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December 2004

December 31, 2004 - January 1, 2005 - The End...

Comments: This is not Ohio... This is Colorado flattened out. Since the time of "the great snow" and days of sub-zero nights, the weather has taken its normal strange curve and climbed 50 degrees. The snow has almost all melted away, leaving fields flooded, portions of roads impassable, and my own "igloo observatory" nothing more than a muddy memory. There were times over the few days when the fog would be so thick that it was impossible to distinguish earth from sky - all was a white "twilight zone" - and surrealistic to drive through. I knew the chances were next to impossible of seeing any stars this evening, so in the time while my culinary contribution to a family reunion was cooking, I looked back through some of my old handwritten observing diaries and realized it had been some seven years since I had been clouded out on New Year.

We have a family tradition that I rarely break, and that is gathering at the home of my Aunt, and late uncle Herman, affectionately known as "the Farm". It is the one time of year that my extended family gathers together to enjoy food and fellowship, so as the skies begin the darken it is time to set out on the flooded roads and reunite with loved ones to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next. There is no shortage of food, laughter and fellowship. The children play freely here, and the adults gather around to remember a time when we were that age. When my belly is full, I step outdoors to indulge in a rather unhealthy practice, but there are others that still do so as well. (may heaven help me, for smoking is a thing that needs to go from my life before i lose it.) I cannot help myself, and you know that I had to look up!

And there was Cygnus...

Amazed, I could only turn in a circle and look at all the stars! How odd it seems to see Cygnus setting even as Orion rises... Where does all the time and memories go? Smiling, I open my trunk and take out the small binoculars which always seem to travel with me. The winds are brisk, but far from cold and it isn't long until I am able to share the "Magnificent Machholz" with those who are interested. Caught in a triangle of stars tonight, C/2004 Q2 seems to be almost as bright as Lambda Tauri! Such a splendid comet... And the twin tails are just so evident!

Remembering that I am here for family, I reluctantly put the binos away and visit for awhile longer. When the time has come for me to leave - so have the stars. The clouds have muddied the skies once again. It's all right, though. You can't win them all. I am happy to spend the evening watching my Star Trek episodes re-mastered on DVD and enjoy a bottle of 15 year-old champagne that has somehow existed in my refrigerator for far too long. Occassionally I peek outside, but only a star here and there shows through. When the hour of midnight approaches, a single shell is loaded in the shotgun for sake of tradition. As I watch the countdown from New York, I smile and think of you. How coarse my life must seem, eh? But I am what I am, and I step outside the door and salute the coming of a New Year in much the same way as a military funeral salutes the passing of a service man.

A single sharp report.

From the distant farms around me, you can hear others who hold the same tradition. A handful of fireworks spring up in the air and the distant crackle of firecrackers celebrate "country style". This year is mellowed by the tragic loss of life in other parts of the world, and perhaps our own "noise" should be tempered with a silent prayer of "godspeed." I watch the skies for awhile, hoping against hope that a clear spot will emerge. How I long to see the distant galaxies again and to travel across the comos at light speed! Alas, it is not to be and I put away those dusty, old astro diaries. Like these reports, I keep them so that one day someone can remember me for what I am. It seems the more years that pass, the more difficult it becomes for me to look back on all that was. In just a few days I will take the year 2004 away from this place and begin 2005 anew - full of trust that my written words will somehow remain, eh? Perhaps the days ahead will bring clear skies back my way so that I can chase comets once again, marvel at the workings of our cosmos, explore the Moon, take peace in the stars, travel to distant galaxies and write it all down for you before I have...

No memory.

December 27, 2004 - Deep Freeze...

Comments: It's insult to injury, I tell you. Not only did we get a huge amount of snow dumped on us, but sub-zero temperatures as well. That made for clear skies a few nights ago, but Ohio continually shifts weather patterns and my vampyre evenings were filled with translucent skies and a pearl-like Moon.

But there is a beauty to this...

