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Observing Reports: February - 2003



February 26, 2003 - Version 7.0...

Comments: I don't even know how to start this report... All I know is that I spent the first half hour of good skydark goofing around waiting on Hydra to rise, and when I walked out?

The sky gods smiled down.

If I had even begun to realize that I had a 7.0 night with at very least 8/10 stability (more like 9) on my hands, I surely wouldn't have been inside that long! I simply cannot explain the amount of stars. There were points visible inside and outside of Orion that I have only seen a handful of times in my life... and stars below Lepus and Puppis and the rising Hydra that simply defy my knowledge of the constellations! When I tell you that the stars walked down to the ground? I'm not kidding.

I had set out the 150mm Intes Maksuktov, nicknamed "the Ottoman" before dark to cool. My intent was planetary work tonight. Beside it stands the 4.5 Celestron - meant for a Messier hop. But when I saw that kind of sky, I'm afraid I had to park the two of them outside my plowed observing area in the snow drifts...

Cuz' I need my 12.5 Meade.

Pulling the dob out and starting the cooldown process, I set up the table and fetched my Uranometria and field notes. Hydra has a while yet to rise, and I've yet to really play with the "Ottoman" and deepsky. But first? A spectral challenge, eh? Can I capture the absorption lines in Sirius with totally simple equipment and a 4.5 telescope? Grabbing my trusty camcorder and the diffraction grating, I went to the eyepiece. I'm here to tell you that it's no small achievement to get the camera angle right, or to keep it there handheld. The single digit temperatures were mean to my unprotected hands... But when I looked in the LCD screen and saw wide breaks between each spectral band? Dude... I maintained. It didn't take long at this temperature for the camera battery failed, but whenever that little band of rainbow barcode showed up on the screen, I filmed it. I have yet to clearly go over the results... And chances are that I still haven't found what I'm looking for...

But I had fun.

Now for the Intes! First destination was Jupiter and to try out a new piece of equipment. OK, so it works, yet it doesn't work with power. You were right. I'm not ready to give up on it yet, and I have ideas of my own on how to correct it. But not now. Right now I'd rather drop back to the 40mm eyepiece and just see exactly what this baby can do! There's not a thing wrong with the image of Jupiter, nor the M44. But honestly, I don't want to mess with the planets on a deepsky night. My next object was doubles, eh? And it is one fine performer. I am totally shocked that our benefactor never managed to split Dubhe with it, because I can at 26mm. Rigel, Theta Orionis (6), and Hind's Crimson (ok, it's not a double - but i like it) as well.

And daggone it... I looked at the M42. Again!

From there I couldn't stop. Send the polar alignment police, because I don't care. Arrest me... I'm a rule breaker and a DSO taker. When the finder got diffcult to use, or the position uncomfortable? I picked it up and turned it around. And ya' know what else? I stood up! I kept the tripod fully extended and liked it. The M76, M78, M41, M45, M46, M47, M93, M35, NGC2392, M67, M81, M82, M97, M51, M94, M95, M96, M105 and even the M65 and M66 down near the horizon were mine. Did I fast hop? Darn right I did. Each and every object was caught with ease with the 40mm and sky saavy. It's a very, very fine telescope and I'm proud to be it's caretaker.

By now Hydra is up and right where I want it. It's time to cap up the "Ottoman" and the 4.5 and take them back into the garage. I cant help but smile when I go take them in, for only the light of the old Kenwood receiver and tape deck shows the way. I had found an old Jim Croce music book when I was going through some stuff, and I had hooked up the antiquated cassette player so I could listen to his music once again. How funny it seems... For my original things of his were on vinyl. The concepts of cassette tapes were still to come! Ah, Jim... Your music was simple. Your voice was beyond compare. And you live on thirty years later... Suprisingly enough I still remember your songs by heart.

Snatching up an old pair of very dark sunglasses, I wander back indoors for a bit to make a cup of tea, fill the thermos and warm up. I'm ready to go skyhoppin' now... The past is gone.

Let's rock.

Heading back to Hydra, I don't want that which I've already seen over the years. I want those studies! It is normally my way to observe all new studies a minimum of three times, be able to take you to these things without the aid of a map and to identify them without charts. Tonight I'm breaking the rules. There will be no finer night than this one for two areas I've been studying and I will do my very best with what I have and what I know. Time to slip the Tantric CD into the walkman...

And roll.

My first mark was one that confused me the other night. Sky conditions were not the best, but I can now confirm that I was on it. The NGC3109 gave me the impression of being a fine-starred open cluster for a reason.... It looks like one. Tonight with pristine sky and good postion, the 9mm reveals the NGC3109 to be very remeniscent of a galaxy I once studied in Saggitarius... the NGC6822. What I have here is a silver smear of galaxy, with no defined nucleus. It looks like it has been "brushed" across the sky and spangled with stars. Classed as an irregular, it will stand up to direct vision when well adapted, but loses those interior stellar points. Avert even slightly and you will see "lumps" in the structure as well as stellar points. A very fine and very curious galaxy!

The next was chosen for ease of location. By moving south of the "Ghost of Jupiter", NGC3242, the next hop is to star 44 in the finder and the next galaxy is also right in the field with a finderscope star. Designation? NGC3309. The other night when I hunted this one up, I was shocked to find that the map I was using (Cambridge Star Atlas) did not designate this as a pair! Then, two nice egg-shaped patches greeted my eager eyes... Now? &%$*!!! There's three! Snatching up the Uranometria, I began cruising for designations and confirming at the eyepiece. NCC3309 and NGC3311 are indeed bright, easy ellipticals and the faint, averted oval with the slightly more intense center is a spiral - NGC3312. Happily doing a fast eyepiece impression on my notes, I went back to relax, listen to the music and just look at them. There is a reason why I do field studies in this manner...

It's a freeking cluster!!

By just relaxing, letting the field drift in the 12.3mm and re-centering the scope, more and more tiny faint smudges of light came out to play. I can't even begin to express what happens upon complete aversion, but I know that anyone who scopes can understand. I would catch something, and make the ultimate mistake of looking at it to watch it disappear. Then another would appear somewhere else! I have absolutely no idea of what this crazy thing is, but I have every faith in my ability to "see". It's wild... It's beautiful... And I would have given anything to had my partner with me.

Now, I realize that I'm going into Crater and out of Hydra for a short hop, but this was also chosen for ease of finding. Beta... OK! A pair that stays a pair. Dig it. The NGC3511 and NGC3513 duke out the night together in the same field with the 12.3mm. The NGC3513 is diffuse, faint, but definately spiral in structure. Patient aversion brings on suggestions of spiral arms over and under the major concentration of the nucleus opposite the two stars that flank it. The NGC3511 is very diffuse with low surface brightness. It has a condensation toward the center of the structure and a star caught at the edge. Good show!

Next up is Chi1 and Chi2, (oh, please... i could use another cup!) and a hop on to the next galaxy, NGC3585. Here we have a very bright, direct and silvery spiral galaxy in a stellar field! Not really much structure to speak of, for it is fairly even in appearance... But I like it!

Time to go warm up, sneak a peek at that spectral footage and find that second cup of chai... Cuz' were' doin' Leo.

When I came back out, I couldn't have asked for better position on Leo. The finder is right in the comfort zone. I'm feeling loose. I'm feeling good. I'm feelin' the rock and roll...

And I'm feeling like I just can't miss.

92 Leonis is the marker. In the finder you will see a close configuration of three stars. Using the 26mm, go to the eyepiece... Just a touch. There it is! Copeland's Septet. Oh, rock on!! I wasn't kidding when I told you in an earlier report that this greatly resembles a "little Leo" written in galaxies. It, and the stars, have an unmistakable pattern that resembles a question mark. Now, let's kick in the 12.3mm and see what I can do from my incomplete notes.

There is a grouping of three, these are NGC3754. a fairly bright spiral with even structure... NGC3753, which requires average aversion and is diffuse and very large, and the NGC3750, which is also a bright ellipitcal appearing galaxy. Now, I'm doin' this cold, ok? I'm takin' a whack at identifying a tight field with Uranometria only, so if I'm off? ;-P Now for the next triple set at the top of the question mark... NGC3758 is fairly bright, but the NGC3745 and NGC3746 require more aversion for this pair of soft, round galaxies. And the one farthest out? I believe that to be NGC3751 and it's stellar, baby... Almost like one of those fascinating little UGCs!

