can get.

And speaking of what we can get... How about a little SOHO action? ShockSpot's little proton meter rocked a few days ago, so I've been keeping watch on our latest coronal hole. Let's check it out...


Real beauty, isn't it? Then let's talk a bit about just what is going on here. The SOHO Extreme unltraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) is taking a picture of the solar corona. You have seen different color images done this way, and my favourite is perhaps the FeXV. No, this is not a seperate camera, or a special filter. The EIT mirror is divided into four parts, and each part of that mirror is specially coated to pick up certain bandpass. The image we are studying is how the Sun looks at approximately 2 million degrees kelvin! The lighter areas are the "swirl" of the Sun's plasma. And the dark?

A coronal hole.

So what is this puppy? A coronal hole is an area that is essentially an open magnetic field. Why does it appear dark? Because all that energy is flowing straight out of the Sun and not allowing the plasma to heat. For example... Look at the really bright areas. These are sunspots! Remember how we've discussed that a sunspot is basically a magnetic "scab" on the surface that holds in the energy? Well, these "scabs" hold both a negative and positve charge... Causing the solar "circuit" to complete... And heat! The core of the Sun is basically a nuclear reactor, releasing a fusion stream.... This energy is carried by radiation in the form of photons, which are little parcels of electromagnetic energy. When there's no magnetic field there to stop it... It just flows outward. This outward flow is known as part of the solar wind... A stream of charged particles - negatively charged electrons and positively charged protons - to zip away from their creator at speeds of 2500 miles per second! Who knows where this magnetic field completes its' circuit... But we do know what happens when this "stream" encounters our own magetosphere, don't we? Darn right. All those little neutrally charged molecules of oxygen and nitrogen in our atmosphere get ionized... And they start dancin'...

And aurora comes dancing down!

So, you see... There's more here than just a pretty picture. As much as I admire observing, I also admire studies as well. Nope. I'm never going to be anything more than a simple minded old kid who just digs trying to understand what I'm looking at... But it beats the heck out of sitting here and wondering if I'm gonna' jump up and hold my chest like Fred Sanford and announce "the big one" has come for me at last. Look at it this way... Even if it does?

Let's hope it's at light speed.

"For all those things I've done, they keep on creeping by me. And though we've changed our ways... Still all our demons are laughing. How long will this go on? Aren't we a bit much stronger? I'd like to think you've came into my life to stay.

I don't know how to love. I just know how to live.
All I feel is pain. Will you forgive me? I don't know how to breathe with you too far away. Don't know how to love. Will you forgive me?"

December 8, 2003 - Winter...

Comments: It is grey. The skies are always steel grey. During the day, they are a lighter shade... And at night they turn dark. I miss the blue. I miss the Sun. I miss the black skies of night and the light of the stars. I miss my muse.

I know all of these things are still out there. I know if the clouds were gone that I would have observed Venus and Mercury at sunset. I know there is a coronal hole pouring protons our way and causing aurora to sparkle along the edges of the oval. I know Mars is still to the south... And I know the phat Moon is at apogee. Would I notice a difference in her? Perhaps not. No more than you would notice that I looked any less. I know that Saturn would be rising, and the spark of the stars I know would call to me... If nothing more than to admire them. My time seems empty to me without these things. There is no real point in writing for you, my muse, other than that I do not feel complete without it. I practice guitar with no real feeling, and the music is as hollow as its' wooden body. I cook and the things taste good, but have no real appeal. I write and my words seem senseless. I work... And feel no sense of accomplishment.

How foolish it seems that my moods could be dictated by the sky! They say there is no fool like and old fool... And that is what I am. Just an old fool who looks out the window at the grey skies and still misses you as much as I miss the stars.

Forgive me.

"There's nothing to me now. An empty shell unfolded. Now, when we learn to pray inside... Our demons are laughing. How long will this go on? Are we a bit much stronger?
Do you think you can save me from living this way?

I don't know how to love. I just know how to live.
All I feel is this. Will you forgive me?"

December 6, 2003 - The RAS Christmas Party and the Moon...

Comments: How wonderful it was to see all my friends again! It has been since the total lunar eclipse that I have seen any of them... And a few even longer. I know it sounds "effusive", but it was good to see Ken back in health again, to laugh with Dave, be serious with Mike A., have the pleasure of Joe's quiet wisdom, and of all people? To see Dan again! My mentor is still very alive and well, still has a ponytail, and will always have a way of telling a story that will keep you laughing. Bruce had brought a wonderful collection of old documents, newspaper articles and even the blueprints for the Observatory... And it was truly a pleasure to look back over the years.

The tables were piled high with food, and it did me good to see Mike G., Terry and Keith enjoying themselves. Eventually we got around to Club business, and of course, Club business really doesn't belong here... But I do congratulate Terry and Monty on their positions of President and Vice President. It was a day of changes and a day of laughter.... Full of sunshine, and as we left?

A full Moon.

