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Observing Reports: October 2003


October 31, 2003 - Happy Halloween!

Comments: Oh, you know me. Any excuse to trip around in fantasy world is a good excuse and I was out there in full costume with enough candy to give the entire western world a sugar buzz. And, of course, the old Celestron... ;)

I always have a wonderful time with the "Trick or Treaters" and one of the highlights of my year is to hear them coming down the darkened alleyways saying "Cool! This is the house where we get to look through the telescope!" It does me a world of good to talk to the kids. Suprisingly enough, many of the young adults who bring their children here to my remote corner of the village remember a time when "they" were the kids and treated to not only my undisputed propensity to hand out massive quantities of candy - But to allow them to view through the telescope as well. It is this ongoing "tradition" that keeps me smiling, and despite mostly cloudy skies, I am happy to report that I am once again out there. Steady as a rock...

Year after year.

The Moon complied in grandiose style. What better way to stick with the "haunted" theme than to have clouds racing over the surface? Werewolf Moon... I love it. During the breaks in the clouds, the surface would shine with the same beauty it always has... Aristotle, Eudoxus, the edge of the Caucasus Mountains, the triple form of Cyrillus, Theophilus and Catherina... But, like always, there is one surface feature that looks like no other. This is why I truly love to watch the Moon... It changes all the time! On Halloween Night the most incredible feature on the Moon was Palus Somni. Known as the "swamp", I watch between visitors and this very unusual feature tonight. Extending in Mare Tranquilatatus, the Mare itself looks unusually dark tonight and the Palus Somni looks almost like a fog hangs over its' rocky landscape. Quite pretty, actually... And a feature I don't really recall having seen it draw attention to itself. No matter. It is tonight!

As the kids come and go, I hear a slightly deeper voice come from beneath a hooded head. "Do you remember me?" Of course I remember you! This particular young man's name is James, and he started coming here when he was yea high and now he is taller than me! He laughs as he recalls all the different years he's been here and how the full Moon rocked his world the first time he saw it. He asks if I still have that "monster big telescope", and we laugh at how much he enjoyed our time spent together exploring the Universe. Looking into the Celestron, I find those patience teachings of years past have not gone to waste as he identifies some lunar features. He proudly pronounces to me that he continued on with binoculars and a small refractor - learning just as I did... With a map. With a smile and a wave, he disappears into the night. But he'll be back. Oh, yes. He'll be back.

My costumed guests continue, a tiny lion whom I had to hug. Fairy princess, fireman, ghouls, witches, ghosts, and all manner of festive dress. They view the Moon and a few request Mars as well. I talk in hushed tones to many who witnessed the great aurora over the last few days... Many who thought the distant woods were on fire until they saw the fire was in the sky. It was a pleasant way to pass the time, and as the appointed hour draws near? James returns.

Unfortunately, so have the clouds... But it doesn't have to stop there. We talk of Mars, and as he asks I slip indoors to fetch the laptop. We find ourselves seated in the dark on the porch swing, happily watching AVI files by the light of my many custom jack-o-lanterns. It's a fun time. We go through my things as Soul Coughing plays "Circles" and "Rollin'"... I love the multimedia capablities of my generously donated equipment. (and if you're still listening? i thank you again, sir.) We discuss everything from books to explanations of the movements of our solar system... And then he is gone into the night again.

Godspeed, my young friend. Until next year....

"Friends and liars... Don't wait for me. Cuz' I'll get by... All by myself. I've put millions of miles... Under my heels. And still to close.... To you. I feel....

I am not your rolling wheels. I am the highway. I am not your carpet ride. I am the sky. I am not your blowing wind. I am the lightning. I am not your autumn moon. I am the night.

The night... The night... Yeah..."



October 30, 2003 - Aurora... Encore!

Comments: Yes. It is still the same date as the most current solar pictures, but the events feel so seperate from one another I had to list them this way. There was another totally unprecedented and far stronger display of the aurora borealis tonight... Call it a "command performance". I have no idea when it started. I was eating my dinner. Taking my cup of coffee with me, I really didn't think it was dark enough but I figured I'd watch the Moon for a bit until it deepened. Right?

Wrong.

The second I stepped out the door, it was already in progress. The entire northeastern quandrant of the sky looked like it was on fire! Giving a war whoop my Scottish ancestors would be proud of, I ran to the east field and could have dropped to my knees it was so beautiful. Like a Van Gogh painting, the strokes of orange, red and pink were so bold they were almost tangible. Slanting from due east at the zenith, they slashed their way against the starry backdrop down to Capella on the northeastern horizon. The deep hues looked almost as if they were scraped against the sky instead of airbrushed on. I watched in awe as the visage waivered and incredible pale blue/green clouds formed both above and below. Huge white pillars undulated into view... At the edges one would brighten while another would fade. The intensity was incredible...

Trying to keep my science head about me, I try to gauge the size... Realizing this incredible glowing mass is spanning a full 60 degrees of skyline. Can you judge magnitude of aurora? My guess is it is at least magnitude 0... For it literally eradicated all the stars of Cassiopeia, Perseus and Andromeda. Unbelievable... The cyan colored clouds would fade in and out quickly, but the massive red nebulosity was as steady as a rock. Again, my curiousity is aroused because this is not north! We are so almost due east it's frightening. (yep. i'm really scared. just ask me. we'uns here in oh hi ya have never heard of werds like magnetosphere or dipolar. ;) So I had to go further out into the field just to make sure simliar happenings weren't occuring west of the pole either. Nope. And at 7:20?

They simply faded away...

Wow. Same bat time, same bat channel, eh? Slipping back into the house, I alerted my compadres and sent my report. Is it really all over but the cryin'? No way, baby. The night is far too beautiful for it just to end there. When I finished with my business, I though perhaps then I would go out the with telescope for awhile.... Maybe chase an asteroid or simply view some doubles. And when I walked out that door again? WHAM! Directly north was a huge white spire looking all for the world like a distant searchlight aimed at the zenith. So I did what any other red-blooded scientist would do.... Grabbed a beer and a lawn chair and went out to enjoy the show!

I watched for hours... Thin green clouds, white spires, and glowing orange vapor. I think of a song a dear friend once shared with me called "Aurora Comes Dancing Down". On the warm winds you can hear the restless coyotes in the east woods, and to the south the mournful cry of the canadian geese near Owl Creek. They make me think of seagulls and a snippet of another old song comes to mind...

"A cloud appears above your head; A beam of light comes shining down on you, Shining down on you. The cloud is moving nearer still. Aurora borealis comes in view; Aurora comes in view.

And I ran, I ran so far away. I just ran, I ran all night and day. I couldn't get away....

Reached out a hand to touch your face; You're slowly disappearing from my view; Disappearing from my view. Reached out a hand to try again; I'm floating in a beam of light with you; A beam of light with you.

And I ran, I ran so far away. I just ran, I ran all night and day. I couldn't get away."

(And I did run, didn't I? I am sorry. One hurt was all it took and I gave you everything bad about myself so you couldn't see me running. I guess I still am...)

But I'm not running now. How beautiful this night is!! The Moon seems so far away as it tilts to the west. The occassional meteor scratches the sky like a silver tear. A blue white dome of light stands before me, and I sit in contentment watching as the aurora comes and goes. I wish my friends well that were going to the Observatory tonight... As I do for my friends that practice as I do. May it have been as grand for you as it was for me! I hate myself for being tired, but when the Moon has quit the sky I realize that I must go as well. My words cannot truly describe all the beauty I have seen here tonight. (although i've got to hand it to victor... he did it in two words. ;) Will you allow me four?

Por amour du ciel....

"I am not your rolling wheels. I am the highway. I am not your carpet ride. I am the sky. I am not your blowing wind. I am the lightning. I am not your autumn moon.

I am the night."


October 30, 2003 - The Sun...

Comments: Hey, hey... We've got sunshine today! And ya' know that means I've gotta' get out that highly over-worked video camera and at least try don't you? The Sun is still making history right now and I keep this observing diary for the same reasons all astronomer's keep a diary...

I want to remember.

It was very difficult to capture both spot series 486 and 488 in the same field because of their huge size.... But I did my best.


The more complex of this pair is 486 and it happily blew off another X10 class flare and coronal mass ejection yesterday... And both are still predicted to continue with X-class flare activity. To look at the solar surface right now is just outstanding. These aren't the only visible spots... The surface is peppered with 'em. The magnetogram information is more black and white than grey! Taking cue from Victor, I also look directly through the filter at the Sun. Darn right you can see them...

And I'm tired. My long stretch of work and my own personal excitement at keeping tabs on what's going on has me quite ready just to nap in those solar rays instead of study them. I think it's very kewl that we're going to have a chance at aurora on Halloween as well. Of course, much more radiation...

And we'll all glow in the dark.

"Pearls that swam... Bereft of me. Long and weary... My road has been. I was lost in the cities... Alone in the hills. No sorrow or pity... For anything I feel, yeah."



October 29/30, 2003 - Aurora Over Ohio...

Comments: I knew we were under aurora watch... And I also knew we were under clouds. The sky here can be so stubborn at times - in terms of obstinate or hard to work with. You know what? You've met your match in ol' ~T here... It is in Taurean nature to be stubborn as well, but I am in terms of perserverence. After all, haven't I told you my three P's of astronomy?

Patience, Practice and Persistence....

Beginning my auroral watch with clear skies at approximately 5:30 a.m. on October 29, I stood outside and watched a massive red "glow dome" to the north. Although the tiny village where I live has very little light pollution to speak of, there is a rogue chance that a slight patch of fog could have caused a reflection that might account for this red coloration even though the rest of the skies are clear. I continued to watch for approximately 30 minutes, but when no pillaring effects showed themselves, I dismissed what I saw and went about my preparations for work. Later, on the 30 minute drive into the city, the Sun had began to rise and I could see a wall of clouds to the west and on a northward curve. Were these same clouds present approximately an hour ago? Funny that... I was seeing stars. Of course, when I returned later that afternoon, I went to check the recent solar data and news reports... And saw this clip from "Universe Today":

"John Chumack was in Ohio and sent in the picture you see beside this story - they look like a red curtain against the horizon. He saw them twice at 4:30 am and 5:40 am."

Open-mouthed at the photograph that accompanied the story, I could only start laughing as I see precisely the same sky conditions I witnessed that very morning! Although I was too late to have seen the auroral effects at 4:30, I was absolutely there at 5:40... And I can only thank Fraser Cain for his accurate and on-the-spot reporting. I'd certainly call this a confirmation!

Now excited at the possiblity of watching a repeat showing of the awesome display we had a couple of years back. Of course, that wall of clouds had continued to cover the sky during the day and the chances were quite slim. Oddly enough, as I sat in my home office reading over the day's data, I could see out my window that those clouds were breaking up! Suprised, I mentioned it to the "Bossman" and when he ran over the sattelite information he showed a two county clearing that should hit my area around sunset. Clearing? Oh, man... I am on it!