Breathing a foggy sigh of satisfaction, it's time for me to take a look round for a moment! Have a smoke, pour a cup of tea from the thermos, and walk around to warm up a bit. The winter Milky way is just asolutely sparkling, and I just wanted to admire it and try to get some feeling back in my feet and hands, eh? It's already gotten to H, for he's at the door asking to go in?! Smiling, I let him back into the warm indoors, but I'm not ready. I've got the "night eyes" thing going on right now, and I'm not about to go!

So ya' wanna' trip back with me over something else I found? Then set the scope on 93 Leonis, get back to the 26mm, and let me take you into Abell 1367.

I absolutely cannot comprehend all that is here. It goes beyond my simple ways. But partner? I'm going to do my best. There are a couple of stars noted on my map to help. Let's try. Hand me the 12.3mm. These two are both over and under a star. The NGC3857 is diffuse and edge-on looking. The NGC3859 has a stellar nucleus and a soft, round structure with aversion. Next star? NGC3861 is pretty easy. A somewhat diffuse spiral that shows a concentration toward the north. NGC3860 at the other side of the star is really faint, guy... Requires wide avert to pick out a very diffuse round structure. And over there? Over there is a whole chain of these little puppies!!!

Oh, m'gosh... I'm in over my head.

Well, I said I missed swimming, didn't I? Setting to paper numbers like NGC3840, NGC3844, NGC3845, NGC3841, NGC3851, NGC3842, and NGC3837 means that I'm on it. But what I don't like is studies that I can't rock hard confirm. There is just too much crowded right there in that little field that keeps popping in and out that I'm having one heck of a time paying strict attention to! I know the hour has grown long past midnight, for the dob is standing almost straight up now, and I'm having a devil of a time keeping my balance over the top of everything! For now, I've made some good prelimary notes, and hopefully have a chance like this to revisit with you. For I've gotten lost here...

And I don't want to be found.

"Photographs and memories... All the love you gave to me. Somehow it just can't be true... That's all I have left of you.

But we sure had a good time, when we started way back when. Morning walks and bedroom talks...

Oh, how I loved you then."




February 25, 2003 - Saturn and Jupiter...

Comments: OK! So you were right, eh? It was kinda', sorta', maybe clear after sunset. But those high thins kept hanging on, and the sky would fluctuate anywhere from a 5 to a 3 within seconds.

A grand tease? Yeah. And I love every second of it.

It was still fun to watch Titan trailing along behind Saturn and the galieans to spin off to either side of Jupiter... To pick at this star and that, watching them magically appear and disappear as the clouds swept over. It was a day filled with sundogs and a night full of star "shine". And although the temperatures dropped down to five degrees and that should have cleared the sky? Everything but Jupiter and Sirius was gone by ten o'clock.

Guess it's time to sleep, huh?

"But we sure had a good time, when we started way back when. Morning walks and bedroom talks... Oh, how I loved you then."



February 25, 2003 - A Morning Walk...

Comments: How long has it been since I answered the call? A month? More? I don't even remember anymore... Seems like there's a lot of things I don't remember. I recall checking the sky last night about 10:00 or so, to see a fuzzy Jupiter and a few stars peeking from between the clouds. I know I poured a glass of wine and sat down in the chair to watch an old, familiar comedy. I recollect waking up cold hours later - To build the fire back up, telling myself that I would warm up for just a bit and go out.

And I don't remember much else.

Routines have been so deeply engraved upon my life that I find myself waking at the most ungodly of hours. My eyes open to look directly into a set of liquid brown ones - The face of H who wants to know exactly what I'm waiting for. He breaks into a doggy-grin, realizing that if he dances enough that I will get up and let him out, despite the fact that I am not required to be present anywhere at this hour.

And, as always, I look up....

At first I am confused. Am I dreaming? What stars are these that have claimed the sky? This is not Orion to the south! Where is Leo? Why do I not see planets or Ursa Major? Shouldn't Arcturus be over there??? And just look at how far south the rise of the Moon has become...

Smiling softly to myself, H goes on to survey the frozen terrain, landmarking familiar areas in his particular fashion while I gather together an odd assortment of clothes to ward off the deep cold and start coffee. When he returns to the door, he sees what I am about and does everything but drag me to the garage by my coat sleeve. Relax, my friend! I have no intention of starting my car today. The only frozen roads I'll travel this morning are the ones overhead! And, like clockwork, I choose the 4.5.

Our first destination is to the Moon...

But after a brief walk along the terminator, seeing Copernicus, Bulliadius and Sinus Iridum about to be swallowed in shadow, I lose interest. The stability is poor, and the soft veil of cloud spoils the view. But what it does not eradicate is where the Moon is...

Hey, Saggitarius... You've been gone a long time.

I find myself capping things back up, and tucking my camera into my pocket. What I want this morning is not going to be found reflected in the mirror of the scope... It's inside me. Just a satisfaction I take from seeing Scorpius standing high in the south. How amazing it seems to see Lyra and Cygnus again...

And hold on to the wings of "the Eagle".

It is the warm promise of Summer. Hard to believe in, while standing in a snowbank with my hands wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee. But I know it's true, because I can see it.

"Photographs and memories... Long ago letters that you sent to me... And all that I have are these... To remember you. Memories that come at night... Take me to another time. Back to a happier day... When I called you mine.

But we sure had a good time, when we started way back when. Morning walks and bedroom talks... Oh, how I loved you then.

Summer skies and lullabyes... Nights we couldn't say goodbye. And of all of the things that we knew... Not a dream survived."



February 23, 2003 - Old Favourites and Playin' With Snakes...

Comments: Poor stability and stringy clouds were the "stars" of last night's show. But since we've another winter storm on the way, I couldn't resist the temptation to explore in Hydra. Overhead the skies were holding a steady 5.5, but low to the south was something I rarely see... Lightdome.

To be sure, it was nothing more than a soft glow of a small town about 20 miles of so away, but it was enough to make me realize that clouds were heading my way. No matter. We'll dance while we can dance, eh? Lepus is still quite clear, as is Puppis, and if I can see the primary stars of Hydra?

Then we're gonna' charm a snake.

So, while Orion sits high and tight, let's go visit the M42 for a few minutes while I become adjusted to the light. I guess I appreciate this particular nebula all the more because of the dobsonian. Just being able to look at this grand creature, and knowing that this region spans more than 20,000 times the size of our solar system makes me feel humble. I find myself kicking in the magnification and heading toward the very stars that fuel this massive flourescent field, Theta Orionis. Then I find myself simply enjoying the structure caught within the nebula itself. Once upon a time, I called this "scalloping"... Only to learn its' correct term is the "Huyghenian Region". I breeze over the "Trap", and find myself delighted by the dark separation between the M42 and M43. Moving back, there is a certain calm pleasure at just tracing along those fine filaments... Watching where they whorl and curl... Seeing that some are thicker than others, and how places within the nebula are more diaphonus. It's just a grand way to warm up while the scope cools down.

Now to assess sky conditions by heading to Rigel. Hey, hey... There's the little blue guy. One sincere problem though, we've got lots of flash tonight, but challenging both scope and observer is what I'm all about. I've noticed that my best field studies were done under a variety of conditions, and tonight is just a first step. So let's just step on down to Hind's Crimson Star for a moment or two and just reflect on how perfect the singular beauty of a star can be.

I don't know who, or why I got turned on to this particular star once long ago... But I thank them. It is a beautiful variable star, and tonight reaches no more than perhaps magnitude 9. It is a deep scarlet in color, like looking at a minute, pinpoint of light seen through optically perfect ruby glass. There are other stars here in the field as well... They run behind to the east and step up in magnitude just like a chart. A fine chain runs from top to bottom of the picture as well... Just a picture perfect field, with a tiny red heart that still waits on you to shine...

Time to move on.

I had been re-acquainting myself with Lepus from time to time, and tonight it is time to capture the NGC1964 again. To be sure it is not a spectacular galaxy, for it is nothing more than an egg-shaped, even patch of light. It has a stellar point at either end of the elongation and one caught along the edge of the frontier. Perhaps if there were not a distracting star nearby, or an equally distracting apparent double, I could make more out on this... But it is what it is tonight.

Wanna' get Sirius?