This morning I was up long before sunrise. It's a quiet time and I like it. You could vaguely see the Moon, but the skies are filled with a fine crystalline snow. As I stand inside in the dark, the room is lit by the soft glow of the fire and I am transfixed by what I see out the window... Light pillars. There are truly few light sources in the village where I live, and they are only on one side. As I watch out the window, each point of light looks like a spot light pointed at the sky. I know this is atmospheric optics in action, and while I appreciate what causes it? I appreciate the simple beauty more.

The sunset last night was truly spectacular, giving a wonderful pillar of light that could only be spotted through tree branches. As I waited for sunrise, I found myself sitting cross-legged on the bed in front of the eastward facing window sipping a cup of coffee. H does not understand why I am up but not yet gone for work. If my days off differ from norm, he recognizes a change in pattern and is happy to watch out the window with me like we are waiting for something to happen. In reality? We are. And as the Sun rises? There is another sun pillar caught in the branches of the ancient olive tree.

I wish that I could walk to the edge of the field to see it with no obstruction, but alas... The deep snow will not allow it. Thanks to freezing rain and artic temperatures, it has developed a "crust" on the top and it is next to impossible to walk outside the shoveled path. It's alright, though. At least I could see it! And I was not the only one, for my good friend Joe also caught this morning's event. As you can see from his picture, his observatory is a desolate as the fields here. Frozen landscape crowned by the magnificence of a natural phenomena. It's one of those rare photos that make me smile -- for he was out taking a picture while the rest of us hid inside to watch!

For now, we wait on the weather to change again. I am saddened by all the lives lost by other natural phenomena - for a tsunami is far, far worse than a bit of snow. I hope that somewhere all those thousands of people live on in a golden shaft of sunlight with...

No memory.

December 24, 2004 - Eyes Full of Stars and a Moon-Toasted Macholz...

Comments: I have a new observatory for Christmas! No. No pro-dome. What I have is a lovely little igloo with no roof. I decided that I would shovel myself out an area to observe in, and by the time I finished with my 6X6 square, the snow had piled up a good four feet around the edges. It makes for a spectacular windbreak, but makes ol' ~T here feel slightly claustrophobic. No matter! There's a narrow path between the garage door and my new observatory, so I carry out the old Celestron and we journey together through the sub-zero temperatures and enjoy the night sky.

The skies are bright, but not so terrible that you cannot enjoy the "Double Cluster" and the M103 and M52. M34 also makes a nice showing, as does the M36, M37 and M38. Surprisingly, even the great Andromeda Galaxy shows through! It doesn't take long before I need to go in and warm again, and when I come back out it is to enjoy the multiple star system - Sigma Orionis. It really is a beauty and I hope others take the time to look as well. Curious about Comet Macholz, I turn the 4.5 its way and find out that it is quite "moon toasted". Still very, very visible... But reduced to little more than the nucleus and the brighter portion of the coma. The true scope of its size is apparent, but it requires averted vision and aversion is tough when there is so much moonlight.

The Moon itself is very nice. Of course, Grimaldi, Riccolli and Galieo are about the only things of interest, but I still enjoy tracing the bright rays around and seeing some of the really stand out albedo features like Manilus, Timocharis, Aristarchus, and the incredible Tycho. I'm afraid I didn't spot Santa Claus flying by, but it feels good to laugh at a big black dog who can't quite understand why he's up to his chin in snow! (or why he can stand at the edge of my snow observatory and look down at me!). All in all, it was quite fun despite the painfully low temperatures. I have a peek in on Saturn pulling Titan across the sky, and am surprised that the M35 shows as well as it does. For now? It is time to quit this frosty little place and head back to the fire. The vampyre will be back tomorrow night, so I best go get some rest. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and even if it's cold and snowy here? Ah, the stars still shine bright! It won't be long until the Moon will be gone and all this wonderful blue light on the snow will hold...

No memory.

December 23, 2004 - Comet Macholz...