Ordinarily I do not look, yet sometimes I still do. As the sky darkened, I changed to warm clothes and set the old Celestron out for a few minutes. The moon filter went a long way toward easing the eye, and there is no crater more dark or sad than Grimaldi. On the edge of Oceanus Procellarum is a nowhere feature, but it holds a place in history. It was here that Lunik 6 made a soft landing and gave our Russian commarades their own piece of lunar history. The tiny, bright ring of Galieo is also prominent tonight, and I think about the old Master who was the very first to turn a telescope toward the Moon.

I make the switch to violet filter, and it is like the Moon has suddenly been lit in ultra violet. The dark features are swept away, and only the bright points hold interest. I like the violet for the way it brings rays into prominence and lights up bright a beautiful places such as Byrgius, Aristarchus, Keplar, Copernicus, Tycho, LaLande, Manilus and Dionysius. To me, there is no such thing as a bad astronomy night!

I spare a look toward Mars as well. It is no longer the incredible apparition that it was, (are any of us?) but it is still very much a planet, dappled in dark and perceived as an orb. Saturn has began its' climb, and although it is too low to see much, it is enough to notice that Titan now follows instead of leads. I look at the way Aldeberan shines before the Moon and wonder just how close the Plieades were to being occulted last night! It is a pleasant journey and a fitting end to the day. Soon enough, this Moon will be gone and our dark skies will have returned again. Saturn is coming into opposition, and I look forward to a quiet night at the Observatory spent in contemplation. And maybe again?

I'll just stay here.

"Is it me? Is it you? Nothing I can do... To make you change your mind. So whay are you running away? Why are you running away?

What is it I've got to say... So why are you running away? To make you admit you're afraid? Why are you running away?"

December 3, 2003 - The Moon...

Comments: Again, I am surprised to see the Moon when we have such bad weather forecasted. Rain and snow are on their way and I am grateful for even a few minutes of quiet time. H and I wander about the yard for awhile as the old Celestron stabilizes, and we find ourselves at the southwest corner of the field admiring Venus. Of course, H couldn't care less... It's a trait in my companions I've learned to accept... But I sure don't mind watching it flash and roll in the hazy western skyline! It seems like it sets so very fast... And I put a tree branch between my line of sight and Venus just to watch. How amazing! The lower it goes, the faster it drops. (well duh, even i have a grasp on physics.) Yeah, it's kind of a dumb way to pass the time, but I can see how people could mistake Venus for a UFO.

And I really want some of whatever medication they've been taking...

Going back to the scope, I open it up and Copernicus smacks me right in the eye. Tonight it is one of those "You will look at me" features. Suprising steady, the vision reminds me of an old photograph I once did...

Like a rock, dude. As one of the most ancient features on the Moon, Copernicus 60 mile expanse, 12,600 ft. depth, 14 mile thick walls and central peak are just outstanding. I think one of the coolest part about this crater is that it was studied extensively by Shoemaker and he positively identified it as an impact crater of the Zuni Salt Lake variety. There is also evidence that some of the minor hills around it were once active volcanoes. Can you imagine what it would have looked like when the asteroid slammed into it? Simply incredible... Copernicus is definately phat.

Before I leave for the night, I also enjoy the beginnings of the Sinus Iridum. I know that the clouds will take away the view of my favourite feature when it comes into prominence tomorrow, but I can still see it hiding in the shadows.

Wonder if I can join it?

"Is it me? Is it you? Nothing that I can do... To make you change your mind? Is it me... Is it you... Nothing that I can do. Is it a waste of time?"

December 2, 2003 - The Sun and the Moon...

Comments: OK! I'm relaxing... Honest. After about a week, I've gotten used to the idea that there are other people here. They won't be for much longer and I find that I've truly enjoyed the cooking, the noise and the activity. Guitars have been passed around, the table has held more food than it has in ages, and the washing machine and dishwasher have ran non-stop. The sounds of laughter and conversation will echo on for awhile... They accept my quiet ways and I just hide as much as possible.

It was good to see the Sun shining today, albeit the look of warm was all it gave off. When we had a quiet moment, I sneaked out to have a look and noticed all the "bad boys" are gone now. There is a nice peppering of very normal looking sunspots around the meridian, but nothing that looks active. Oddly enough, we had a few high thin clouds today and I saw something most unusual - the Sun had a halo! Somehow, I caught it just right behind a tree and the disc of the Sun was covered up and you could see a huge ring around it. I seem to recall that being called a perihelic arc, or something on that order. Whatever it was?

It was cool!

Again, as darkness falls I seek some quiet time. I can't take my eyes off the Moon and I simply politely excuse myself and H and I go out the haunt the backyard. There is something compelling about the quietness of the lunar surface and the simple act of viewing it brings me a certain needed peace.

I didn't care much for the way the "Straight Wall" was lighted tonight... Too over-exposed. Plato was simply magnificent and the chain of the Appennine Mountains looked like they were capped in snow. Oddly enough, I'm not big on the major features, but for some reason Eratosthenes really caught my attention...