Then for goodness sake, don't look at it, ok? Cuz' we're getting progressively fainter and you'll shell shock our eyes! Yes, it's fine to look at the M41 but keep on goin' down, please... Because the bright, well-formed core region and soft halo of the NGC2280 is what we're after. It sits in an intensive field of pinpoint stars, and I'm just happily averting away here, trying every trick I know to pull out structure and can only get halo. Must be some unrevealed galactic arms, but they aren't reaching me tonight.

Let's go for Beta, shall we? Past notes indicate a galactic pair in this area... Let's see what we can do! You on Beta? All right... Now let's do it dobby style and let the star be on the right hand side at low power and drop it one field. Now move it one field east... Ah, ha! Yes! An open cluster, NGC2204! You're catching on. Now using that pefect vertical movement, let if fall... For this interacting pair is what we've come here to see. The NGC2207 and IC2163 are not the most spectacular interaction I've ever witnessed, but they are still delightful. Looking much like two stellar nucleus that share a foggy field together, this galactic mating doesn't have quite the same appeal as the "Ringtail", but it is satisfactory.

So, you ready to hop to Hydra with me?

Then look that snake straight in the eyes and let's go south again...

First up is the M48. I can see why Mr. Messier took an interest in this one as a possilbe comet, for without the perfect resolution of the dob, the particular open cluster's triangluar shape could have mimicked a cometary tail in his primative equipment. It is glorious with aperature and a 26mm eyepiece, however! Well, resolved with three prominent yellow members, and so rich! I do believe this one is also classified as a galactic cluster. Quite fine even given the limtations of the sometimes fluttery sky.

Next on to the NGC3242 - the "Ghost of Jupiter". OK... It doesn't look like Jupiter to me. Let's magnify. Well. Apparently I don't have much of an imagination, for I don't see the "planet" in this large, bright planetary! What I see reminds me of a large edition of the "Eskimo", but not the same color. This one leans more toward the blue end rather that the green, and it is slightly elongated orienting between the southeast and northwest. It has a prominent central star, and a shell-like appearance. Dropping back to low power to suck in the field, I note that it is also accompanied by a small grouping of four stars. This one is very bright and should easily be captured by a small scope on a clean night!

Next on the observing plan is the M83. I've played around long enough waiting on it to "get high"! Again, sky conditions are not helping much, for the M83 at mid-range power holds nothing more than a stellar nucleus and halo. Upon magnification and aversion, I'm making out a patchiness in it tonight, but would perfer better skies to call out structure.

Wanna' do a globular? Then let's go back the other way and snatch out the M68. It's small, but very well resolved with the 9mm. It has that great "underlying density" that I've come to appreciate in globular structure, and yet the stars themselves prominenently form an X across the central core region. Outliers form a nice straight chain to one side and a small triple grouping at the other. Not bad, eh?

Now, don't mind me... Because I've got a couple of things I want to try. One is over here by a double, the other is south and sits with a star. Back over by Beta to work on a pair... And the last? Grrrrrrrrrrr...... Man, I'm sure I'm on the right field for this, but what I see looks like a fine open cluster.

Or maybe a Wizard's galaxy...

"Never made it as a wise man... Couldn't cut it as a poor man stealin'...

And this is how you remind me.

This is how you remind me, of what I really am. This is how your remind me of what I really am. I've been wrong. I've been down... Into the bottom of every bottle. And these five words in my head scream... Are we havin' fun yet?

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. No. No. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. No. No.

Are we havin' fun yet?"



February 20, 2003 - The Sun... Saturn, NGC1332, NGC1325, NGC1300, NGC1232, NGC1360, NGC1398, some new studies, NGC1097, the Fornax Cluster (includes NGC1399, NGC1404, NGC1381, NGC1380, NGC1387, NGC1389), NGC1365, M44, the Hubble Variable Nebula, M81, M82, M51, and dropping through the "Dipper"...

Comments: What's this? A sunshiny day in cloudy, snowy Ohio? Although I don't hold out much hope of the Sun having produced much activity thanks to the massive coronal hole that has been sweeping across the face, I decided I'd go have a look anyway. And I was a bit suprised! Incredibly enough, there are two brand new spots that have well-rotated inward, and the name is 290. Grabbing my camera to try and record them, I found out why my winter shots are so bad! Seems all this snow reflects the light so much that even though I use a dark towel to cover my head and the eyepiece, I still can't compensate for it. Oh, well... Let's have SOHO Michaelson-Dopper Imagining show you what's there...


SOHO MDI Image


Visually at the eyepiece, these two still maturing spots have terrific irregular umbra, and ragged and particled penumbra, with a series of fine followers between them. Given their looks, I'd say we got two awesome bipolar regions that are going to try to push each other apart, and I'd not be suprised to see a plague corridor or light bridge form between them as the magnetic field twists.

Heading back inside, I hopped in the shower to warm up for a bit. I was honestly going to go look up the classifications for this pair, but as I went to get dressed? I spied a patch of sunshine. Do you know how good it feels to have the sun on your skin again after so long? Even second hand, it felt so good to curl up on a blanket a just nap like a lazy old cat for awhile...

I miss swimming so much.

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

As the day wore on, I realized those skies were going to stay clear. I've had a hankering for some deep sky and I know I've got work to do if I'm going to use my big scope.

All right. My neighbors know I'm strange. Ask me if I care? But when I took the tractor with the snowplow out of the garage, one actually took the time to walk over and ask if I had been out observing the night before. Actually, I was kinda' touched that he bothered, so I had to smile and say "yes"... And at least give all those twitching curtains a good explanation as to why I'm plowing up a section of my back field. When I had finished, I had a nice 10X10 area, with a path to the garage.

Now all I needed was dark.

Rummaging through my notes of the past left me feeling a bit depressed. Well, actually more than a bit. I found some stuff that I hadn't looked at, or read in a long time... And I knew better. Sometimes part of healing is no farther away than a few tears... And when I had finished with them? I put them in the box where they belonged and took out my old field notes from a southern study. Time to just sit at the table, watch the sun set...

And re-learn.

Once upon a time I did a study on the Eridanus and Fornax fields, and I have a habit of making some very eccentric notes and maps from time to time. (like you hadn't noticed, eh?) With my things spread out on the table, I took a special interest in those galaxies I knew I could find fairly easily again... And studies I didn't complete. What a pain I am! All of these coolies I have found, and I won't even tell you about them until I can remember, however briefly, exactly where they are and what their designation is. Watching the sunset, a thin, stringly cloud is transformed into a golden dragon against the deeping blue skies, I keep trying to smile, because I can see that Rayleigh scattering is a a minimum, and that means the south will be a cakewalk. Let's see now... Yeah! I think I can do this again, for many of these are near marker stars. Yeah, yeah... And check out the sky now!

It's time to rock.

Uncovering the dob, I started setting up. A card table to keep my things out of the snow, my trusty red flashlight, my notes, my charts, and... oh, yeah... the tunes. When I went back in the garage to turn on the outdoor speaks I noticed my same neighbor mysteriously doing something outside as well. (and a very naughty part of me wanted to take the pool ladder and a couple of towels out as well... let 'em wonder! ;) So, you know me... I asked if he'd like to see Saturn. Dropping the good 9mm in, I showed him how to keep "track" and stood back. Hehehehehee... Nope. It's not a "trick"! That is what Saturn really looks like... Awesome, huh?

Now it's time for me to study.

First mark is almost directly between Tau 5 and Tau 4. The NGC1332 is a dandy elliptical with a brighter than normal core region and nice fading at the frontiers. With the 12.3mm, it only takes a slight nudge to the west to bring up low surface brightness NGC1325 as well. This one is a faded spiral with a concentration toward the center and a decently bright star at the north edge.

Now hop west to Tau 4, and tip the scope up just a bit. The NGC1300 is one very nice barred spiral. With a bright and easily held direct nucleus, it's barred structure becomes immediately apparent on the slightest of aversion. This one is a real treasure with its' beautiful loops of arms at either end of the bar! Next hop is NGC1232, another low brightness spiral... But patient averion definately draws some arm activity out of this one! Not bad at all...

Heading back to Tau 5, the sky has really darkened to black, and it's time to go south. First capture is NGC1360. This is a very awesome planetary nebula. Not only is it considerably larger than most, but it's quite bright as well, with one very easy direct star in the center and at 9mm and aversion there is a prickly revelation of at least three more. Swing away southeast and the NGC1398 is next in the eyepiece. Wow! It's a very bright barred-spiral! Easily held direct, this one was quite worth the "fishing around" for!