Comments: Hey. Who knows what causes the skies to clear? After an incredible amount of snowfall here, drifting and freezing rain, I just plain figured there wouldn't be any clear sky.

Wrong, again. As usual...

I am sure you can well imagine the scene. There's at least 18" of fresh snowfall and the winds have piled it up wherever it chose. At this point, the only clearings are what's been made - and that is narrow strips to get in an out. There is just too much to go anywhere with it. When I saw the Moon reflecting off my exhumed car window, I knew I'd at least have to take the binoculars out and have a peek to see if Comet Macholz can withstand the Moon!

The answer is yes. And it has climbed very well above both 1 and 2 Omicron Erindani. It may have been an optical illusion, but I could almost swear I see some tail. The nucleus is still very bright and intense and the coma holding surprising strong considering the nearness of the gibbous Moon. The rate at which C/2004 Q2 is moving up the sky is just astonishing! Very few field stars were visible, but I think it's safe to say its moved a couple of degrees northward since the last sighting. Just awesome! For now? I'm out of this roofless igloo and back to my warm fire. Perhaps I'll get a chance to see how well Macholz stands up to the full Moon, and perhaps I'll just have...

No memory.

December 23, 2004 - In Memory of Ranger 1...

Comments: For those of you that follow the weather, even casually, you know that the part of Ohio in which I live is currently paralyzed with snow. Believe it or not, it was predicted in the "Farmer's Almanac" and it was a prognostication that came very true. It has snowed continously for 28 hours at the time of this writing and it still snows. The roads are closed and the forming drifts would make Colorado proud. Not since the "Blizzard of '78" have we seen so much at once! Nothing gets through right now... No one can come in or go out.

And it leaves one a lot of time to think...

I stand at the east window and look out over the white and barren fields. You can see nothing but a broad expanse of white, everything lies beneath a blanket of snow -- including my old observing partner. Two years ago today, he died quietly in a patch of sunshine beneath the branches of the Christmas Tree with cookie crumbs on his whiskers. You see him here as an old dog. His ear broken, but his spirit bright. This picture is a memory as well, for it was a solar eclipse on Christmas Day.

He was my friend, you know. When I would weep he was there to let me bury my face in his side, patiently waiting for pain or sorrow to pass. He napped with me in the sunshine and spent countless hours on a blanket beside the old redwood chair as we watched meteor showers. He was there with me every night I observed and how many times did we fall asleep together as we watched the stars?

He is gone now - but not forgotten. His legacy is H... A "carbon copy" dressed in black. Even after two years, both food bowls are filled, yet the one on the right stands full for a dog, and a friend, who no longer comes to eat. It may sound funny, but if I do not fill the bowl, H will turn it upside down and will not eat until they are both full. It's funny how those old memories remain, even if it's only in the simple mind of a dog.

H and I went out this morning, digging a path to the woodshed to fuel the fire. He leaps into the deep snow drifts like the happy-go-lucky black fool that he is... One moment lost in their depths and the next re-emerging with his pure black coat crusted in snow. He cannot hide in the dark now! Before we button things down again to weather the last of the winter storm, I break a branch off the Christmas Tree and place it along with a handful of cookies on top the drift which hides Ranger's stone. Godspeed, my old friend...

I stand inside watching the snow cover it, just as it is covering our earlier tracks. It will be some time before the clear skies return, but the days ahead promise artic temperatures. The Moon will be back to light the barren landscape in shades of blue and the stars will look like distant diamonds.

With no memory.

December 20, 2004 - A Minute With Macholz...

Comments: Yes. It is still searingly cold in Ohio. The temperatures are single digits and the gusting and relentless wind will drive that cold right through you in just seconds. It was cloudy in the early part of the evening, so I opted to "work" on an upcoming article for a few hours. I was well into it, but I'm always a sucker for a message. (hey. it might be you.) When I saw the little red light come on, I had to look. Talk about making someone smile! I don't know why it struck me as funny (yes, i do. and i know how to write it and make even the most straight-laced reader laugh.) but it definately blew my concentration curve. You know what?