Maybe it was the way the mountain ranges thinned down, or perhaps it was the Sinus Aestuum... But whatever it was? It kept me there.

Oddly enough, I was also captured by a major feature to the south as well. Who amoung us doesn't love Clavius??

I know it's not exactly an incredible shot, but things were trying to frost up by the time I got finished heavy breathing over Eratosthenes. But it doesn't matter. The details inside of Magninus, Clavius and the shallow Gruemberger really rocked!

For now? I guess I put things away. It's been good to get out and journey far away. H is involved in some silliness and we both are reluctant to go back indoors. Smiling one last time at the stars, we both return to the madhouse. Him to wash the ears of the new cat who is also in hiding...

And me to find a quiet room.

"Cause I did enough to show you that I... Was willing to give and sacrifice. And I was the one who was lifting you up... When you thought your life had had enough. And when I get close? You turn away. There's nothing that I can do or say... So now I need you to tell me the truth. You know I'd do that for you.

So why are you running away? Why are you running away?"

December 1/2, 2003 - The Moon... Saturn, Jupiter, M35, M44, M67, M65, M66, M50, M81 and M82...

Comments: The word "tired" doesn't even come close to the way I feel. The combination of the end of the flu, the long hours, and more than I want going on in my personal life has left me feeling the blues on a major scale. If I could simply run away and hide somewhere I would.

And I can think of no finer place than the Moon...

Albategnius simply rocks tonight. The combination of minute craters around it's edges along with the soft indentations and central peak makes it a truly fine place to stop and study for awhile. Along the edges of its' rugged structure, craters Klein and Halley just add more interest. Albategnius has more than just tonight's claim to fame however... For it as the first lunar object to be lighted by an Earth based laser in 1962. Nearby Hipparchus also offers a wealth of opportunities with all of its' small lettered craters.

Mare Vaporum has changed quite a bit from last night, and the Sinus Medii now takes the attention in this area. It is far from the specific shadows of yesterday, but it holds its' own interest in knowing that Surveyor 6 set down there once upon a time, digging up soil samples and experimenting with particle spectography. It's just cool knowing it danced around on its' little thrusters there! Another such "coolie" is Paulus Putredinus down by Autolycus. Once upon a time, the Soviets sent a little guy named Lunik 2 to explore there and its' crash landing was observed and reported by European astronomers as a "strange black dot".

Moving my way down, I enjoy the Appenines and find myself locked in place by my oft visited feature, the Alpine Valley. I admire this deep gash cut into the lunar surface and I always wonder how it came into being. I can see how many folks are called to simply dedicating themselves to observing "shallow sky". My time here on the lunar surface has been quiet and peaceful.

I'm ready to rest....


My strange hours and houseguests have left my world upside down. I find myself awake at 4:00 in the morning and still wanting to run away. Rather than disturb anyone, I creep past the sleeping figures and out a seldom used door with a large, black german shepherd named H following close behind. We go out to the garage and fire up the coffee maker I keep out there and the old Celestron begs for a bit of a morning walk. Complying, I set it outside and on to Saturn as the smells of the fresh brew begin to creep out the open side door on the frosty morning air. Titan! How good it is to see you. Still leading the way, I see... With the "troopers" trailing behind. Jupiter also looks fantastic with its' variated belts and the waltz of the galieans. (one of them is daggone close, too.)

Cradling my early morning cup, I stand and admire the stars. How wonderful it is to see some of these ancient travellers again. Apparently my life is to be filled with all types of old companions right now... From floor to ceiling indoors... And horizon to horizon out! Setting my mug on the eyepiece tray, I move the Celestron off toward the M35 to enjoy the symphony of magnitudes and colors. The riot of stars makes me feel good this morning. And visiting with the M44 and all its' fine, old memories is also pleasing. It took a few minutes and the rest of that cup of coffee to relocate the M67, but when I see it again? It makes me remember exactly why I love it so...

A cloud of stars.

Dancing off to Leo, I find harmony in seeking out the M65 and M66 again. Ah! How I missed this area during the Spring when all it did was rain. The two small galaxies fit quite neatly inside the field of view of the 25mm. They don't produce a lot of detail with this aperture, but I treasure the moment anyway. The M50 took me quite a bit longer to find, for it has been a very long time since I've looked at it. Wow. I thought the M35 was great, but you should see how much brighter the colors are in the M50! Just breathtaking...

I watch a stray meteor cruise by and I realize there is one more place I would like to visit before sleepy heads awake and my life becomes busy again. M81 and M82.... Again, the Celestron 114 presents them both same field and the many happy memories I associate with this galactic duet gives me a much needed smile.

Damn, I miss you.

"I don't want you to give it all up...
and leave your own life collecting dust. And I don't want you to feel sorry for me. You never gave us a chance to be. And I don't need you to be by my side... To tell me that everything's alright. I just wanted you to tell me the truth... You know I'd do that for you.

So why are you running away? Why are you running away?"