Now... Don't mind me, because I'm going to hop for a bit around Tau 5 and 6, and between the planetary. Cuz' Admiral? Thar be whales here... ;)

After about a half hour or so, I realize I better head on to Fornax before it heads into tree branches. (obviously i need to plow a larger area next time, huh?) The next galaxy is quite easy. There are three primary stars to Fornax and you want the one right in the middle. A couple of hops "up" and your right on the NGC1097. Here again we have a barred spiral, but even the good 9mm makes it look unusual. Rather than a smooth nucleus, this one is "disruptive". The core is quite bright, and the extensions are lumpy looking. Only one curve of an arm can been seen tonight with wide aversion.

Are we done studying now? For the moment. Right now I want play, and this type of play requires we move the counterbalance and drop that big ol' clunky 32mm in. Cuz' the Fornax Galaxy Cluster is quite worthy without being magnified! To be sure, the galaxies are now much smaller, but seeing all of them together really what makes it! Ellipticals and spirals and slim ones, and... and... It is so cool! Yes. My field notes have the designations. And yes. I've studied them proper. But hey! Take a look!

Figured you'd like that.

Now had me back the 9mm and I'll move the counterbalance, because the NGC1365 deserves it. This is possibly the finest barred spiral I have every encountered. The nucleus is bright and the bar is equally intense. The over and under arms are easily held direct and give one the impression of a silver "Z" emblazoned on the night.... Like a cosmic Zorro had made his mark. The NGC1365 is absolutely superb.

Feeling like I definately needed a smoke after that one, I stopped to pour myself a mug of tea and admire the night. Watching Jupiter dance just a bit northwest of the M44 is a true pleasure. They are so close to one another! (and i was going to take a cut at you all for not noticing, but jeff beat me to it... ;) I remember rushing back from the Observatory one morning to catch Jupiter, the M44 and a comet all in the same field. I wonder if that sketch is even still around? No matter...

Let's go look.

I can only grin when I see this particular study in the dob, and have to drop back to 32m again just to keep most of it in the field. What magnitudes were you searching for? Because there's more here than I would even venture a guess at. Since we're "wide" at the moment, let's go track down the Hubble Variable nebula as well. At this magnification, it looks like a blue gas flame caught amongst the stars. How about the M81 and M82 as well? Just because they are there...

And M51 because I love it.

Now, again I am ready to study. Re-acquaint myself with Ursa Major and the 12.3mm. I really like this wide field eyepiece... Because the more you pass through the "bowl" of the Big Dipper?

The more treasures you find.

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

It's not like you, to say sorry. But I'm always hopin' for a different story. I've been wrong. I've been down. Into the bottom of every bottle... And these five words in my head scream...

Are we havin' fun yet?

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. No no... Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah... No no."



February 19, 2003 - M45, Saturn, M1, M36, M37, M38, NGC884 & 869, M42 & M43, M41, M44, M67, Jupiter, M35, M97, M105, M95, M96 and the Moon...

Comments: Clear skies, again? Both yes and no. Although it is no problem to hold a magnitude 6 star, and the transparency appears to be good, there is more than one problem with this night. If you recall, Ohio has been buried deep in snow...

And the "backyard" is no exception.

Realizing immediately that to use the dob would mean an extensive amount of shoveling, (and my neighbors find me strange enough without me shoveling out my yard), the second problem rears its' ugly head. We've got ground fog. This is far from being deep, and in all honesty - It's rather beautiful. It lays just a few feet above the snow-covered ground like the purest of smoke. Clean... Fresh... Possessing no odor save that of much needed moisture. And once again, moisture means I will not risk the mirror of my beloved dobsonian telescope.

As I turned on the lights in the garage and cranked up the tunes, I stood looking for the longest time at the "Ottoman" - yet also rejected it as a choice of scope. It is simply too valuable to risk dewing of the optics as well. Yet between it and the robed dob stands a narrow black tube on a well-worn tripod. Its' odd wingnuts hold it together, and a felt sleeve covers the finder. It stands silent tonight - Waiting on me to make the choice. It knows it has been set in many a snow bank over the years. It knows its' mirror is dusty and stained with use. It knows its' optics are aligned and ready to go at a moment's notice...

And it knows its' way to the stars.

I am tired in body, soul and spirit. What I seek tonight is simply peace - the nothingness of knowing where to point the scope and the purity of just being a stargazer. No maps. A handful of eyepieces, a small notepad and my mechanical pencil. It's all I need. And so we journey first to the M45 to drink in the cool, blue light of the Plieades. A bit of power to take apart Alycone, but not Atlas... And a few moments to contemplate the soft smear of the Merope Nebula. While the 9mm is still in place, we shift to Saturn. Titan appears to be hiding tonight, but three of the "Troopers" are leading the way for the "Ring King". I watch the slender thread of the Cassinni for a few minutes, but quickly lose interest. Putting the 12.3 in place, I find I far more enjoy just looking at the M1. This aperature far from does it justice, but it still retains that "living quality" which I so admire. I make my brief notes and move on...

Auriga answers the call next, to yield up his three clusters that are worthy of a small scope. M36, so open and bright, with it dense cone caught in the center headed by an apparent double... M37, a soft globular-esque structure, whose inset stars bring to mind the random scatterings of a chocolate chip cookie... And the M38, a delightful spray of stars whose two bright interior stars look back like tiny eyes. As I note my times, I can feel the stress of the days slipping away like a bad dream in the harsh light of morning. Time to walk on to the "Double Cluster", for the starlight contained within the NGC884/869 will always remain a favourite at 26mm.

Another such "target" is the M42 and M43... Yet I prefer this one with the 12.3. Even restricted aperature cannot "do away" with such a fine nebula. The four major Trapezium stars are clean and perfect... As are the stars caught at the edge of the eagle's wing. M43 is a clean seperation, and fine nebula in it's own right, often overlooked because of the granduer that accompanies it. Soft and poetic... Cool and soothing... It is what I need.

Like the M41 at low power... A walk into a splay of stars. Or perhaps the M44 over there? Far overfilling the field of view, yet grand with it's orange and blues, caught in doubles and triples. What stars hold you, that I cannot see with this scope, yet know are there? Ah, sweet memory... How you fade with time. But not so much time has passed that I do not remember the M67 and wish to magnify on this almost galaxy-like field of tiny stars. Its' shift between southwest and northeast fills me with wonder for the 4.5 again... I could never give this scope up. It's far too comfortable.

Making my notes, I turn my attention next toward Jupiter to catch the pairs of galieans dancing to either side, and again quickly lose interest. Yes, details are there, easily caught by the 9mm... But the Moon will soon be on the rise, and I want what deep sky can give me. The M35 is no challenge to the 26mm, a sprinkling of stars which calls for me to magnify to enjoy color and composition. It seems like everywhere I look, more and more stars reveal themselves in orange and yellow and blue... Such a fine way to view this open cluster! For the dob will hand all of them to you in one big bite.

Time marches on, (for whom the bell tolls, eh?) and I carry the 4.5 through the deep snow to set it beside the final resting place of my old observing partner, Ranger. Still keeping watch, aren't you, dog? And how I miss you from time to time... H carries your torch, and he runs across the fields with it, old friend. Now stand with me, in your silence, and let's talk to Mr. Owl once again...

The M97 is a difficult study in the 4.5. It reveals itself to low power as a small, circular patch of nebula, void of detail. Even power can draw nothing from it tonight. And so I note my time, and look to the east toward Leo. There is a certain wistfulness to this observation... For I have the feeling that I shall not visit Taurus, Auriga, Gemini, Perseus or Orion much longer. You see, study is my way... And I have tired f these constellations as much as I have tired of the snow.

Time for me to move on...

I look at Leo for a bit, trying to recall the marker star needed for the three galaxies I know I can catch before moonrise. Regulus... Chort... The one between them who's name I do not recall. This is the one I need, and time is short. The M105 is the first I find... A soft, fuzzy egg in the 26mm and no better in the 9mm - An elliptical of little interest to small aperature. M95 and M96 caught close together at low power, yet best split apart with the 9mm. Again, this scope can give me nothing more on the M95 than a stellar nucleus, and a soft halo of galaxy. The M96 fairs just a bit better, with a concentrated core and the signature of spiral structure.