And sure enough, by the time the skies were darkening, the stars had come out... Along with the Moon. Knowing it wasn't dark enough to reveal auroral activity, I took out the old Celestron 4.5 to pass the time. Metius, Jannsen, Fabricus... the edge of Crisium... Atlas and Hercules... Endymion! But this is not what I came out here after, so putting away my equipment I went back in after a cup of coffee and began my steady northward observance. Oddly enough, the entire northern sky was alight in the bluish/green dome that signifies auroral activity. This "dome" extends with a very clean division through Hercules to the west, peaks about ten degrees above Polaris, and continues to the east through Andromeda. Baffled, I go to many different vantage points in the backyard wanting that positive identification of stars behind the glow. No doubt about it. Ursa Major shines confidently, as does the dimmer stars of Draco... Lacerta is in the influence of this glow as well... And the stars of Cassiopeia, Perseus, and Andromeda are all highly visible. Even Capella nearer to the horizon is shining on...

So I watch. I keep seeing movement within the glow dome and I could almost cheer as the faint concentric waves of auroral energy begin to present themselves. This is the beginning... After many years of having trained myself for both deep sky and meteor observation, I cannot keep my eyes away from area of Perseus and Andromeda. I am picking up movement. It's subtle. I can't quite define it. All I can say is that it looks almost as if black patches are appearing and disappearing in that area. About that time I realize that my radio station is having a hard time holding a signal, and I walk back toward the garage to adjust it. I had no sooner made it to the doorway than the green spires began to appear due north. These look like every picture you've ever seen of aurora... Like frozen green flame. Radio forgotten, I fumble my hand against the wall beside the door reaching for the telephone. I'm not taking my eyes off of this! Looking down only long enough to dial the number, within seconds I have the correct time.

7:04 p.m., EST.

In awe, I hang up the phone and walk backwards directly into the big pine tree and promptly fall into it. Disentangling myself, I cannot quit staring into Perseus, for a huge glowing cloud of red nebulosity is beginning to form! Laughing, I run to the edge of the east field... The action isn't directly to the north! The green spires below Polaris continue, but huge blue/white pillars of light are moving in waves directly through Cassiopeia and across into Andromeda. Fantasy clouds of glowing red continue to appear and disappear covering these northeastern constellations. About this time I realize I hear dogs... Not just a dog. Or two or three dogs... All the dogs! Every single dog within hearing distance of where I observe was barking. Given my location, you realize that it is possible to "hear" things at distance. And it wasn't just the domesticated canines... The coyotes in the woods were in on this too!

And then the ribband happened...

Stretching laterally through Auriga, the pure blue/green "wave" of aurora caught and held. Holding out my shaking hands, I realize this expands roughly 20 degrees in length and fluctuates anywhere from 5 to 10 degrees in width. I watch amazed as the ribband seems to undulate in colors - running anywhere from a pale cyan to a vivid orange. The soft white pillars, like distant searchlights, continue to alternate sky positions from the northeastern horizon up to the zenith. Soft red "clouds" are still appearing in patches here and there... But I cannot stop staring at the ribband. Sparing a look behind me, I see that the clouds are fast returning from the southwest and I realize I am on borrowed time. I have enjoyed a solid 20 minutes of incredible auroral activity, and I run back inside to quickly send off an e.mail alert to those with better position than myself.

Incredibly enough, the aurora held through the hazing clouds. The northern dome persisted until well after 8:00 and the ribband turned the clouds orange. Little by little, the clouds thickened and by 8:20 the show was over...

But was it?

Laughing over the "Northern Lights" strict refusal to polar align, I am cold and happy and return indoors once again to check the data. I am totally blown away as I realize the once again we have had another CME! It doesn't get much better than this, does it? Smiling, I realize the auroral display is going to continue into the days ahead and I decide to keep a running watch during the night time hours. I returned again at 3:10 a.m. to view that soft blue/white dome again. With Orion standing directly opposite of it, a few random meteors completed the picture - But no awesome display. Again I returned between the times of 5:15 and 6:00 a.m., to be rewarded with a soft orange dome... But again, no significant activity.

It was really a wonderful night, and I've got no complaints.

"I am not your rolling wheels... I am the highway. I am not your carpet ride... I am the sky. I am not your blowing wind... I am the lightning. I am not your autumn moon... I am the night."



October 28, 2003 - Rockin' Sunspots!

Comments: Well, it's done it again. Told ya' this twin set of sunspots was gonna' make history, didn't I? Today marked one of the third largest solar flares in history. At a class X17.7, this huge blast of energy hurled off in a CME... And was it directed toward Earth.



SOHO Lasco C3


As this picture loads, you will see the protons slam themselves against the ccd camera. Can you imagine what this means? After several days of cornonal mass ejections, I've had to drop back to linking to the images... Just to keep up! We are now under an S3 class solar storm. The astronauts in the ISS will be taking shelter from the radiation pouring our way... High altitude aircraft will encounter similar radiation - equalling about one chest X-ray. The possiblity for aurora at mid-level latitudes is incredible. And I am still deeply in awe of the power and magnificence this series of spots has caused over the last few days.
Of course, I have checked Earth's auroral images and we are most certainly in the path. Too bad it's rainin', eh? But I don't give up hope. The weather forecast is for clearing skies and you can bet I'll keep watch! There was a freekish clear spell last night and I walked out in the east field beyond the reach of any light source and looked north. At around 10:00 p.m., we were showing a white "glow dome" to the north, but none of the pillaring effect or colorful clouds that I've seen in the past. Still, just having been witness to the "bad boy" sunspots that have everyone talking has been a real treat. Even people who don't pay much attention to that type of thing have been asking me about it and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to see them... And even more pleased that you did!

Now wish me clear skies. I'm off to nap and keep aurora watch.

"I am not your autumn moon... I am the night."




October 25-27, 2003 - Virtual Observing...

Comments: Hey. If vampyre shift isn't enough of a slap in the face, let's try adding continual cloud cover and cold rain to the equation as well. If you know me, then you know I've been going quietly crazy (who me? nah... i do it LOUD!) for want of being able to follow the current solar activity first-hand. I guess I can't complain too much though, for I can never quit singing the praises of NASA, SOHO and BBSO for allowing we amateurs to be able to "virtual observe".

Of course, one of the first things I did this morning was to take my cup of coffee and head toward the latest data. I seem to recall having asked a few weeks ago for ol' Sol to start kicking up a fuss and it has sure done it in style! Since the ingress of spot 484, I've been keeping close tabs on solar activity and with the appearance of 486 I have been totally in awe. In the five years or so that I have steadily solar observed, I have never seen two such gargantuan sunspots on the surface at the same time. Not only can I see differences in umbral and penumbral structure from just the two days it was clear enough for me to study, but just watching all the wonderful photographs that have appeared on the web is enough to catch the changes. The GOES data has kept me riveted to my seat, and coronograph mpeg movies of the latest activity has left me slack jawed and deeply appreciative of the information available.

So why the kowtow? Oh, brother... Look and see! Let this image load for a minute and you will understand. Not only has 484 and 486 produced two more X class flares... But two more CMEs as well!! Behold the eye of SOHO! (clicking on this link will take you to an animated view of the duo CMEs taken by the SOHO Lasco C3 on 10/26/03.)

Unreal, isn't it?? The changes the solar surface has undergone in just days has been absolutely unprecedented. I watch those SOHO cameras daily just freekin' and peakin' at the things that are going on behind the clouds! ShockSpot keeps barking and I keep listening... This is a bit of solar history going on! And I want to keep it here so I may remember the dates... Have a look at this image and you can see why.



SOHO MDI


And I'm so curious... I want to know what's going on that you can't see as well as what you can... You know my penchant for studying the magnetograms as well.... Again my thanks to the SOHO program... Isn't that just incredible? Look at the positive and negative magnetic energy playing tug-o-war on the solar suface... No wonder it's having such cataclysmic changes! Over the days there have been giant prominences as well... I have seen incredible images from Big Bear Solar observatory in both H-alpha and white light. Two years after solar maximum and we are rockin'! My own meager words are simply not enough to convey what importance these last few days have been in solar history.

I can only say thank you NASA, SOHO, NOAA, Big Bear Solar Observatory, SpaceWeather, and all the other fine places on the web where we cloud dwellers...

Can watch!

"I am not your blowing wind... I am the lightning."



October 24, 2003 - The Sun...

Comments: Told ya' I couldn't stand it! I put on the "machine head" right off the bat this morning and cruised my job with the efficiency of someone with a purpose. I had read the reports about what had happened yesterday behind the day's cloud cover and I was aching after last night's pefection to get a look at the Sun. All the way into work I kept watching the sky... Jupiter way up high... Orion just magnificent... And just a heartbreakingly slim crescent of the Moon hanging no more than 15 degrees above the sunrise horizon. Pefect skies!! And I've got a job to to do before I can go look at the Sun...

So what happened that's got me so excited? How about an X5 class solar flare, eh? That's enough to toast radio transmissions and confuse global positoning systems... But how about one better? For not only did that big ol' spot I've been watching, 484, do that? But it did this as well...

Let it load and behold the magic of SOHO! (following this link will take you to an animated image of the CME taken by Lasco C3 on 10/23/03.)

Can you say coronal mass ejection, boys and girls?? ;)

What an awesome sight!! Just look look at the energy lashing off there! I know for a fact this is gonna' rock ShockSpot's little proton meter... And when I checked my e.mail? Oh, yeah... A 99% confidence level. Now let's go look at 484...


Holy Mahambajamba!! Would you just check out the size of this thing?!?!! Ordinary sunspots are like trying to compare a matchbox car to a suburu here... This one is a real monster! It's a wonder it's not actually dimming the Sun... If I were to guess a percentage of solar coverage? Wow... I'd say it's probably covering about 15% of the visible surface. But ya' know what? Oh, my... You're not going to believe what else is here!!

Check out the bad boy twin.... 486.


Trust me... You have absolutely no concept of what this means. Not only is either one of these mega-massive sunspots a rare event in terms of sheer size... But to have TWO such spots on the visible surface at the same time is absolutely unprecedented. On the incoming limb, spot 486 is so embroiled in the magnetic distortion of the Wilson Effect that it is impossible to gauge the penumbral fields at this point. Both heavyweights have twisted beta-gamma magnetic fields... And BOTH are predicted to erupt with more X class flares!!

Holy batscreen, sunman...

Has there ever been such an event in recorded sunspot history? Right now we are absolutely in the red for auroral activity... And if it holds true to form, clouds will follow at this latitude. I can only hope that whatever freekish system that we're currently in here holds, for this is just unbelievable. Not only are we getting flow from a coronal hole... But to have this happen as well?

Unfreekingbelievable...

Believe it. And I'm here to watch... To tell you... And to remember.

"I am not your rolling wheels.... I am the highway. I am not your carpet ride...