It felt good.

Hitting the "off" button, I stretched, made myself a cup of tea and went to check the sky. Thin clouds, great "moon bow", but not clear enough to warrant observation. That, actually happened about 2 hours later and 30 seconds before I was ready to retire for the night. Opening the door to give H one last run, there was Rigel. Grrrrrr! I could have said "no", but I've never been able to say no to you. Wrapping a blanket around myself and tucking my feet in slippers, I stood just outside the door, scrunching down my unshoveled snow and had a binocular minute with Macholz. Hola, El Magnifico... You've pulled even with Omicron Erindani 2! De-focus... Wow! Even with half a Moon out there, Comet Macholz is still pretty incredible. The coma has dropped off sharply thanks to lunar glare, but toward the nucleus still rocks. This is just a little higher than the prediction. Maybe I'm slipping and can't read a map correctly anymore, or maybe the coma is so much larger than the "track" that it staggers perfect visualization. Either way, it's just a fraction of a degree more northward from my observation as opposed to the calculations. Does it really moves that fast? I don't think my mind has slipped so badly that I can't orient what I see in binoculars and compare it to a map. This is why I miss your confirmations. We computed this once with Ikeya/Zhang. And maybe... Maybe I just have

No memory.

December 19, 2004 - Moonlight and Macholz...

Comments: Cold. So cold here. Single digit temperatures and a driving wind. I can see the Moon from my window and it looks beautiful. Each window I go to, I see stars and I want so much to be out there. But it's so cold...

And it's never stopped me before.

I crunch my way out to the back field with binoculars in hand. The fine snow blows from the roof of the garage as I pass by, and I smile knowing my scopes are safe and dry inside. I pass the pool, properly iced once again and always dream of what a fine mirror blank it would make. I pass the sattelite dish and listen to the big pine groan under the weight of its branches. When I am in the open, the moonlight lends a surrealistic atmosphere to the landscape. All the relfections and shadows! But will Comet Macholz show with so much light?

Now almost due west of Rigel, C/2004 Q2 Macholz rocks right out of the frigid sky. Despite the limitied aperture that binoculars offer, it is amazingly bright. Omicron Eridani is in the same field of view and I de-focus to "guesstimate" magnitude and it is most definately a 4. I find that I am not so cold as I look at it. It is climbing so fast! Despite the moonlight, it is still very virile and holds that incredilbe core region. I hope it retains this magnitude until the Moon has quit the sky... It will make a very fine New Year's treat. I scan down for my "lazy J" and smile as I move back up to the comet and back east for Rigel. Can you imagine how magnificent this thing would be in the 31"? Oh, my word... I would probably freeze to the eyepiece just staring at it. Hopefully it will continue to brighten for a while longer, for I would give anything to set the 12.5" its way. I realize I could just pull it out here, but I have no wish to get snow inside my baby.

Raising the binoculars towards Macholz one last time, I am just pleased that it is clear and I can see it. The very quality of the skies tonight and the beauty of a comet brings back thoughts of a song I loved once upon a time and worked so hard to play...

No memory.

December 18, 2004 - The AFY Christmas Party...

Comments: Another cold, grey Ohio day... But one with a bright ending. It's time for our annual Astronomy For Youth Christmas Party and this time it's in Columbus. Very thankful of friend Greg - who is either oblivious to high-speed, bumper-to-bumper lane changes on unfamiliar roads, or very good at hiding it - I follow along grateful that I do not have to try to read typewritten instructions by dashboard light, identify road signs in the dark at sub-sonic speed, or make navigational decisions that would involve a mico-filameter between vehicles. I simply put the red Suburban about two feet in front of me and don't stop until it does. Normally I would thrive on the adrenaline of high-speed manuevers, but tonight I simply appreciate a little less stress.

Make that a whole lot less stress.