I breathe a soft, foggy sigh... For I do believe I've been holding my breath. I find myself singing along with the radio, making my notes and watching the sky brighten more and more as Selene comes to claim the dark.

Let's take a break... Then ask her to dance.

Although I am tired, and with half a mind to put things away for the night... I am still me. The walk among the stars has done me good. A cup of chai has restored my spirit, and the words of a friend have made me smile. I did not want the Moon to be there... For had it been another night, I would have shoveled out a spot in the yard, and taken that chance to study Leo. But I also know that despite the conditions, we've got 7/10 stability and one look at the lunar surface will be all it will take to lose me again...

And I wasn't wrong.

Somewhere along the line, the dates changed... But I didn't care. I have noted Atlas and Hercules, as well as the overlit Posidonus. I have wandered about Mare Tranquillatatis, collecting the small forms of Pliny, Ross, Arago, Manners, Dionysius, Sabine, Ritter and remembered Apollo. I have been to Theophilus, Maddler, and seen Ross. Piccolomini, Neander and the Altai Scarp have revealed themselves to my scrutiny.

Yet Jannsen captures my complete attention.

It is the visage of its' rimae... The revelation of tiny craters Lockyer, Dove and Spallanzani... About it dances the many number craters that have no names, and many that have no designations. Fabricus and Metius hold court with it, and the power of the cliffs of the Rheita Valley moving upward toward the shadowed Young.

Such beauty.

"It's not like you didn't know that. I said I love you and I swear I still do. And it must have been so bad... Because livin' with me must have damn near killed you.

And this is how you remind me..."



February 17, 2003 - The Blizzard of Odds...

Comments: Hey, hey... Usually I don't comment at all when the weather has been cloudy, or rainy, or - in this case - snowy. If it happens for an extended period of time, I do say something just so you know I'm still alive. (like anyone really cares, huh?) If nothing else, somewhere down the line I look at my own records and say, "Wow. December of '99 was a great month. Too bad we don't have that weather now." Because when you play with astronomy?

You play with the odds.

There is a certain gentleman of longstanding acquaintance who lives in England... to whom I owe several hundred pounds by playing the astronomy odds. Over the years we've had a great many laughs as to who was going to get clouded out of a meteor shower - or catch a occultation. It is a wonderful game. One I've enjoyed playing. Perhaps you yourself have had an occasion to reflect on these very odds?

How much will you bet that if you get a new scope that it will be cloudy for the next week? Or that if you get a new eyepiece that it will rain? How much are you willing to put on the table that if you've scheduled yourself a day off to watch a meteor shower that all you're going to get is zero? Or better yet... What kind of money have you got that says if the Moon occults Saturn three times this year that you're going to catch at least one?

Hehehhee.... Are you a gambling man?

Then give me the odds on having a weekend off when it's cloudy. Or perhaps schedule an astronomy vacation during the one week it rains in the desert? How about a total eclipse of the Sun occuring while being stuck in a traffic jam on the JFK freeway? Or the only three days of the months it's clear of being during full Moon?

You see? It's all in the odds.

There is a weatherman here in central Ohio, who likes to call weather shots as much as I like to call solar eruptions. Hey, Jim? We were both right, dude. Your snow arrived and 285 had an explosion three days ago. But hey, dude... You can have the snow back!

It has snowed off and on now for three days... And last night it got serious. Since I was doing my "vampyre thing", it was just my luck to leave and face roads that had not the first blessed track on them. So what are the odds on a Camaro making it through drifts that come up over the headlights?

Slim to none.

So what kind of fool would try to drive to work in a blizzard with a hot rod car? Oh, maybe one that caught Saturn being swallowed by the Moon even through the clouds, or perhaps one that turned a rainy meteor shower into a listening experience, or just one that buys a new eyepiece or scope for the heck of it... And still cares about you anyhow.

What are the odds on that?

"It's not like you... To say sorry. I'm always waitin' on a different story. This time I was mistaken... For handing you a heart worth breakin'. I've been wrong. I've been down... Into the bottom of every bottle. But these five words in my head scream...

Are we having fun yet?"



February 13, 2003 - The Moon...

Comments: So what's a deepsky freak supposed to do when there is ultra-clear sky and a big ol' bright Moon messing things up? Well, seeing as how it's incredibly cold, most would just not bother. If I were into the planets, I'd be out there sketching. If i were most disciplined toward double stars, I'd be making notes. But since I'm a sillyheart? Why not just look at the Moon?

Come on... Let the 4.5 and I take you there.

First off, keep that telescope on low power and find super-bright crater Aristarchus. Yep. That one right there just along the terminator. Now, let me give you my good 9mm and the barlow and let's see what's inside that bad boy...

The lunar feature we're looking for tonight is called Schroeter's Valley. The brightest of the craters in my temporary illustration is Aristarchus and right next to it in strength is Heodotus. Now, I want you to look at the bright, straight line that angles up toward the terminator... You've just found Montes Agricola...

Schroeter's Valley is that thin, white snaking ribbon that curls between what I've just described to you! (and mons herodotus it the bright peak, and dorsum niglli is in there too... along with vaisla. ;) Yep, I'm afraid my simple video camera frames aren't the high quality, stacked and adjusted lunar shots you're used to... But when you stop to consider that I've just captured a lunar feature that runs from 2-5 miles wide and 125 miles long with very simple equipment and no adjustments?

I don't think I'm doin' too badly. ;)

Now! Let's go capture another lunar feature that I've often observed and never photographed...

Hansteen and Billy! Now, these ought to be real easy for you to identify from my temporary frame... Just slightly to the left of center are two circular craters. The very open and well-lit one is Hansteen - about 29 miles in diameter. The one beside it with the permanently dark floor is Billy at about 30 miles in diameter, with the bright peak of Mons Hansteen between them. See how easy this is?! Letronne is the shallow, half circle looking on toward the really chewy, emerging Sirsalus, and right at the bottom of the frame in the center is where NASA splattered Surveyor 1.

So we've been "Moon Walking"... Even though I'm a galaxy hunter at heart?

I'll take what I can get.

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




February 12, 2003 - Comet NEAT, the Moon, Jupiter and Saturn... Dancin' on the Stars...

Comments: Talk about scraping in the dirt to follow a comet! Yep. I went out there. I don't care if it's five degrees. I could give a flying fig if the wind cuts like a knife...

Baby? It's very, very clear....

First off? NEAT... Off to the backroads of Ohio and out with the binoculars. Ah, my... How you remind me! Remind me is right... Reminds me of Ikeyha/Zhang! Comet NEAT has now hit the point where I'm having trouble capturing it. But when I do? I'm all smiles, because at least I managed to chase that little furball right to the end! And when it comes back in the morning sky?

I'll get it again!

As soon as I got back, my first mission was the Moon. (long trip... a whole half mile, eh? ;) Oh, my starz.... The second I laid eyes on it, I knew I had to go get the camera. The stability and clarity tonight are just aching! If there were no Moon, we'd have 7.0 skies. And what we've definately got is 9/10 seeing stability!

Now... Let's go study.

Starting in the north, not only do we have the entire Sinus Iridium fully exposed, but some of those great craters we rarely look at as well. Starting with the bright well in the Juras Mountains ringing the Sinus Iridium is the spectacular Bianchini...

The dual rings of Focault and Harpalus follow, and then the stretch of smooth sands known as Sinus Rorais. Continuing on our journey, we find the flatten visage of Babbage, and the incredibly detailed Pythagoras tonight. And down there on the edge? With the bright rim and dark center? Is none other than J. Herschel...

But let's not stop, eh? Check out those Southern Highlands!

Just look at that, will you? Schiller is just absolutely begging you to take it. Craters Bayer and Rost continue on toward the south... And even the overlighted Clavius and Maginus are still showing their stuff! Across the top dancing from right to left are Segner, Zucchius, Bettinus, Kircher and Wilson...

But cha' know there always one that takes my fancy above the others, don't you?

The let's waltz with Gassendi...

With the good 9mm and barlow, Gassendi went from spectacular to incredible. There were mountain peaks and rima that criss-crossed in a pentagonal arrangement around on the floor. Diminuative interior craters M and P were easily visible. Even crater A revealed an interior peak!!