I am the sky."



October 23, 2003 - Comet Encke and Other Cool Stuff...

Comments: Yes, I sure did! And Comet Encke is brightening!! (now detectable in scopes as small as a 4.5) We had a delicious 6.0 night here, with fantastic clarity... The Milky Way was almost scary it was so pure out! Unfortunately, I only got a couple of hours sleep and I'm starting a really nasty stretch of hours at work, so it will be a bit before I can transpose my notes and get them entered here. (and when i get back this afternoon if the sky is still clear, i'm gonna' spend what little time i have between shifts checking out that wicked sunspot!) Have patience and check back... Vampyres never sleep!

Riiiiiiiiiiite...

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

And so I have returned...

I set out the dob last night and spent the first 30 good minutes simply staring. Normally I would have spent my stablilization time at least hopping around to some of the cooI stuff, but tonight I waiting on the really cool stuff! (you really didn't think i'd spend all my time in just one little field and not play around did you? ;) I don't know what rogue high pressure system visited over Ohio last night... But I'm impressed with the clarity of the sky! Setting out my things, I realize this is going to be as good as it gets... And I'm on both a comet and working on a study field.

A tough study field...

Starting first with locating Comet Encke, I start grinning when I see how fast it's closing on the Andromeda Galaxy. Going down from the 17mm sweep to the good Meade 9mm for study, the size of my grin absolutely doubles. We are getting brighter here!! The core region of the comet is easily held direct now, and the comet halo looks to me like it's jumped at least a magnitude. Caught in a triangle of 13th magnitude stars, Comet Encke definately outshines them. There is also a nearby apparent double if you push Encke to the edge of the field, and I'm guessing the primary of this pair is probably around magnitude 8 or 9. Encke is definately dimmer... Ah, well. One of these days I will catch on to how to judge cometary magntiudes, but it's... it's... Is it? Could be! Let's go get the old Celestron out and just see....

Putting the old 4.5 on the M31, my jaw drops down to the ground as I realize the M110 is just rockin' in the little scope. Man, oh, man... That's around magnitude 11, isn't it? Then let's catch us a by-gosh comet... Walkin' the field back, I am again astronished to see the Comet Encke is on the edge of perception in the little Celestron. Hola, Traveller... Not only are you getting brighter, but you're coming in range of smaller instruments! Absolutely awesome...

I go back to the 12.5 and return to Encke. I keep pushing it around the field a bit, hoping to catch some observable tail... But I still see nothing that could be considered an ion trail. Regardless, Comet Encke is definately improving and I'm looking forward to following its' progress across the sky!

Feeling the bite of the cold, I figured I better go in for a little bit and get warmed up. No wonder I was feeling it... It's a whole 33 degrees out. Fumbling around in the dark, I make myself a cup of hot chocolate and find some warmer duds. I really ought to be going to bed, but there's some galaxies I've been working on, and conditions are not going to get any finer than they are tonight. Sipping my cup, I review my notes. Of the eight galaxies studies I've chosen to work on, so far only three have revealed themselves. and two possibles. I look at the laptop thinking for some assistance from MegaStar, but I started this little jaunt without it, so I guess I'll finish it that way. Finishing up, I go back out...

Triangulum is quite full of small galaxies, but I chose an area just a bit south of Espislon. The square in which this grouping is located is quite easy in the finder... But the findings are not.

Now let's rock...

The NGC750/751 are an interacting pair. Relatively bright, they require a slight amount of aversion. Although they are truly a seperated pair, I cannot make out this distinction, even though Mr. Burnham did. To me they appear as two very concentrated nucleas sharing the same galactic field. Again, I see no distiniction bewteen them save for the core regions. A tuff customer to split...

Moving from there to my next destination, I could kiss the sky! Where my lovely notes show hesitation, my aversion tells me me the NGC761 is now confirmed. Near (and I mean very near) a trapezoid formation of stars, the NGC761 fooled me once because of its' stellar nucleas. Tonight, with aversion and patience I can see a thin scratch of light that accompanies this, giving that shy little dude what I would call as edge-on structure. Hey, hey!! Score one for deep, dark skies...

The next I have also been having trouble with. The NGC736 is passingly bright... But only in the sense that as I am bouncing my eye around in the field looking for the companion, it keeps calling me back. It has a condensed nucleas and is small and round... But there is supposed to be another here... And by gosh. There is. Again, I have a case of a sellar nucleas that required ultra-fine sky conditions to reveal what else is there... And again, edge-on structure caught at the very limits of my perception. This is why I repeat study!! I was honestly ready to give up on this group, but sometimes the sky gives ya' grace and ya' gotta' take it. But...

No amount of grace could help me locate the rest of the members which consist of NGC739, NGC733, and NGC738. I moved back and forth, back and forth, over that little, itty bitty field again and again, and I'm still not seeing anything in the positions in which they should be in. I tried every trick I know... Right down to nine lives and cat's eyes - But I can't see them. I even did my little zen pupil widening thing that will usually call out that one extra little photon in the split second it takes for them to return to normal... But no. And after a good solid two hours of working this field, I've had enough.

Can't win 'em all, ~T...

As I put away my equipment for the night, I can only stare open-mouthed at the Milky Way. The superior skies tonight have done something that most don't often see... And this is the joy to observing in the open. The great rift that runs through Cygnus looks impossibly dark... But the truly handsome feature is where the Milky Way arm itself fans out through Cassiopeia, Perseus, and into Andromeda and the edge of Pegasus. What you see is this incredible ellipticity, the true scope of our own galaxy. What magnitude stars shine out here at the end of our rainbow that are just beyond the reach of the human eye? They ache for resolution... Cassiopeia contains more stars tonight than most will ever see. The Plieades are a cold blue fire. The red eye of Taurus, Alderan calls... and the Hyades answer. These are the diamond bright skies of the end of the year. I am shivering again, but the perception is worth all the cold...

Toughen up, kid... Winter is coming.

"I am not your rolling wheels... I am the highway. I am not your carpet ride.... I am the sky. I am not your blowing wind.. I am the sky here. I am not your autumn moon... I am the night.

The night... "



October 20/21, 2003 - A Return To Encke and the Orionid Meteor Shower...

Comments: The sky was expected to turn sour, so I wasted no time playing with other objects. My time to observing during the dark days will be minimal and I want very much to keep a handle on Comet Encke because it is changing and moving rapidly. In order to improve both my observing skills and my ability to locate with accuracy, I gratefully accepted the help of MegaStar's map program. At the moment, I am still working encoder free... But I can foresee a day in the near future when that shall change as well. But until that day comes? The maps the program shows are 100% accurate...

And I will make use of them.

Starting with field, I am grinning like crazy because comet Encke is moving like a little cosmic bullet right toward the M31. Using the 26mm Meade to start with, I take it to a recognizable field, go to my good 9mm and adjust what stars I see on the chart accordingly. Going to the right area for the comet with the 26mm, I then drop to the 9mm keeping my map settings a bit wide and follow star by star, and field of view by field of view. Continuing to narrow down the search pattern, it is simply a matter of time before Encke is in the eyepiece. What can I say besides what the heck magnitude stars is the Meade 12.5 capable of?? Just how low will it really go? What I show on my chart should be a barren field... But that is not what is in the eyepiece.

Comet Encke looks like a haloed star. Upon aversion, a pinprick of a central core can be detected... But at this point I see no tail. There are several stars in the area as well, but I still have some difficulty in judging them "down and dirty" stellar magnitudes. The comet is as bright as, if not brighter than, a small formation of stars to the east that resemble the primary stars of Ursa Major. While looking at that formation, averted vision also catches a few finers stars that appear between the two. Making note of the time, at 9:30 p.m., EDST, with sky conditions at an easy 5.0 in the area of Encke, I would guarantee you I've found my mark. The comet is listed as being 12th magnitude, and I will agree with that on the nucleas region... But I would suggest that the diffuse mantle is a least a magnitude dimmer.

Rock on...

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

And, of course, the skies did erode. At approximately 10:30, the first sweeps of hazing clouds began moving in from the northwest. The peak of the Orionid meteor shower will be in a few hours, but somewhere just before midnight, only the sucker holes remained. I am a hearty soul, and since I do not have to work tomorrow? It is my pleasure to return to the wee hours of the morning in hopes of catching a few meteors. Is there a significance to this? For me... Yes. The Orionids are the offspring of Comet Halley, and my very first telescope was bought to observe that very comet. The night was still surprisingly warm, and it was most pleasant to find the old redwood chair and a blanket and settle in. Between the hours of 4:00 and 6:30 a.m., I did a lot of snoozing as the clouds passed over, but I did my fair share of yahooing as well! It seems to me like the Orionids are really slow... Almost like they trundle across the sky. About once every five to six minutes a soft, silver streak would appear relatively close to the radiant. And, about every 20 minutes the clouds would cover everything up. Where's that GoAway feature when you need it, eh? But I ain't mad... It really is nice outside, and when I see the silver grin of the Moon caught inside of Leo's belly, I realize even that was worth being out here for. All told I viewed nine Orionid meteors in a period of two and a half hours... And consumed four cups of coffee, two poptarts and serveral hanfuls of Lucky Charms right out of the box. Was it really worth getting up for? Heck, yeah!

That's what I call "breakfast with style...."

"Friends and liars? Don't wait for me... Cause I'll get on all by myself. Put millions of miles under my heels... And still too close to you I feel."



October 19, 2003 - Day and Night...

Comments: Sunshine today! A chance to laze about... Happily watching cartoons and napping. It feels good to eat, sleep and just be relaxed. Of course, just like some people read the newspapers, I have a tendency to like to follow solar activity reports... And when I see this?



SOHO 24 hour image


Ah, man... You know I can stay sedentary! Forget that. We've had an X class flare and you're not tyin' this Cassiopeia to a chair for all eternity! I wanna' see it...


484 is just infreekingcredible in the telescope. Spanning more than 7 Earth diameters, this huge, twisted solar scab has details inside of it that doppler imaging doesn't even dream about!! Of course, my temporary illustrations are simplistic, fuzzy and always contain noise lines (do you know how hard i've works this old VCR and camcorder the last couple of years? ;) but who the heck cares?! Just look at that puppy!! Not only has it blown its' cork once... But is expected to again. Since it is on an inward rotation, those magnficent proton streams directed our way could mean aurora at my latitude. With the Moon just about out of the way for a few days? That's something to be excited about!!

Hellacool....

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

And now I'm awaiting the night. There's a bit of haze to the skies, but Rayleigh scattering is surprisingly minimal. I know I've got to get up early to work... But hey! I'll sleep when I'm dead, brothers... (or when it rains - whichever comes first). I've got a couple of things in mind for tonight, so wish me luck.

My turn drive on the highway of stars...