Arriving at Keith's house, our merry band of astronomers have all arrived safely and all bear food. I did say food, didn't I? Yeah, food! Food enough to feed a small army and I think we all ate like one! It was so good to see everyone again, and after a few hours I felt myself begin to relax and feel comfortable around friends. It has been so long since I've laughed at Stuart's antics, or Tim's dry wit. Greg and I share the same love of observing, and I can do nothing but grin as I see that Keith has mastered a "dolly" for his scope so it has become usuable at a moment's notice. It's good to see Robert after so long and to laugh with Curt at his rotten luck about always being on duty at the firestation when the skies are clear.

Of course, it is our year-end meeting as well and we try to become serious as best we can. We've had not only productive year, but an incredibly busy one as well. I miss those "unplugged" astronomy days... Those nights when none of us wanted to leave because the skies were clear. Perhaps the new year will be a bit more relaxed, eh? A time to remember what it is we love to do...

As we call out our "Good Nights and Merry Christmas" greetings, I chose to follow Greg again. This time the traffic has thinned to "user friendly" and I know many alternative routes back to my destination -- but I'm comfortable right here following behind. I think about all the times I have driven these roads... A friend who once lived in Fulton and a time when 23 was the only way to Columbus. I see how things have built up in my lifetime - cities expanding and growing busier. I realize I am happiest here in my rural retreat. I like my simple commute to work and knowing that you can't even get a delivery pizza unless you wanna' wait until the pizza guy is going home. I guess the bright lights and the big city ain't never gonna' be my style. If you think I'm sdrawkcab? Ah, you'd be right.

Right now? Time to have a hot cup of tea and watch those snowflakes begin to fall. When I look out the window here, all I see is trees and open fields. Even though the skies might be grey...

I know there's stars out there.

"And I still haven't found... What I'm looking for."

December 17, 2004 - A Macholz "Mystery"...

Comments: A very moonlit sky tonight. Normally I would have gone out to enjoy that Moon, but instead choose to devote a bit of time to family and friends. I've been pretty out of touch here recently, and it was just nice to stop round and let them know I am still alive. It sounds dumb, but I am still kid enough at heart to enjoy looking at Christmas lights as well, and driving around town was pleasant. I know I should be shopping, but shopping and I?

Just don't really get along.

The forecast for the next several days is a very generous amount of snow. It's alright by me. I have plenty of supplies laid in, but a little voice in the back of my head says I really ought to have a look at Comet C/2004 Q2 before the Moon gets too close and I end up standing at the window watching the world go white. When I arrived back, the Moon was still happily "very up", but if I cup my hands around the binoculars I can shield myself from most of the glare. Crunching my way out to the back field over the old snow, I looked at the precise spot in the sky where I knew the comet would be and just aimed right at it.

What the heck?

Tipping the focus back and forth, I just don't quite understand what I'm seeing. This is just too weird. And just as quickly I walked straight back to the garage and carried the Celestron right back out. Seeing some clouds beginning to move in, I did not procrastinate with stablization, for the scope is close to ambient temperature anyway. Using the 17mm, I absolutely laughed out loud the moment I achieved focus. No wonder it looks like the nucleus broke up... It's sitting on top of a pair of stars!

Despite what the on-line locator maps show, Macholz is higher. It's drawn even with that "lazy J" - one of who's stars is designated DU (ref: uranometeria pg. 268). What I am looking it is a pair of 9.5 magnitude stars that are actually intruding on the western edge of the coma! (thank you, resolution...) Just a little more aperture and the steadiness of the mount was all it took to cut these out of Macholz glare. And speaking of glare... Even with the Moon driving me crazy, that tail is wide and beautiful. It's beginning to brighten as well. Smiling, I think of my observation the other night that the coma was extending, or at least brightening to one quadrant, and so I sheild my eyes, drop to 9mm and study it. There is definately some jet activity going on inside this thing and the "Magnificent Macholz" warrants every bit of study that can be given to it right now. Each time that nucleus rolls and heats, it's causing rapid changes and I really don't think you could look at this same comet twice.

Ow. Where did that thought come from?