Dropping back the power to just the 12.3mm ED means a chance to scour the floor of Mare Humorum to pick out tiny impact craters. Going up toward the southern bank means a chance to view Doppelmayer as it was meant to be... A shallow circle whose features look as though the sands of the Moon have drifted then soft. The bright line of the Rima Doppelmayer shows clearly. Toward the western edge sits the bright and beautiful Kelvin Mountains and Kelvin Promontorium smiles back... Give us your Cape, Kelvin... You are all right! Even Agatharchides on the edge of the terminator wants in on the act, with it's beautiful rima shining in Sun... And you thought the Moon was just a dead rock, eh?

Then call me Morticia.

Well, now... That will be enough of that! Let's smoke the dob on over toward Saturn and see what we can call out with the 12.3mm, eh? Oh, yeah... Titan and the "troopers" are leading the way tonight, partner... And one of them is running behind to catch up! The Cassini is a bold, black line, and the divisions just ache with clarity. There's like a "ghost ring" that runs around the edge... And the planet? Just a striking creamy yellow with all these soft swept grey markings... Simply perfect.

Jupiter? Oh, you know it... All four galieans present and accounted for! And they are not just specks. Each one of them is totally comprehensible as orbs! The most striking of all is Europa with it's yellowish color. Ya' want details? Then come look. The different zones look like they were drawn by Sol's hand tonight. Specks, marks, whorls, curls... Things I don't even pretend to fully comprehend, but feel priveledged to be allowed to enjoy.

And now I'm going to go warm up... For I want to dance among the stars.

I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I went back out. I had my maps and I had a plan... And I walked straight into the "Trap". The diminuative and disparate reds and blues are what makes it, and high power and a clear and steady night are what breaks it. Grinning, I head toward a new one for me, Alpha Fornacis - a beautiful golden star whose disparate companion is easily sheered away and is also yellow. Easier yet is Omega Fornacis... whose companion star is set much further away and the differences in magnitude are seperated by perhaps only three.

In a way, I feel kinda' stupid when I'm making my double star notes. I guess to be "proceedure correct" you draw two little dots to represent the doubles... and I'm afraid that my Sharpie marker and my artistic ability while wearing gloves is somewhat less that accurate! But hey... it is ultra-clear out.. And what I'm doing is fun! So let's just roll with it for a bit...

And collect Rigel and it''s tiny blue companion, 20 Tau Orionis, Mintaka, find Hind's Crimson Star, Adhara, go back across the sky for Epsilon Persei, (real nice... I liked this one!), Iota Cancri, (also a real dandy in yellow and blue) and Gamma Leonis. By now I'm feeling seriously cold again... And chose Beta Monocerotis triple form as my last hop. Even as perfect as the sky is, it's awfully hard to concentrate when you're shivering and your teeth are chattering! (geez... i felt so stupid what that happened... H did everything but knock me down to figure out what it was.) Mindful of my need to actually stay healthy, I figured it was probably best to put things away for the night, even when I hate to. But at least I had a reminder of just how worthy the skies can be here when the conditions are right.

Popsickle, anyone?

"Never made it as a wise man. I couldn't cut it as a poor man stealin'.... I'm tired of livin' like a blind man. Sick of sight without a sense of feelin'...

And this is how you remind me."



February 11, 2003 - The Sun... Comet NEAT and the Moon....

Comments: Right now Ohio's "eat snow and die, astronomer" weather attitude means snatching at what sky you can - when you can. So when the opportunity came today for a bit of solar observance?

You know I did.

Still picking at sunspot 276 - because it's still changing. Now approaching the "far side", 276 has slowly evolved from a lacey structure to one who's penumbra has began to mature. In the following temporary frame, 276 appears at the top and has devolped an elongation in the dispersion that is reaching toward the follower spots. Here you will see the classic case of "differential rotation." Since the followers lay more toward the equator, they have actually passed the leader on the race to the edge!

Also in this temporary frame is sunspot 280. Both it and 276 are Dso classed, beta magnetic field solar beauties.

Although the stability was poor, and the clouds kept trying to cover things, it was also possible to make an extended observance of Cao, beta classed spot 285 as well. Excellent irregular umbra in a maturing penumbral region... Even though none of these spots pose any particular threat of flare activity, I would not be surprised to see 285 undergo major changes as it crosses our visible path.

It just looks like it's thinkin' bad.... ;)

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

I don't know how it happened, but I'm glad it did. That mostly cloudy day took a weird dip just before sunset and I knew I had to get out of town and have a last look at Comet NEAT before we get socked in with snow again.

Of course, I'm limited to binoculars only out here, and I don't mind a bit! Comet NEAT is putting on one awesome display with it's tail stuck straight up in the air!! Lacking that "fanned" appearance that I tend to associated with cometary signature, this baby is so bright that I can see it with averted vision and no aid! Am I excited? You bet!!

Comet NEAT has lived up to its' name!

Watching a wall of clouds begin to move in, I figured I better set up for my lunar observing right away. We've a winter storm predicted and I know this is going to be my last chance at astronomy for a few days.

Getting my notes prepared I took off at the eyepiece and was truly surprised at the stability. How these "lunar exercises" make me see things I never have before!

It's more than just that expanse between the fantasy details seen in Copernicus tonight... It is the expanse. How many times have I walked right over the top of Mare Ibrium and never really paid attention to those dark patches that grow like mold on its' surface? How many times have I took pleasure in the Sinus Iridum, greeting Promentoriums Heraclides and LaPlace with open arms... But never thought to mention that rille that snakes away? Have I been so blinded by Erastosthens that I forgot to look at Sinus Aestuum?

Yes.

While powering up on Copernicus, I notice lunar rays... They were always there. How could I have been so blind?! Have I truly been so obsessed with drawing Bulliadius out of the shadows that I couldn't see the long depression that runs between it and Tycho? And so, so busy with picking out how many craters that I can resolve in Clavius... That I'll never know or understand how to see "the Cow Jumping Over the Moon."

It doesn't matter. I make my notes my notes on Magnius and Longomontans. I keep in mind the Straight Range, Plato and the faded scar of the Alpine Valley. I just stand and look at the Moon, knowing the only thing I'll ever visualize is just how close Saturn is. I walk... But sometimes I can't feel my feet anymore.

Maybe I'm just cold.

"If I could start again... A million miles away. I would keep you to myself.

I would find a way."



February 9, 2003 - Just Drifitin'...

Comments: I had to be outside tonight. I knew it was cloudy, but there's just this need in me to be under the night sky, no matter what it may look like. I wrapped myself in my big, old winter observing coat, balancing on the deck railing and leaning back against the house. I was quite happy there, on my precarious perch, wanting nothing more from life than just to watch the clouds pass over the face of the Moon.

I don't know how long I sat there, and I truly don't care. Occasionally, the clouds would thin enough for me to see Mares Crisium, Fecundatitus, Tranquillitatis, and Serenatatis... I had thoughts about taking out the telescope, but never carried them through. I know what's waiting out there for me... A dead world. One where I could explore the Serpentine Ridge, talk with Aristotle, quote Julius Ceasar (eh tu, brute?), or simply admire the Apollo 11 landing site... Knowing that we'd been there.

But I knew they wouldn't be as fine as I remembered them...

Eventually Jupiter came to steal the Moon's position in the sky, glowing like a soft pearl. How quickly the time passes! And how fare thee tonight, King of Planets? Is the Red Spot visible? Do the galieans dance across your face? Or waltz with you across the night? Ah, my... How good it is to know you're there.

There are no stars. Not a single one can cut through the grey veil above. But it's alright. I can point to the sky and tell you where they would be with my heart. They are my constant companions. They have brought me joy and wonder, and soothed my soul when I cry.

To them I owe everything.

"Oh, you could have it all... My empire of dirt. But I might let you down...

And you would make me hurt."



February 8, 2003 - Jupiter... The Sun....

Comments: Livin' and workin' in the vampyre world at the moment. I remember waking up at one point in time to see the Moon shining outside the window, and wishing my partner well. When I got up, only a handful of stars were visible. Going about my routines, I didn't really pay much more attention until I got ready to leave. Then there they were, eh? Perfectly clear skies and no time to enjoy them. Guess what?

I've always got time for you.

Starting up my car, (it's colder than blue blazes here again.. and it snowed too.) I set the 4.5 outside the garage door with the 12.3mm in it, and decided to take a whack at Jupiter. As my eyes adjusted, I could see three of the galieans flung off to the west. One sits pretty tight on the planet, and since it appears to be "in front", I'm guessing that it came out of transit not long ago. But where's the fourth? Focusing my attention on the planet's surface, it didn't take long to discover where the hidden moon was it. The black "hole" is a dead give-away. Kinda' fun starting the day seeing a shadow transit!