So now I'm back to tell ya' about it, right? Darn right. It was time to take the 12.5 out for a walk in the night air. By 8:30 the skies are getting deep and I just had the urge to re-visit some of the same things I had been doing over the last few days, but with the aperture they deserve. It's rather hard to tire of the M2, M27 and M15 when you're putting the "muscle" on them... Such resolution! I am always pleased with this scope. What's bright and pretty in the little Orion is incredible in the big Meade. For the first half hour or so, I was right content just to look at these things...

And then that ancient wanderlust strikes again.

NGC6543 was absolutely singing in my mind... But that's not what I want. The NGC7009 sits prime time at around 9:00 here, and the "Saturn Nebula" is truly a sight to behold. Again, I appreciate the big Meade mirror when it comes to color correction. The NGC7009 has a bluish tint to it that I've seen in other scopes, but it is truly electric in the dob. Not quite as blue as the Hubble Variable, the Saturn nebula is pleasing nonetheless. Roughly the same size as it's namesake at the magnification the 12.3mm ED eyepiece provides, the elongation at the edges bear out that "saturn shape." Very fine!!

Another little creature I have in mind for tonight as well is the "Blinking Planetary" - NGC6826. Easily captured with the 26mm Meade in the same field as 16 Cygnii, this one is a real cutie. The trick is to stare right at it. When you do? Only the central star will appear.... Yet look at 16 Cygnii (a nice little double, by the way) and you will see the little grey disc of the planetary! Ooops... There is goes. You can't look right at it or it's gone. Look at the space between the two components of 16 Cygnii and you will see the "fuzz" again... Ooops! And it's gone again.

Smiling, I leave the 26mm in and graze over good old Andromeda. More interesting than the galaxy M31 itself is how very bright the M32 and M110 are in this scope!! I let it slide on to the south edge and make out the slight brightening of the NGC206, but I'm not in the mood to power up on it right now. Heading to the finder, I see just the tiniest hint of the M33 and decide to go that way next. Slaughtered.... Only the essence of the core. Looking up, I know what I want. I knew what I wanted before I came out here and I also knew pretty daggone close as to where to find it.

Comet Encke.

Using the 26mm to get it on approximate field, I then moved on the the 17mm plossl. Staying in a tight area, I found a little fuzzy after a few grid runs, double checked my finder field and went to the maps. No close DSOs that show on Uranometria for right here. Heading back to the eyepiece, I do what I do. Draw a field sketch quickly, and then continue to look at the daggone thing because it took me a good 30 minutes to be self satisfied I was in the area. I want that confirmation call.

After I got home today, I consulted with the one person I trust implicitly.... The "Bossman". Of course, he gave me hell for not confirming it with MegaStar's maps, but this time I had checked the database and 2P Encke was not listed. While we talked to one another, I described roughly what I saw in the eyepiece while he doubled checked on his updated version of MegaStar. Feelin' kinda' down after we spoke, because I was pretty sure then that I had a mis-identification, I headed off to make myself something to eat and update my own system. I know what I saw. I've got a rough map here of the starfield. Sometimes I get so excited that I tend to forget to watch what way things are drifting so I can be 100% accurate on marking the cardinal directions. I am quite dumb enough to be holdng my sketch one way and my head another. I might look in the eyepiece one moment, sketch, readjust and move the field a bit... But at least I've got the star pattern. Hey, I'm not pefect and I darn sure ain't a professional... But I really do know better. Stinging a little bit from the realization that I really am not progressing as much as rusting, I sat down and updated MegaStar.

Of course, I want to be sure what I did worked... Even when I know that I at least did that right. I called up 2P Encke's position for the local time and looked at it. Man... You're right. There's not a thing around it. So, being the curious soul I am, I continued to expand the field, adjusting the stellar magnitudes... and WHAM! There was that star pattern.... When I saw it off to the south, and I know Encke's heading northwest... Oh, man. Clicking on the info chart, I see the comet is around 12th magnitude and that will match what I saw. It was definately a great deal fainter than the stars around it, but not off the edge of detection. So how far could Encke have traveled in about 21 hours? Is it possible that it could have went a couple of fields of view? My own lack of hard science and good astronomy practice appalls even me at the moment. I do be thinkin' it's about time for ol' ~T here to give up the "Star Party Hop" and get back to what I love to do the best before my skills rust. Accurate sketches, accurate magnitudes of surrounding stars... Accurate cardinal directions of the bright star fields. Because the next time I go hunting for Encke?

I won't fail.

"I am not your rolling wheels...
I am a highway. I am not your carpet ride.... I am the sky."



October 18, 2003 - The Astronomy For Youth (AFY) "Haunted Star Party"...

Comments: The day dawned dark and dreary. The skies held little promise... But the forecast was good. Is this a star party that's going to happen? Or are we going to be a bunch of gereatric trick-or-treaters standing out in the cold night air?

Postive attitude, ~T. B+ is my blood type.

By the time the Sun started westering the clouds were thinning and I was in full costume and heading toward Malibar Farms. The Orion 4.5 and a couple of goth teenagers were packed in the car and we were ready to party at the drop of a hat. Arriving at the scene of the crime, the young'uns promptly took off for a walk in the woods while I began set up. But I didn't feel alone! You can see the little Orion is in fine company as Robert the "Wizard" checks out his Meade 10 and Greg the "Grim Reaper" stands by in the background ready to terrorize and educate our guests....

Not long afterward, paramedic Tim shows up as himself: "A crazed psychotic killer. We look just like everybody else." Smiling at his humor, I love to listen to this guy talk. He's always got something fun to say! And last, but not least is our favorite "Goof", Curt and he's brought a rather glitzy character with him as well!

Who dat??

I gotta' had it to Trish... Her costume even blows mine out of the water!! Trisha? You are definately "too cool", sister!! And so Curt rounds us all up to take a picture (as green as the thought makes me...)



As we watch the sky darken, our own anticipation of an observing session begins to build. The teenagers have found their way back from the wilds of the woodlands and they are most happy to simply be alone together and listen to tunes while us "big kids" play. Lighting pumpkins and lanterns, we begin to despair that we aren't going to get any guests tonight... But I'm ready to observe. I blew out my lantern and turned the little scope toward M2...

A couple of feet away I hear a certain Meade telescope happily humming its' way to the same destination. Daggone it! He beat me! Smiling like the fiend I am dressed as, I've gotta' go over and at least punch on Robert and we both smile as we trade views. As we move on to the M15, lights begin to show coming along the road and it's not long until others begin to join us as well. "Bubba" is a member of the Columbus Astronomical Society and an often guest at WRO as well. It's wonderful to have him with us tonight! Another gentleman, with whom I have commmunicated, but not so far met, (hey, Doug!) has also arrived to enjoy the evening with us as well. Our guest continue to light up the night and our spirits and the winds grow cold, but the friendship is warm.

I tell the tale of the sky legends, our "Space Ghosts" theme of the evening to the kids, and smile as they learn the constellations. Guests move about between scopes and it is my pleasure to run through the bright objects for Doug and take requests. All around me I hear the best of the autumn skies being called forth for our viewing pleasure, and it is truly a joy. I laugh as the wind snatches away my tall crowned hat with the tiny red lights webbed into it... And smile to see it adorning the head of a child who has happily rescued it. She comes to me wanting to see through the scope and I take every request she gives me, just enjoying her polite attention and "I see it!" pleasure at the eyepiece. As the Plieades rise, I tell the children about the significance of the M45 and Halloween. It is a crowning jewel in the cap of the night.

As we wish our guests goodnight, the cold and the wind has found its' way into most of us. How wonderful it is to sit by Robert's whistling tea kettle and enjoy a cup of hot coffee! His comments on my long sigh are quite apropos and I realize he is perhaps more "in tune" with me than I realize. Still not ready to give up the night, the "great hunt for the M33" begins and we move between scopes to compare views. Oddly enough, of the three we were using, the little "Flying Dutchman" looked the best in the Orion. (and we had a grand laugh as robert declared he had found Encke and place it on the M31...) As I stand by Robert's scope, I realize my own "Trick or Treat", does not feel complete without the one thing I have been searching for for days on end now.

The NGC6543.

You know, Robert has this way about him. His way is to somehow give me what I need when I need it... And the "Cat's Eye" it is. I hear my own intake of breath as I look at this beautiful blue/green planetary nebula that has eluded my small scope. How wonderful it is! So bright and colorful.... Absolute perfection. (and what's the first thing i do? turn on his telerad and immediately go try to find the daggone thing in my scope - even when i know that it's too small at that magnfication and aperture to be seen as anything but a stellar point.) Did I find it? I matched the field... But the NGC6543 requires higher magnification that what I have in. It only looks like a hairy blue star. Rather than open my trunk to get another eyepiece, I find myself slipping back over to Robert's scope and just sitting on the stepladder for a bit to watch the "Cat's Eye". Somehow it feels like a present...

And I like how it feels.

Going back to the picnic table, I am happy to join in the commaraderie for awhile. Part of me longs to stay on, remove my costume and spend the rest of the night right here... But I know I have a guest in my car that lives a great distance away, and my word is my promise. She will be returned safely. Packing my equipment away, I wish my friends goodnight and we head on back to the highway... The drive is long and quiet. I keep my attention on the road, remembering what it was like to be that age and allow my youngest son and his girlfriend to be themselves. After their own goodnights, we hit the road again. As we talk, I realize that something important has happened to both of them as well. Although they did not "get into" looking in the telescopes, both were happy with each other's company - and the profusion of stars upon display. For them? It was also a very good night...

A couple of hours pass a things have quieted down here as well. Hot food has been consumed, costumes forsaken for soft, warm clothes. I am alone again and I seek the quiet of the night. I wrap myself in a blanket and go outside to watch the Moon rise. Both Orion and Auriga are rock hard stars... Brilliant in the cold. The rest of the sky is a soft wash of hazing clouds and still the cold wind blows... I like watching the thin slice of Moon cut its' way up through the skeletal branches of the distant trees. It feels good to be out here. Tired... Quiet....

A shadow in the dark.

"Pearls that swim the rift of me...
Long and weary my road has been. I was lost in the cities. Alone in the hills. No sorrow I feel
for anything I feel, yea...."



October 17, 2003 - Some "Soft" Practice...

Comments: Yes, it was a "soft" practice session for one reason only... Poor skies. With limiting magnitude at roughly 3.5 to 4.0, not a whole lot can be done...

Or can it?

I suppose one of the major reasons I took the Orion 4.5 out this evening is because I just might encounter similiar conditions at a public program tomorrow night and I like to be prepared. If we've got haze then like we do now, it's just a good idea to know what you can achieve and how to go about achieving it. In all actuality, even I was surprised. Thanks to rotten lower conditions, Saggitarius was out of the question, but I was not disappointed in the M2, M15 or M27. While I didn't have any problem detecting the M57... Some one less experienced would. Therefore, I did not continue to haunt Draco in my vision quest for NGC6543. Turning my attention to doubles, I find that Delta Lyrae, Albeiro, and Draco 19/20 still perform fine - But Espilson Lyrae and Almach are out of the question. The NGC457 performs just fine, and although a great many of the finer stars in NGC884/869 are not visible, it too gives a good target. M52 is perceivable, but also loses appeal... And I'm beginning to believe nothing but total clouds can kill the M31. (M33? har de har har....)

By then, those soft waves of clouds began making things even more difficult. I kept checking back as the evening wore on, hoping to practice M1, M35, M44, M67, M36, M37 and M38... But I'm not sweating it. With the exception of the M1, it might take me a minute or two to find the others, but I know it won't really present a problem. I have simply spoiled myself over the last few days at locating my objects faster than a GoTo. I've come to the conclusion that telescope manufacturers need only to come up with one more feature for the "complete" scope.... Just a little something in case the night looks like tonight... I mean, this feature could work equally well with either Moon or clouds!! We could call it...

Go Away.

"Fun yet?"



October 15, 2003 - Mars, M22, M28, M17, M11, M2, M15, Epsilon Lyrae, Delta Lyrae, M57, Albiero, the "Eyes" in Draco (stars 19 & 20), M27, NGC457, NGC869/884, M52, Almach, Algol, M31, M33 and the Plieades...

Comments: I am in love. Yep. The object of my affection is short, doesn't weigh very much, isn't particular impressive in the looks department and is far from perfect... But in love I am. When I saw the sky was going to be at least passingly clear, I decided that more practice would be quite in order, this time using the Intes and perhaps even a few minutes with the dob. Then this little character strolled right up out of nowhere and said: "If you're good? You can use me as well." I sneered at it... I know I did. "Who? You? You ain't nothing but a cheap set of optics with a nasty finder. I only invited you along because I like your mount."

And then I remember who I am.

Smiling, I extended the legs on the tripod of the Orion ShorTube 4.5 and about threw it out the door. No, I'm not being disrespectful of my equipment, I am just continually amazed by how little this telescope weighs! I gotta' tell you, I didn't want to use it. The EZ finder, a cheap replica of a telrad site, has never been accurate and my initial response was that I'd be wasting my dark sky time on a frustrating hunt. To use a scope I haven't touched in months would be like starting all over again! Nothing is going to work like I want it to... I'm not even going to have a good idea of where I'm at in the sky... The images are going to be corroded at the edges... There isn't enough aperture here to light things up... And have you ever heard such lame excuses?? Then limp your old butt out to the back field with me, and let's waste some time.

"Cuz' I'm wastin' my time... Yes, I'm wastin' my time... Again. Oh, oh... Again..."

Click! Red dot on. Twist. Turn. Red dot on Mars. Whoa! Too cool. I darn well know I've forgotten how well balanced this little beast is! OK, Mars. OK. Not there. Look in the finder. Red dot on Mars. Look in the eyepiece. Mars not there. Fine then! I doan' need no steekin' finder to get Mars. Spend fifteen precious minutes of skydark trying to align the red dot anywhere close to Mars and half the time believing it's the position of my head that's to blame. Then I realize I'm getting stressed and just tighten the daggone thing back down and do what I do best... Compensate. If Mars is right there, and the red dot is right there... Well, who is to tell me I can't make it work anyway? It doesn't matter if it's a couple of thousand light years off the mark. After all, you're the one always telling others that finding things is 3/4 reflex anyhow, aren't you? So practice what you preach, Astronomer... And quit your whining!

Off Mars... And right back on it. Bright, beautiful, and still carrying a small polar cap and plenty of bruised looking features. You know where the dot is at now - So go get Saggitarius while you still can! And so I did... The M22 presented no difficulty whatsoever, yet the M28 was a bit harder to capture. M17 presented a challenge as well, but I wasn't leaving until I had found it! Happily satisfied, I realized that the scope doesn't have to be perfect to be enjoyed, and by the time I set it on the M11 like I had been doing it all my life, I was grinning like a fiend. By keeping the object dead center in the eyepiece, the little Orion ShorTube 4.5 offers sparkling resolution and it's inconsistancies in image quality at the edges are long forgotten. Why pick at trivialites when it's delievering front and center? Rock on, little scope. Now let's go get the M2...

Hot dang! All I need is that one star and knowing what direction to make it go out of the eyepiece to call out the bright and beautiful M2. Just a dense as it can be, the M2 packs a mighty core region with the sparkling edges of resolvability along the frontiers. Hercules? Move over, dude... As far as impact qualities in small aperature go? You have met your match in the M2! Smiling in the dark, I realize that I haven't tightened the first thing down, yet the little scope sits right where I left it. These are the kind of qualities I can learn to appreciate! From there I put it in and even more akward position with Enif in the eyepiece. M15? Got cha', kid. Again, I simply know what direction to move Enif's red visage out of the eyepiece to capture the powerpunch globular. Another bright and awesome target for the small scope!

Looking up, I gotta' yell out loud when an awesome meteor streaks across the sky. H comes to see what all the fuss is about in the dark. You can't see him, just a deeping shadow. But tonight he gives his presence away, for he is carrying a white plastic jug he's appropriated from somewhere. Yes, he's still the consumate "thief" of the night, and I'm just glad that it's not organic. I stop to ruffle his ears and listen to the radio for a few minutes. The time has come to not starhop at the eyepiece, but to learn to put that misaligned dot on a spot in the sky and call out what I'm after. Epsilon Lyrae answers in true double form, and then Delta Lyrae. This is a very undersold double star. Easily split and split wide by a small scope, this pair is a beautiful study in pale yellow and blue... Not to mention a stellar field that makes Delta an unique and most worthy visit! M57 comes next and I find myself hunting it down much as I always have... For its right about...

There!

Still in practice mode, I haunt what I think is one of the most difficult constellations to work with... Draco. After having consulted with my map before coming out tonight, I realize my little bright white double is probably star 19 and 20, which means I'm right in the ballpark for finding the "Cat's Eye" nebula, but it ain't to be tonight. Still in a doubles frame of mind and getting more and more comfortable with where my red dot is pointing, I move on to Albeiro next. Always a favourite, the orange and violet colors will make a striking and entertaining way of comparing star colors in doubles to the public. On a whim, I decided I'd shoot for the M27 as well, and ended up laughing out loud. There it is! I don't believe I fell across it with such ease with a red dot finder. Even old "hard core" here can't help but smile... Looks like I'm shooting straight from the hip tonight!

So, I move on. Yahooing at the bright meteors that are making themselves well known tonight, jabbering away to myself like somebody was listening, and picking off star party targets like I knew where they were at. The "Double Cluster", the "E.T." cluster, and another real powerful one for the small scope - M52. The tiny stars are very well resolved and the tight grouping with the bright star on the edge to the northwest make for another "coolie". I keep after some of the legends I'll be yakking about and head off toward Algol. It's really premium tonight. (and i halfheartedly find myself wishing for the galaxy hunt again...) Almach is a touch away, splendid in it's gold and green. And I hop away to take in the fantastic M31 "Andromeda" galaxy before I go back to repeat things.

I don't know what wild hair overcame me about then... But I thought I'd give 'em all a go again polar aligned. (yes, me...) That's when I fell in love. I started my adjustments and realized the entire base turns on the tripod! Again, laughing out loud I realize this little scope has a feature that has instantly endeared itself to me. I don't have to turn it around. It will do it for me! Thus began the joyous starhop... Over to this one... Over to that one... Up to this! Down to that... I repeat what I have done over and over and over again... Poor Saggitarius is long gone by now... But I am feelin' good... Mighty good about this scope, about myself, and mighty good about just being out here. I ran through them all six or seven times, and I realized I was singing along with the Godsmack tune pouring out the garage door...

"I need my serenity...."

And serenity is just what I've found. Feeling like I just cannot miss, I returned to the stars and asked the little Orion to show me what it can do... M33. Thud. That's the sound of my jaw dropping on the grass. (pick it up, will you? before H runs away with it...) Not only was I pleased with finding it... But I couldn't have been happier with its' appearance in this scope. I might bitch about the turned edge on the optics, but I'll tell ya' in a heartbeat that these short tube designs absolutely rock out low surface brightness objects!! I don't understand "why" because I am not a telescope maker... But I can tell you now that it out-performs my identical aperature Celestron 4.5 on Triangulum's "Pinwheel" galaxy! And I go off... and I go on... Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Until I am sure of how to find it stone cold.

It's really been quite a night! What started off as a situation where most would have taken the scope back in and not used it, turned out to be both a learning and successful practice session. I now have every confidence in both myself and any scope I chose to use for a public performance. Really, the confidence part was never lacking... But very few kids are willing to stand still and stay focused on what you're doing if you take more than 30 seconds to do it. I have worked chartless, undriven, misaligned and totally at ease for a couple of hours now and I am happy with the results. Ahead of me rises the Plieades, and again I smile as I check my watch. Right on time. I chose their blue radiance as my last stop for the night, the legends whispering over and over in my mind. Yet another bright meteor blazes overhead, as I gently begin to put away my equipment and whistle for H. I've truly had a wonderful time tonight. I'm relaxed and happy. It was a great way to end a long stretch of stress and work. I realize that no matter what happens in the future...

I always have the stars.

"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?

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

Are we having fun yet?"




October 13, 2003 - M22, M28, M17, M11, M57, Epsilon Lyrae, A Really Cool Double In Draco, NGC457, "The Double Cluster", M15, M2, and Mars....

Comments: Got some time to spare? The how about a little practice in them pre-Moon minutes, eh? These Fall nights with their cool temperatures, steady conditions and early sky dark times are perfect opportunites to enjoy observational astronomy, and an even better time to stay sharp on those locating skills.

Suprised that Saggitarius is still hold such good position, the old Celestron and I took a walk through three of its' better objects in a effort to keep "in practice". The M22, M28 and M17 are longstanding favourites, and I continually re-visit them not so much for deep study as I do for impact reasons. With a public program just days from now, I tend to like a bit of practice ahead of time so I don't keep guests waiting while I poke around the night. The two great globulars make excellent targets, and the soft "Nike Swoosh" of the M17 only add to the mystique of the southern sky. Again, the "Wild Ducks" are another such target... Bright, beautiful and easily well-resolved in small aperture, I practice them because I like it. Just like I still like the tiny "smoke ring" of the M57 and the "ah ha!" qualities when the "Double Double" reveals its' duo nature with a minimum of magnification.

Still trying to find the "Cat's Eye" in Draco, I know that if I can learn to find this small, green planetary with ease that magnifying it enough for a novice to see won't be a problem. Apparently the true problem is learning to find that puppy with ease! Because I AM practicing, and there is very little time before moonrise, I hop around the area and eventually settle for a really cool, very bright white double system that I can equate as "eyes" in the dark to make a Halloween program more appealing. The NGC457 has become a snap after two nights of practice! The "ET" cluster has what I'm looking for! Just a bit of imagination... The NGC869/884 is the same way - A real "beauty" in the small scope and totally valuable considering what I have in mind.