Now I gotta' git....

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

Suprisingly enough, those clear skies held on until I had finished this section of my long shift. Hustling home, I let H out and set the 4.5 back out as well. ShockSpot had sent me a 68% confidence level yesterday, (or was it the day before? hell, i'm doin' good to remember my name when work these hours. ;) and I was anxious to see what spot might have been responsible for the explosion.

I wasn't prepared for what it looked like...


SOHO MDI image


Where in the heck did all those little spots come from?? The crazy thing looks like it's been buckshot... I've been kinda' busy lately, so I haven't really been following it closely, but I can tell you at a glance that the puppy in the center has had, or either will have something going on.

Spot 276 is a lacey, tracey, very fine series. Two small, mature umbrae, with mature, yet small penumbra lead the field. They really aren't the attention getters... What rocks is the dispersion field! Those followers are strung out along a line that stretches about 12 Earth diameters! Like a string of flotsam, these followers have very little penumbral regions themselves. That means nothing has had time to mature... Hmmm.... I wonder if this was the "bad boy", eh?

Enough. The wind is wicked. And I'm freezing.

"What have I become, my sweetest friend? Everything I love...

Goes away in the end."




February 5/6, 2003 - Comet NEAT, the Moon, M77, M79, M34, M41, M46, M47, M93, a new study, M108, M109, M40, brushing over old favourites, and the M106...

Comments: So I made a near-fatal judgement call on locating Comet NEAT tonight. I simply waited too long. By goofing off and waiting until deep sky dark, I darn near let the little traveller slip right through my fingers tonight!

Almost. But not quite, eh?

I started off in the south field with the binoculars, figuring to find the best place to set the scope on it. And I had to keep walking south... And keep walking south... And keep walking south... About a quarter of a mile across frozen fields later, I finally got the skyline I need to see Comet NEAT. Right smack down just a few degrees above the western horizon it is... And bright! Thanks to a fine haze of clouds and my fair share of "moon influence", I could make out no tail, and no signature, save that for a bright furry ball. I know it's the comet, because I know my binoculars aren't capable of picking up a globular cluster (except for maybe the M2 over there... ;) in that region.

Besides... I know there isn't any that bright.

Trudging back across the tundra, I set the 4.5 out to stabilize for tonight's lunar studies. Time to turn on some rock and roll and start the coffee, eh? Because even with the Moon hanging out right now, we've got 5.5 skies... And it's going to get better.

After getting psyched up, I started in on my craters by the book. Old friends, these are... Geminus, Masala, Endymion, Mare Crisium, Pierce, Picard, Sharp, Lick, Shapley, Livinium, Olivium, and Agarrum Promentoriums.... Taruntius, Guttenberg, Magellan, Langrenus, Vendelinus, Petavius, Funerius... And I'll be damned if I don't see something I don't recognize.

Snatching the map back up, I located the general area... And instantly want the Rukl.

About center on the terminator, you will see the partially disclosed crater Richenback... Move south and identify the lovely Rheita (meteor maid... nothing can come between us. ;) and the stretched form of the slender Rheita Valley. Hey, hey! You're on the right track... Now. Look at the large crater partially exposed. Yep. That's Fabricus and Metius, because you can see the perfect circles of Steinheil and Watt accompanying it. Now go back to the middle just above Richenbach... And say howdy to a rare treat disclosed near Stevinus! It looks like a slope that has a series of confluent craters that end in crater Hase. Yeah, it's no big deal, eh? But it is a lunar feature that's only seen for a matter of hours...

And one that got my little motor running!

Grinning like a great big fool, when I see 8/10 stability on a highly magnified lunar feature? It's time to walk the dob... Woof! So I took it out to the south field, opened it up, and waited on the Moon to slide west...

By 9:15 we were knocking down 6.5 skies, and I'm after a Messier study. Erindanus and Fornax are sparkling like a string of diamonds... And how I remember those field studies! But what I want is dipping west and I better hustle. M77 leads me on a merry chase for a good fifteen minutes until I find it. I realize that it would have been much better had I captured it when it was higher (shades of NEAT, again...) but I am certainly not displeased with what I see. At power its' handing me a bright nucleus and a hint of spiral structure. Although we are talking diffuse here, there is a concentration both over and under that core. It runs opposite the two stars that flank it. I've seen the M77 much better on other occasions, but seeing as how my timing is a bit off, I am still quite pleased with what I found.

Off on a hunt again, I move to the high south and have to work at the next study because it has been a few years since I've tried it... M79. I really wasn't all that impressed with this globular back then, and I'm still not. Sure... It's a little cookie. It does very well with high power, cutting away individual stars and that underlying density. It's most notable feature is that "squeezed" look that reminds me of a summer study. Dropping the power back reveals a nearby double... But! What's really impressive about this globular is the fact that it lies so far outside the halo, eh?

I like those rule breakers.

Now we're heading north and onto another Messier Study... The M34. It's loose, well resolved open cluster that to low power shows an almost cruciform configuration toward the center. The stars are rather randomly scattered about in thinly populated chains. Hey, hey... At least there is enough pairs here to generate some interest!

Smiling to myself, I swing the scope back to the south again and start reflex hopping around in Lepus again. Nothing Sirius, eh? Just call it "reacquainting myself with the field."... And since I'm supposed to be serious tonight, why not at least put it in the finder and drop south for the M41? OK... It just seems to easy, (mainly because it is. ;) but I like this one in the 32mm. I'm always caught by the curves and the colors. From the tiny red star at the heart, to the ones that evolved at the edges. It's just a nice open cluster.

I dance and H prances. The Moon is long gone by now and Leo is well on the rise. I know what star I want to see and I know how high it needs to be for me to take a shot at a new study.

And it ain't ready, yet...

Refocusing my attention, (sometimes a difficult thing to do) I check my watch and head back to the southeast to pay a call on three more familiar Messiers. The M46 is perhaps my favourite in this area. The dob knocks it down and takes it apart with ease at any magnification, but 17mm makes it beautiful. A riot of stars! Take another drop and use the 9mm? Viola... The planetary nebula NGC2348 snaps right out on the northern frontier. Switching back to 26mm, this is preferred magnification for the M47. Beautifully open and resolved with several magnitudes, its' claim to fame is an apparent double at the center. Sure, it's nice.... But I think the little red stars on the lunatic fringe are better. Leaving the 26mm in, I hop on over to the M97, and my first thought was that I could kill for a Hershey's Kiss.... But I don't mind one made of stars! M97 is an awesome open... And if you can't find a configuration there?

Stick to your diet.

Now, I'm tired of picking at Messiers. What I want is 92 Leonis... And what I found was more than I could understand in one bite. It didn't take long to tuck the printed chart into my notebook and begin referencing the Uranometria. Holy Corvus, partner... Do you realize the massive amount of galaxies in this area? I haven't even begun to scratch the surface! Making the switch back to 2" eyepieces, I drop the field back to 32mm. I've got to have those stars to navigate by. It took me a while... Actually it took me quite awhile... But something clicked. And when I went back to the 1.25s? There was the configuration I was looking for.

And I stop to sketch "The Little Leo" of galaxies....

Still unsure, (hey, that's why i do studies - i'm far from perfect) I decided to take my field notes and maps back inside for a break. Something about me needs confirmation, and I was going to look it up on the web... But two words were all it took. Grinning like a great fool once again, I tuck my notes and sketch away for now. I've got a long way to go, partner... I had a hard time finding it. I can't tell you which is which...

But damn. It was fun.

After I got warmed up, I realized I'd serve myself well by continuing to practice. I'm so rusty on these late night studies that I need at least a simple map to find them... And that's OK... Because I'm a simple person. Deciding to continue with Messiers in mind, the M108 took a few minutes, but made me feel good when I found it. Almost edge-on in appearance, it's somewhat diffuse - broken, mottled, uneven. Is there a core? What core? It's scattered in patches though a most unusual galaxy edged by stars.

The M109 was much better in terms of a galactic center. This one is pure stellar. It's a slim galaxy, and I'll be pickled if it doesn't look barred. What I'm seeing is a concentration in an otherwise very diffuse field. This concentration runs toward the stars at either edge, and the whole thing has a very faint halo about it. Just superb.