Hopping up to Pegasus, I start on the M15. OK... About 90 seconds is all it takes for me to locate this bright, powerful little globular cluster... But can I say the same for M2? Know ye this. The little itty bitty finder on the old Celestron will barely show stars anymore... It's your basic "reflex" that find the targets, and I had one heck of a time trying to find it last night!! So how did I fare tonight? Hmmmm... About 3 minutes work for you? The first few fast passes I made over that way came at the beginning of this practice session before I went to Saggitarius. I moved on knowing my limited time and came back. Right now? Oh, I've got a handle on you, M2! One star... One star is all I need. I took the scope off and on the large, bright and surprisingly beautiful M2 over and over. How over and over? Let's just say I could now point your mutha' at the southern sky and find the M2! How long before I forget how to find it? Hmmmm... Let's hope it lasts me another five days, ok?

As the Moon stained the eastern skyline, I had to at least take a fast look at Mars before putting things away to watch the progress of Selene's orange "pumpkin" appeal. You know what? It's Mars! Still lookin' good...

And still rockin' the night. ;)

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



October 10-12, 2003 - Vampyre Shift and Racing the Moon...

Comments: Yes, I've been working that dreaded night shift again. It has become something I've grown accoustomed to... But I never get "used" to it. Like all people in a pressure situation, I tend to find something that clears my mind and opens my eyes...

And astronomy fills the bill.

Of course, right now we are blessed with Moon. Even I have times when I don't care to practice astronomy because of it... But it never dulls my enjoyment of the night. The 10th was the "Hunter's Moon" - Full and beautiful. It was cloudy when I got up for work, but those clouds departed as the night wore on and it was my pleasure to walk outside during breaks and watch as it moved across the sky. There is a simple, solitary enjoyment in this type of quiet... A cup of coffee and being where you love to be is far more refreshing than a gab session. Looking at the clock and knowing that I can see Jupiter before dawn is a meager motivation... But it is motivation none-the-less. The next day of Vampyre Shift was much clearer on awakening, but again those clouds raced across the skies. Again, I watch as I work. Simple treasures like Mars and Saturn... Knowing that even buried in the city Orion still shines is a fine thing.

Last night was fantastic. Not a single cloud in the sky all day! I took the opportunity to have a quick look at the Sun, and my reward was two tiny spots. The best part of that reward was simply being outside on a gorgeous Fall afternoon with a purpose! Even though solar viewing wasn't exactly "peak" with promise, it still felt good to be out there. It was motivation enough to enjoy the day.

And knowing I've got a few minutes before the Moon rises on a clear night is motivation enough to practice...

Yes, the NGC457 and the M57 are simple targets. I found it pleasing anyway. The 4.5 is on the edge of revealing the "Cat's Eye" nebula in Draco at low power... But do you know how wonderful it felt to be out there with map in hand learning to re-locate it? Again, there is pleasure in simple things... Knowing you only have so long to find something before the Moon takes over the sky, and just enjoying what you're doing for the simplicity of it. Trying to locate the M2 under dark skies with a large aperture scope and a great finder is fun... Trying to locate the M2 with the Moon on the rise with limited aperture and an even more limited finderscope is sheer folly. Right?

Then take me to the Ice Capades, Shirley... Because I had fun!

Before I put away that old Celestron for the night, I had to stop and just peek at the lunar surface. It was its' own reward as well. Mare Crisium was at the phase I love it best... Looking like a huge blister at the edge of the Moon, surrounded by the rugged moutain ranges. Yes, it's not serious astronomy. No "Earth shattering" revelations, no obscure targets caught and reported... But for that few brief minutes? A work weary Vampyre....

Was motivated again.

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

And this is how you remind me."




October 8, 2003 - "Rabbit In The Moon", a Taste Of Mars and A Bottle Of Champagne...

Comments: Perhaps I had somehow misunderstood a co-member visiting tonight at the Observatory to star test a 17" Odyssey, but I really didn't mind the drive. It's another beautiful, warm Indian Summer night and the whole world smells like turning leaves and fallen apples. The most unusual thing happened while I was driving, though... It gave me the opportunity to watch the Moon rise and to wax fanciful about what it looks like - and not what it is. The "Rabbit In The Moon" is a compilation of all the dark maria. I have no other way to describe it. The Oceanus Procellarum forms the "ear" while the Mare Humorum makes the "nose". The "body" is Mare Ibrium and the "front legs" appear to be Mare Nubium. Mare Serentatis is the "backside" and the picture is complete where Mare Tranquilitatus and Mare Fecunditatis shape the "hind legs". So, I guess ya' gotta' take me coming from both worlds. It is enough that I've managed to "see" the Rabbit, but the rest of my head wants to tell you what the Rabbit is.

What's up, Doc?

As soon as I opened the Clubhouse door, I realized I was too late. The awesome Odyssey is gone! Ah, well... I hear drums and to me no trip over here is complete unless I visit with Sean. Not only do I really dig listening to him play, but I like walking through the door and watching the big grin light up his face right before he loses a drumstick. Both of us smiling I make a motion for him not to stop... And he doesn't. I can't help but admire the energy he puts into the music, and I cannot either stand still or not sing! Normally I would be too shy to do that... But he is infectious. When he stops to take a break, I tell him why I am there and he doesn't mind if I stay and play for awhile. His practice will take precedence over any kind of "disturbance" I might present, and so I walk back up that not-so-quiet Hill and realize I want nothing more from here.

Heading back to my own scope and my own ways are what I want tonight...

I set out the 12.5 upon arrival along with my collection of eyepieces and filters. I find myself hungry for something and not quite knowing what it is... And yet I do. F-key disabled. While things are stabilizing, I walk up the stairs to my office and grab a notebook out of the collection that surround my "work" area. I feel like studying Mars for awhile tonight... Taking my time and making notes. I head back out, put the dob on Mars, realize that the stability is mighty fine, and head straight for the 9mm. "Bikini Mars" is what I have at the moment, and I can think of no finer area to simply just enjoy than the dark Syrtis Major. I reach in my pocket to retrieve my little red flashlight and begin flipping through the pages of my notebook for a clean area to make my entries. Then I realize this isn't just any notebook. To be honest with you, I had forgotten about it... Put it away, just like I do so many areas of my life. The karma is so thick at the moment, you could cut it with a knife. It makes my smile light up the dark as I run my fingers over the words...

And I turn to a fresh page to begin anew.

Mars calls, and the song is Syrtis Major. The southern polar cap is far from gone, and it is there I focus my attentions first. It no longer shines and stands away from the planet surface as it once did. The change of the martian seasons has caused it to shrink perhaps 200% over the past few months, but it is still a prime time player. To me, Hellas Basin looks like nothing. I don't perceive it as anything but a featureless area with the Mare Tyrrhenum and Mare Serpentus caught on either side. Iapygia is equally unfathomable. It is the dark underscore of Hellas Basin. The extrusion of Syrtis Major is like a dark sawtooth in the unfiltered soft salmon color of the landscape, with the rusty sands of Arabia to give it contrast. I watch and watch in hopes of catching the little intrusion of Libya, but it is not to be. At best, I can make out where Syrtis Minor appears as a point at the dark features edge. I keep watching though.... And the dark band of Utopia is my only reward. It looks almost as if it reaches toward Syrtis Major, but there is something that seems to smoke away off of that.

Content with what I have seen, I close the notebook and lay down my pen. Tonight, for some reason, I feel like a bottle of champagne. I put away my things with the exception of the good 26mm eyepiece and walk back to the house to fetch one. I lovingly take out one of the fine black bottles I keep hidden in the refrigerator... This is not the type of champagne you buy at a liquor establishment. This comes from Mon Ami winery and will rival Dom Perignon anytime. I remember the legend of this champagne as I take off the foil and cage and rummage in the drawer for my cork puller. It is handmade, handtended, and aged for a minimum of 12 years before it even dreams of being sold. Only so many bottles exist for each year, and tonight it is my pleasure to reach back into last century and enjoy.

Taking my treasure and one of my fine crystal glasses along with me, I return to the scope and toast the night. I watch Mars in the eyepiece, at the apex of a triangle written in bright stars. I smile at the Moon as I enjoy yet another glass, and by the time I've finished my third? I put away my equipment while I still can. I sit on the steps of the deck, old notebook on my lap, as H cautiously sniffs the bottle and promptly sneezes. It is a fine thing to sit here in the moonlight on a warm fall night listening to rock and roll. I fill my glass again and I trace over the words and diagrams written there, smiling at the moment that seems so long ago. I am a bit dizzy, and I freely admit that I quite like it! It might be the champagne, but it is a combination of all things... The stars that shine overhead, the bright Moon, the taste of Mars, and a touch of your karma. I pour the last glass and hold it up to see the distorted Moon through the crystal and bubbles...

Mon Ami? Salute'....

"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?

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



October 7, 2003 - "The Cow Jumping Over The Moon"...

Comments: No, no. I haven't lost it. I had absolutely no intention of observing last night because I know what lunar features would be there, and I simply don't care much for the Moon at the late phases. I wasn't in the mood for Mars, and I'm kinda' "eye tired" to be working on tough doubles. All I really wanted to do is just sit out here on this gorgeous Indian Summer night, under the moonlight, playing guitar and perusing a glass of wine.

And I did just that.

I kept looking at the Moon though... For there is a part in the Astronomy League's Lunar Club Program where you are asked to identify certain unaided eye features.... And to use a bit of imagination. Well, naming features isn't a real problem with me now, is it? And what had really had me sweating about finishing up this certificate is the fact that I've got to daggone use my imagination to "see" something on the Moon besides maria and bright features. Riiiite... That's like asking me to look a Saggitarius and see an "Archer" and not a doggone map of DSOs. It's just difficult for me to do. So here I sit, harmonizing along with a big black bear of a dog sprawled at my feet... And a silver Moon overhead. I keep looking at it... And I am kinda' noticing that those dark features over there could kinda' look like legs if ya' thought about it... (of course, one more glass of wine and the tomato plant would probably look like an alien too, but that's beside the point.) So I made very careful note in my happily furry mind to remember what I saw and double check the the AL Lunar Program... Dang. You know what??

I saw a "Cow Jumping Over the Moon"...

"It's not like you... To say sorry. But I'm always waitin' on a different story. This time I was mistaken... For handin' you a heart worth breakin'...."



October 7, 2003 - Silver Surfin' and the Solar Surface...

Comments: I was asleep long before the Sun set on October 6. I knew it was going to be a beautiful night - but sleep on the Vampye Shift is a command, not a prerogative. When the alarm regrettably went off, I could see nothing but pale light outside the window. How bright the moonlight can seem at times! Reflecting off the heavy dew, the world looks as if it were filled with silver light...

I arrived at work about the time the date changed. I could not help but stare up as I walked in, for the phat form of Selene being ushered across the starry sky by Mars is an exquisite sight. How they dance, eh? And whenever I was due for a rest period, you would find me outside... Looking at the sky. What mysteries hold you tonight, Sister Moon? I can see Tycho's bright rays from here, and I know the ancient Gassendi graces the eyepiece of the lucky tonight. Mare Serenetatius, Mare Tranquilatatus... They are beautiful to the naked eye as well. Mare Ibrium... Mare Nubium... These are things I know. The bright and orange Mars... How I enjoyed their dance of the ecliptic as I walked outdoors over the passing hours! I saw Saturn rise... And Jupiter eventually take it's place as Mars and the Moon quietly set west. There's certain quietness to this silver nighttime. It's as calm and refreshing as the Pacific Ocean which I once saw...

Just silver surfing.

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

Return of the Sun, eh? Of course. It is a pleasure when my working hours allow me a glimpse of the solar surface as well!! And what have we today?

The ingress of 471 and follower series, 473...

471 is, of course, the cool spot we saw rotate inward a few days ago, drawing the series 473 along with it. It has now elevated to a beta/gamma magnetic class and is up for some M-class flare activity as well. Kinda' cool when you see them coming in on the edge like that, for the ones that make the greatest path through the granulation and exhibit some of the Wilson Effect and definate faculae upon entry invariable end up with a twisted magnetic field. I don't know about you, but I'm ready to catch one of those behemoth magnetic "scabs", bristling with energy, that absolutely dimple the solar edge and shoot of coronal mass ejections! The solar surface has been quiet long enough now, thanks... Come on, Sol....

Let's rock.

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



October 5, 2003 - A Taste Of Moonshine...

Comments: What a beautiful night... Man! If these were dark skies I would have been crying the blues about having to get up early and missing out on some great observing - But they aren't dark. They're lit with "Moonshine"!

You don't have to ask me twice if I'd like to do some casual Moon observing, for I like it every bit as much as I do other phases of astronomy. Setting up the old Celestron in the back field, I realize as I have to keep adjusting things that some of the love of observing went out of my life when I killed this telescope. The second crash lost something that help move the worm gear and it gives me grief everytime I use this mount. Yes, I did buy another 4.5... And I bought it more for the mount than anything else... But I'm probably one of the most stubborn old Taurus you'll ever meet and I just keep wanting to use my old scope. But, hey... She ain't dead yet and neither am I!

Just check out Sinus Iriidum...

It's awfully hard for me to say I've lost my love of observing when I look at that 300 mile chain of the Juras Mountains ringing the "Bay of Rainbows". It's even harder for me to say the old Celestron deserves a decent burial when it still rocks out features like that! Bright Promentoriums LaPlace and Heraclides simply shine... And I know the expanse is roughly 180 miles apart. There's an awesome old crater on the edge of the Juras named Maupertuis that shows very well tonight. The flat, loveless eye of Plato beckons... But of all the features that sing and dance? (hey, copernicus... not tonight.) Those two little pock marks at the mouth of Sinus Iridum are what really fascinate me!

Tiny black wells named Helicon and Leverrier... I purposefully up the maginfication on them to see if I can even find a wink of detail inside. At roughly 8,000 feet deep, neither crater's soul coughs up any detail other than the crater lip. Yes, they are not spectacular, but the larger - Helicon - is 16 miles across! Sixteen miles!! That's even less than the distance I drive to work... And the smaller, Leverrier? It's 13 miles across. Only thirteen miles... Great Neptune! I drive thirteen miles just to get a bloody pizza! So you see... Even though some things might not look incredibly impressive? They really are... Just like the 160km long Dorsum Heim. Nothing more than a soft rille that extends away across the picture, eh? And just another coolie...

I guess I love the Sinus Iridum the best. I'm not the only one, though. For Kopel once looked at it as well, evisioning a minor planet smacking into the forming Moon and wrote that it "gouged out Sinus Iridum and bored a deep hole within the inner region, raising a great wavelike structure all around the region and sprayed out some of its substance and some of that of the Moon in a great fan of radiating mountain ridges... Subsequently the wave settled partly and broke at the shore line that is the outer circle." Wow. I couldn't have said that better myself! Of course, Baldwin just called it "one of the Moon's greatest craters."

And I agree.

"And this is how you remind me..."



October 3, 2003 - The WRO "Public Rain Night"...

Comments: Well, that pretty much says it all, doesn't it? But it didn't matter. There was still a meeting of the Richland Astronomy Society and it's always my pleasure to attend. After some time spent with Club business, it was equally a pleasure to adjoin to a local eatery and partake in numerous jokes, stories, and general good humor that accompanies such outings. It's a real gas to be with these guys, and I wouldn't miss this time for the world! There were times when they'd have me laughing so hard I was afraid to eat or drink!! You don't exactly have to force me to eat coconut cream pie either, eh Joe? What can I say besides?

Rock on...

"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."




October 2/3, 2003 - At the Observatory... Continuing the "Search For Encke"...

Comments: There was a program for school kids scheduled the night before at the Observatory. Early evening clouds cancelled it out because of the time frame in which they would be there... But today was cloudless and beautiful. And we're on again!

Arriving well before dark, I was surprised to see Greg (and then again, i'm not. he has become a wonderful, tireless co-worker in giving programs) leaning against the front of his van and reading when I went to open up the Observatory. I set about taking care of business straight away because I know how quickly the time can pass and it would be all too easy to have a group arrive and not have things ready to go. My first thought was to set the 31" on the Moon, for the views it delivers of the Alpine Valley are simply uncomparable... But I also know that chasing the Moon would mean several repositionings of the lift in a time dependent situation. Given that thought, Mars would be the most logical choice from there, and well before the group arrived the scope was set on Mars, the lift was ready... And so were we.

I gotta' hand it to the kids. They always have a way of brightening things up. Full of life, and twice as full of energy, they came in easy sets of three as we moved from ground to eyepiece amidst jokes and gentle teaching. The cold Ohio temperatures have made even lower horizon studies incredibly stable, and Mars was no exception last night. The south polar cap is still strikingly in evidence, as is the "melt line". The Mare Erythaeum area was wonderfully full of soft grey details. The kids might not thoroughly understand this, because their patience is somewhat limited... But they can darn well dig what I'm telling them about the polar cap being made of frozen carbon dioxide, the surface covered with iron oxide, and how they can see the bluish haze of the carbon dixode atmosphere. Very few kids in the 10-12 year old age range are unable to equate dry ice and rust into features! And every single one of them was able to capture Martian atmosphere in their imaginations... In other words? They are sharp.. They are quick... And they're fun too!

Below the dome, I can see that other RAS members have arrived as well. The Club's Discovery is set up... Joe has his awesome Celestron out, and although I can't see around the corner, I can hear Greg giving the "Nickel Tour". After having taken the group through the Mars routine, I went down to hand out the JPL/NASA goodies around while John B. repositioned the scope on M13. I was gently trying to sneak away when they called me back, eh? And I like it. The M13 was perhaps one of the most emotional moments of my astro-history here at WRO, and each gasp and "Whoa!" at the eyepiece brings back those deeply moving memories of Dan and my first look through this magnificent scope. By the time each has had their turn at the eyepiece, their "time" is over. They chatter. They laugh. They run in circles and bring the "Hill" to life!

And they are gone...

Calling Greg into the dome, I want him to see the M13. Low sky position has robbed it of some of its' beauty... But far from all. Greg is a wonderful friend and he's done so much work with us, I feel that he deserves all the time he wants at the eypiece. Personally? I could stare at M13 all night looking at that tiny trail of a dark dustlane and the red star heart. Another tireless public worker, but one that also has other major responsibilites is John B. and he comes below the lift to say his "Goodnights" and tease me a bit. Realizing that most everyone is leaving, I show Greg how to move the lift up and down on his own, because I desperately need a break... And so does he! Heading down to the Clubhouse facilities, I stop to discuss some things with Joe and two members turn up to use the Observatory scope who were not present during our program. As I watch Greg leave from the window of the Clubhouse, I realize there isn't going to be any point in staying any longer. I request personal scope time perhaps two or three times a year, and when I return to the Dome with the suggestion to hunt for Encke? It doesn't take long before I simply gather back up my notes and field sketches and leave.

Have at it, boys...

Watching the Moon set as I make the drive back, I had high hopes of confirmation of Comet Encke position and I realize I don't honestly care. My Meade 12.5 is good enough for me, and even if I can't confirm it? No one else cares either. I set the dob out to stabilize when I got back and headed toward food, a hot cup of coffee, and a letter of apology to Greg for not being able to complete what we had planned. I waited until close to 2:00 a.m. before uncovering the dob and I wanted nothing more than to go straight back to Triangulum and try for observation two. Again, going to the Gamma/Delta area, I cannot find the little contrast change I spotted last night. In order to make this work, I hounded my Uranometria and positively identified NGC890 as a small, well averted and evenly distributed diffuse area that shows to my information to be an elliptical galaxy. A look at my sketches shows me this is not what I was looking at last night. I return to Gamma/Delta and gently begin to advance starfields toward Beta. This is Encke's plotted trajectory... And again I find a small, unresolved contrast change that may or may not be Comet Encke. Doing only what I know to do, I stop and make a brief field sketch again. The stars in this area are considerably dimmer, and there is a distinct possibility that I've wandered onto an NGC, PGC or UGC designation.

By now, it's getting close to 3:30. The temperatures had dropped to below freezing hours ago for there is a fine patina of frost on the vegetation in my observing area. Auriga looks grand and I think for a few moments about continuing on toward LINEAR and discard the notion. The combination of cold, wind, and everything has left me with a violent headache at the moment. I realize that if I continue to push it's only going to get worse. Part of me is very disappointed in my own weakness, for I know the Moon, the weather and my own soon-to-be working again hours will eradicate any possibility of continuing my "comet hunt". As I look round at these 6.0 skies again, I watch as a meteor trips the light fantastic. H is an invisible presence in these dark conditions, but his doppler run-bys give him away every time. I can see the tiny red light of the radio reflected inside the garage and simply stand and get into the Staind song for awhile as I look up. I curse myself for my own choice of study targets... Why did I bother with something elusive when all of these great static DSOs are calling out? I've spent the greatest majority of two superior observing nights playing around in a tight little field after something on the edge of my perception and at the limits of my equipment. Why do I even bother? My methods are crude, old-fashioned, antiquated, and very prone to mis-identifications without the addition of computer assistance. There is every chance I could be wrong... And every chance I could be right. I cannot photograph it... I can only sketch. There's no one here to confirm it but a big black dog. So why? Why use this old research grade mirror in the first dobsonian design telescope with no setting circles, no computers, and nothin' but a chart to guide me playing around with what only the "big boys" of astronomy do? Maybe because I don't know any better. And...

Maybe cuz' I ain't one...