Next stop was the M40. Yes. A double-star classed as a Messier. It's well seperated, close to the same magnitude, and the primary has just a slight tinge of red in its' spectral signature. Hey, hey... Ol' Charles might have been "off his nut" when he cataloged it... But he'd of darn sure gone crazy if he caught that little galaxy nearby while magnifying! And by the way... Tell H thanks. Because when he ran past, he nicked the "Grasshopper" just enough to cause a vibration and reveal the presence of a diminuative, super-faint look at the NGC4290.

Good dog!

Laughing at H's antics, I'm starting to feel goofy myself. I don't know whether it's the lack of sleep, the exposure to the cold, or just high on photons! What ever it is, it's enough to make me go "unscientific" for a bit... Just snatch at the M51, slide over the M81 and M82, and do a speed drop through the bowl of the Big Dipper. Somewhere, superimposed on the night, I see a cartoon done by Gary Larson. It shows a man in a white coat standing outside a dome with his arm around a young boy pointing at the stars... The caption was simple. It read something like, "And over there, Jimmy, is the constellation we call the 'Big Dip'". I find myself laughing out loud as another cartoon flashes across my fried brain pan...

BC's "Dip in the Road"...

It's getting late, and there's some thin clouds starting back. I probably ought to just cap it up and call it a night. But I hear, "Just one more." And one more it is....

The M106 is last for me. A diffuse galaxy with a star at the edge, sporting a stellar nucleus. As I'm averting away, seeing how much extension I can draw out of it, I realize I'm picking up barred structure again! Another? I don't think I'm losin' it just yet...

But you never know. ;)

"I wear this crown of pain... Upon my crazy chair. Full of broken thoughts... I cannot repair. Beneath the stain of time.... The feelings disappear. You are someone else.

I am still right here."



February 4, 2003 - Jupiter and Saturn...

Comments: I do not know where this break in the clouds came from... But I appreciate it.

The temperatures have plummeted again, and the winds brought with them furious snow. And yet, above me now stands the stars! Shall we walk?

Anytime, compadre.... Anytime.

I swear by all that's holy that I watch the 4.5 skitter across the dark garage when I opened the door. Perhaps it was watching through the window as well, eh? Just waiting for its' chance to span the miles of space and dance upon distant worlds with me. Very well, then... Let's rock.

And so we flew to Jupiter together, this old telescope and I. H dances round us like an oily black shadow... He couldn't care less if Callisto and Ganymede are walking to the west and east. But the 4.5 and I care... And the close movements of Europa and Io sing songs of a transit... On Saturn, the "troopers" lead the way across the floor, and the Ring King pulls Titan along behind it like a dog on a leash.

But don't tie them up. Because they'll only lose their spirit.

I seek not so much planetary detail as I do just a few stolen moments with the night. It gives me pleasure to know the stars are still out there. Although the Celestron does everything but stomp on my toes to go explore, I just don't feel it tonight. The clouds are pushing in from the south once again, and I'll lose what sky I have all too soon. For now, I am content to just stand here. Feeling the sting and bite of the cold...

And stargaze...

"You could have it all... My empire of dirt. I will let you down. And you will make me hurt..."



February 3, 2003 - Changes...

Comments: Insomnia... Wind... Strange weather patterns... I find myself restless tonight. Totally unable to sleep. There are changes in the air.

Standing on the deck in my nightshirt and bare feet, I watch the winds bend down the head of the giant pine. These winds do not sigh through the bare branches of winter... They roar. The temperature has increased by thirty or more degrees in just a matter of hours, and the wind is just incredible. All but a handful of the snowbanks have melted away...

There is a sense of somehow being suspended... An anxiousness to this night. It borders on surreal.

And I cannot sleep.

"What have I become? My sweetest friend... Everyone I know, goes away in the end."




February 2, 2003 - The Sun... Jupiter...

Comments: What's this? A bit of hazy sunshine? In Ohio?? Wow... I'm impressed! And ya'll know me... If there's enough of a shadow to aim with?

I'm on it.

So what's new on the Sun today? Not a tremendous amount of action. There are only to major sunspot groups at the moment - 274 and 276. 274 has nice structure: two mature umbral/penumbral regions and some fine followers. Fortunately, 276 is a bit more interesting! At the time of my observation, it was on the incoming limb and rather hard to distinguish details in the spot series itself due to the Wilson Effect. Interestingly enough, though, the big beastie is definately making a wake through the granulation. The amount of faculae surrounding this incoming area was mighty fine!

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

And speaking of fine, those fine clouds continued to hang around. As darkness fell, only a few stars here and there were visible. Hey, I was growling. I'll admit that. I knew Jupiter was going to be at opposition tonight and I just kinda' wanted to see it, ok?

And the sky gods cooperated.

Around 8:30 or so, I went out to check sky conditions again... And lo and behold... Orion! Smiling to myself, I stepped out so I could get a clean shot at the eastern skyline, and there it was! No doubt about it. It's outshining Sirius by several magnitudes!

Stepping into the garage, I turned on the music and patted the dob's side. Sorry, kid... There's water dripping everywhere. You're grounded. The 4.5 was doing everything but shaking on its' tripod for attention...

But my choice was the "Ottoman".

Unfortunately, at this point in time, I don't have the correct adapters to take the 2" diagonal down to fit 1.25" eyepieces... So my maximum power is going to have to be performed with the 32mm.

Ya' know what? I don't mind a bit.

I haven't done the computations to give you magnifying power... But I'm here to tell you that it performed outstandingly. Although the image was small, it was crisp, perfect and clean. Ganymede and Europa were pefect orbs, forward of the planet and to the west... To the east, Callisto sat away and behind. As far as planetary detail goes, Jupiter was strutting its' stuff. The southern temperate zone was a magnificent wash of grey striations. The southern equatorial belt was well-defined at either edge. The equatorial zone, unfiltered, show nice diagonal markings toward the limb edges. The north equatorial belt was a wonderfully "color correct" shade of rusty grey, and the north temperate belt showed two distinct color variations.

Now, I'm done being scientific! Other than that... It was totally cool! I really don't use the Intes often enough to be proficient with it... But when it knocks that kind of detail out of a 5 sky with 6/10 stability? I'm impressed!

Putting its' covers back on, I tuck it back away for the night and just watch what stars I can see for awhile. Orion really doesn't look half bad, for I can see the "sword" stars well enough. And I realize that I totally forgot to look at Saturn!

Oh, well... Sometimes I just don't care.

"I hurt myself today. To see if I still feel... I focus on the pain. It's the only thing that's real. The needle tears a hole... The old familiar sting. Try to kill it all away...

But I remember everything."



February 1, 2003 - Remembering Columbia...

Comments: I cannot remember a morning that has started so sadly for a long time. I put the past and my personal life behind me... And try to focus on the future.

And I am broken by the news.

Space Shuttle Columbia has disintegrated on its return. The world sits in stunned silence as we read the news. Like everyone else, I am speechless - unable to even articulate correctly what I am feeling. I look about me, and I realize just what an impact that the space program has had on my entire life. Trinkets collected from Kennedy Space Center as a child... Still around almost 40 years later. My walls bear mute testimony to my love of NASA - My Mars Pathfinder Certificate, postcards of a shuttle launch, a poster of Armstong on the Moon... A 30 year old plaque the chronicles the history of space flight from Freedom 7 to Apollo 17....

I walk to the table where my globe of the Earth spins and I can touch where my friends live around the world. Beside it is a clever lamp I was given... Depicting space flight. There are autographed copies of books and magazines on this table, of astronomy people whom I have met over the years... And there is a much beloved collection of Mission Patches. I stand for a very long time with my hand above the cover of it's presentation book... Not willing to look. Atlantis... Discover... Endeavor... Challenger...

And knowing that Columbia will soon be among them.

Am I sick at heart? Yes, I am. How many times have I looked at the Apollo landing sites on the Moon? How many times have I sat glued to NASA television to watch a launch? And how very many times have I journied out into my backyard to watch the ISS or the Shuttle fly majestically across the starry night?

You see... It is a part of me.

My hands have touched the craft that have been to space. My eyes have seen the moonrock brought back to Earth.

And my soul flew with every mission.

I cannot turn back the hands of time. I cannot change what has happened. I cannot touch the grieving families to whom this tragedy reaches the most deeply. All I can do is wish those brave souls...

Godspeed.