"I've been wrong. I've been down... Into the bottom of every bottle. Yet these five words in my head scream..

Are we havin' fun yet?"




October 2, 2003 - Comet Hunting...

Comments: I set the 12.5 out to stabilize around 1:30 and sat down with a cup of coffee to study my highly limited locator charts. Ohio has gone cold... Very cold, my friends. I glanced at the thermometer as I walked by and we've got below 40 degrees. Of course, you know what that does to the skies, don't you? By 2:00 a.m., given my dark location, we were holding a perfect 5.5 and I was ready to begin the scan for Comet Encke.

With the crude map I have, Comet Encke is located in the general vacinity of Gamma/Delta Triangulum. The clarity of the skies shows to the unaided eye that these are seperate, yet very close stars. Now it's time...

Using the good 26mm as a "sweeper" I began my hunt in earnest. Within minutes I had turned up a "signature" in the area and went to the 12.3mm ED. Hola! You know... This is really nice! But this isn't a comet. Heading to the Uranometria, I have found NGC925. Blushing a bit, I go back to the eyepiece to at least enjoy it, OK? A titlted spiral with a bright nucleus... But this isn't what I want. Continuing to work my way carefully across the field one FOV at a time, I find several other "signatures", but I think I'm moving too far away. Going back to Gamma/Delta, I narrow the search and take my time. And I see something... If I am correct? Comet Encke is in the field with an assortment of apparent doubles. But there's also a problem here, folks... There's also a lot of galaxies in this area. What I believe to be Comet Encke could also be NGC890. What we have in the eyepiece looks cometary... A soft ball of light with no resolution. Each time I push further through the field to locate and confirm 890, I find myself coming back because I don't want to lose what I've found.

I can hear the "Bossman" howling in my head with my antiquated ways... And for once, sir? I am listening. Pushing toward magnitude 14 is my limits. 890 is billed as 12.7 but there is also a nearby IC as well. Rather than continue with my indecision, I do what I do. Make a sketch on my field notes. My best guess is that I've located Encke, but you have spoiled me with that instant confirmation! So I'm followin' the rule of three here... Just as I always have. Observe that sucker at least three times. If it is indeed Comet Encke, it will have at least changed positions in my rough starfield.

Damn, I miss you already.

There is also another comet out there, with even shadier instructions on how to find it. It is C/2002 T7 LINEAR. Want good directions? How about "cruising by the M36, M37 and M38 in Auriga"? Hahahhahaaa.... Ah, ya' gotta' love it, eh Robert? Again, we are talking about an estimated 12th magnitude. Just how good can it get?? All I can say is: Comets move... Find what you believe to be it? Go back and look again. If it's moved? You've got it!

By now it's around 3:30 a.m., and it is very, very clear. VERY clear... Every time I look around I catch a meteor. Transparency had went from above average to outstanding. I have absolutely no doubt what-so-ever that we've deepened to 6.0. One look at Orion confirms this. The faintest of stars listed on my Tirion wide field maps is 6.5 and Orion is slammin' 'em down. The winter Milky Way looks like an invading cloud. I guarantee your jaw would drop if you looked into Orion... Even I am impressed with the multitude of stars that spangle across his "chest"! So let's finish this cup of coffee and take on Auriga...

Sweet jesuit priest! Do you know how many stars there are in Auriga?? Grinning like an idiot, I have to pass over the M36, M37 and M38... Good grief how can you not?? I mean, just standing here on the ground you can see right where they're at! Smacking myself mentally, I realize that I'm making a effort here to use the 26mm as a "finderscope"... Stop playing around and do what you came to do! OK... Maybe stop for a bit and split up that cluster of stars with the 12.3mm cuz' all those doubles are just too good to resist with these conditions. ;) Quit! Quit! Laughing as I hear one of my current favourite tunes playing on the radio, "Headstrong to take on anyone..." I go back to the 26mm and continue my "scan". Ah ha! Very beautiful... But this ain't it folks. The NGC1931 a very pretty little bright nebula that could certainly be a fooler to smaller aperature as cometary signature. Quite round and diffuse, it is too bright for what I'm after, but the embedded stars really make me smile! If I do find this faint traveller in this stellar field, there is a distinct possibiity that it's "on a star" and will appear much like this. Hopping to the other side of the galactic equator, I begin my scan again and pick up a faint fuzzy. Switching to the 12.3mm, it's time to make a sketch. I'm in a field with a very bright, recognizble star pattern. Two are doubles and two are apparent doubles. Again, there is a very strong possiblity that this is NOT the comet. This could be Sh2-231... I also show two bright nebula in this area and a host of small planetaries further along.

Again, I hear the "Boss" groaning in the background. If I had hooked Megastar up to the encoders I could be showing myself the precise field I was on and gotten instant cofirmation on the telescopes position and designation. I feel the bite, ok? Again, all I can do is go by my own rule of three observations and check to see if it moved. I know that it's antiquated... I know that if I ever did stumble across a comet on my own that I couldn't even give proper coordinates to report it. I realize that I should have at least had MegaStar out here with me to help verify DSO and star positions. I realize all this as I close my sketchbook. Ya' know, kid... I'm not ever going to be anybody important. I'm never going to make an exciting discovery or make a contribution to science. All I'm ever going to be is pretty damn good with a backyard telescope... Slow and steady...

And always lookin' up.

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



October 1, 2003 - M42, Sigma Orionis, M78, M41, The Zodiacal Lights, Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury... The Sun...

Comments: Another clear sky morning and I was out there... Oh, yes. I was out there. I had seen something two mornings ago that I wanted confirmed, so you know I was up. While puttering around and waiting for dawn to approach, I took the opportunity to play with Orion and the new little Orion ShorTube 4.5. I really am quite pleased with this little telescope. It cools quickly and delivers very decent images. The M42 looked particularly fine this morning, and by adding the 12.3mm ED Epic eyepiece, it was easy to distinguish the Trapezium area, but only four stars show. (duh!) Putting the 25mm back in, I hunted around for a bit until I found the M78 again which just appears as an irregular, small, but still quite bright nebula to this scope. Curious again about its' performance, I went back to power and on to Sigma Orionis. I like this red, white and blue mulitple system and the little 4.5 performed flawlessly. I shot over to Sirius and on down to the M41 and low power. WOW! You know, I'd forgotten just how beautiful this open cluster really can be!

And there it is...

Directly between where Jupiter will soon rise and just a bit north of where Mercury will appear is a cone of light. I referred to it the other day as "false dawn" because I wanted to be sure. I know there aren't any towns to produce light for about 40 miles in this direction, so it cannot be reflection. Even the ones close enough to do so aren't causing any this morning... What I am seeing can be nothing else but the "Zodiacal Lights". I have seen them in the winter evenings before... But never in the morning. This wedge of light spans a good 30 degrees above the apparent horizon and pretty much toasts the rise of Leo. It doesn't last long though... Perhaps fifteen minutes. But it was very worth getting up for!

Eyes filled with "dust of creation", I figured since I was up I might as well wait on the planets. Saturn is already dancing well overhead. Titan is walking along beside in the north/western position, while the tiny "troopers" appear to be winking around the western ring edge. It's been a rather long time since I've looked for Iapetus, but I'd pretty much guarantee the little guy is following behind to the east. And speaking of east? Check this out. I could see Jupiter starting up through the trees and I set the scope on it. Leading the way were three of the galieans... (ho, galieo! i remember... ;) What fun to watch them pull the Mighty Jove up off the horizon! And just for fun? One was trailing behind.... A few minutes later and glimmer to the south/east caught my eye and I knew who was calling. Hola, Mercury! To me, it is always a pleasure to catch this particular planet. I have only seen it clearly phasic a handful of times in my life, but do you know just how many people go all their lives and never even see the planet?

Far too many...

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Of course, vacation means an opportunity to check out our nearest star - the Sun! It had also been a long time since I had solar observed, so even though I chased through the clouds from time to time, I was elated to see sunspot activity again. On the western limb, a big monster named 464 is on its' way out. From the data, I gather this one's been into some M class flare activity and it looks bad. But.... But ya' know there's always one that catches me eye, eh?

It's name is 471...

It's a Dsi class with a beta magnetic field... But it's a pretty dude, isn't it? Great leader with regular umbra and mature penumbral field... Lotsa' cool little followers making one heck of wake in the granulation... Just a nice sight, OK? Yep. It's pretty regular. Nothing special and nothing exciting...

Just like me.

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The clouds had cancelled a school program the RAS has scheduled at the Observatory. I had been looking forward to getting out and my plans were to continue over anyhow, but there's no point if you can't see. I had talked to Joe, and he was cool with this - Now all I can do is wait. And wait... And wait...

By the time the skies even marginally began to clear, it was too late. If I had gone over earlier and sat it out, I would have felt comfortable... I was already there. They would have known it. But if I left now to set out to do what I have in mind for tonight? Ah... I'd be driving close to people's private homes at their bedtime. Out of respect, I figured I'd just hang out here... Watch the Moon...

And keep hoping the skies clear to do what I've got a mind to do tonight...

While waiting on the time to pass, the old Celestron and I went out for a "Moon Walk". Low to the south, she's still suffering a bit from unstable conditions, but it sure is purty! It's not hard to miss Theophilus, Cyrillus and Catherina... The Altai Scarp is bright and very distinguishable. But unlike last time? They aren't what's calling attention to themselves. What really draws and keeps the attention at this point in time is Crater Alexander.

In this temporary photo, you can find Crater Alexander about halfway up from the bottom on the right side. It's a bright and rugged circlet that finds itself on the terminator at this point in time. I like terminator features for their surrealistic qualities - and Alexander is no exception. As one of the most ancient craters on the Moon, Alexander is missing part of one wall to the east. Gentle erosion over millions of years has wiped the floor clean of minor craters, but the west wall is just incredible in this light. Rising up over 10,100 feet above the shadowed floor, it catches the Sun's rays and reveals is rugged structure. Very, very fine...

Of course, the picture reveals the beauty of Eudoxus and Aristotle as well, moving to the north below. Posidonus' shallow form is easy enough to see... Just like Atlas and Hercules. I like the little "spock" marks of minor craters as well... Like Daniel, Burg, and Grove. I see the cool free-standing mountains and remember having seen Crater Mason under a ridiculously high power once. Even Cepehus and Franklin hang out at the fringes and shallow old craters Endymion and Strabo complete the scene to the north.

I put the scope away for now. A friend had told me about a new comet in town and I'd really like to locate it. Actually, there's two! It has been since NEAT scurried through that I've played the comet game. There was another one as well... A morning dude... Came in through Hercules... But its' name escapes me at the moment. My locator charts are very rough. Information for the simple minded is slim, ya' know. But I'm a game player.

Willing to sweep the skies...

"Never made it as a wise man... Couldn't cut it as a poor man stealin'. Tired of living like a blind man... Sick of sight without a sense of feelin'...

And this is how you remind me."