By now, I was noticing the Moon had become a whole lot less annoying and there was good reason for that. The clouds are gathering to the west and the skies will slip away quickly now. I thought for a moment about having a visit with Saturn, but quickly put it away before I started thinking too much. I strongly urge anyone who actually reads these dumb reports to visit with C/2004 Q2 at any and every opportunity. In just two weeks I have seen this thing double in size, the tail widen, the coma progress, the ascent quicken and the nucleus undergo many changes. I enjoy lunar features, double stars, deep sky and planets just as much as the next person, but the opportunity to study something like Macholz just doesn't happen that often.

Carpe diem, baby...

"And I still haven't found... What I'm looking for."

December 16, 2004 - The Magnificent Macholz...

Comments: Don't ask me where the clear skies came from, because I simply don't know. It was crappy, it was cold, and when I went out about 10:45 to shut the Christmas lights off, the skies were clear! Still very windy, but either I've become more tolerant or it has warmed up. Either way, I am happy to grab my parka and the 16X50s and walk out to the south field to have another look at Macholz.

Tonight it is different again! That nucleus is really getting hot, hot, hot - for the coma shift was not apparent tonight but the nucleus was intensified. Let's put it this way... You can't miss it unaided! The skies are not incredible here right at the moment, but the Magnificent Macholz is easy to spot as a fuzzy star that doesn't belong on the visual maps. In the binos, it's toasting the little star that sat on its eastern border. Tail? Oh, yeah. The sweep was wide and it was very prounced all the way towards the lazy J shape of three bright stars to the northeast. After that it faded and I would either need one of my scopes or darker skies to trace it further.

Really, though... It doesn't matter. It is just such a pleasure to be able to walk outside on the spur of the moment with a pair of binoculars and have the chance to view this awesome comet. I grinned all the way back to the house and kept turning around to look at it. To me, it is very impressive knowing that even under less than ideal conditions that it has achieved naked-eye visibility. What a fine present... Why, it's almost better than cookies!


"And I still haven't found what I'm looking for..."

December 15, 2004 - Macholz!

Comments: 'Tis the season to work over-time, and here in Ohio extra cash is readily available to those who are willing to work for it. Needless to say, today's adventure in earning took me on a road trip that ended up being quite worth the time. Of course, double-shifts mean I start long before the Sun rises and drive back long after it is set. Most of the time, I honestly don't mind... But when walking outside for a break tonight, I saw the Moon and how clear the twilight skies were.

Why now?!

But don't you worry. Sometimes things have a way of working out in unexpected and very beautiful ways. Last night presented me with an opportunity to do some binocular viewing in a place where I would normally not go because the drive is far too long. Ohio is well known for its wide open spaces and one of the most unpopulated and dark sites this side of Black Forest goes by the very unassuming name of Kildeer Plains. The ground is totally flat here. With the exception of a few very secondary roads it is absolutely pristine -- unchanged from the time of the Native Americans. There are no houses, nor lights, for Kildeer Plains is a wildlife preserve.

"I can see for miles and miles... And miles... And miles... And miles..."

Parking on an access road, I was thrilled to stop for awhile and simply sweep the dark and starry skies with binoculars. So many beautiful things out there! Even with Moon, the Andromeda galaxy seems to extend forever. The Double Cluster is like two fistfuls of jewels. All the clusters just glitter and the Moon itself is so lit with earthshine that I almost wish I could stay here for awhile longer to see the comet. But this is a very cold place, and dress clothes and a leather coat offer very little protection from the searing winds.

Regretfully leaving, I can only hope those clear skies hold out for another 40 miles... And my luck was good. By the time Orion had made it well up enough to see Puppis, I was out there again - this time with the big binos! When I made it out to the south field, my jaw dropped. Surely that big line up the sky isn't the tail? Knowing it was too far west, but needing the smile anyhow, I traced the contrail grinning all the way to the zenith and then headed east. The keyword now would be "Magnificent Macholz". This comet will blow you away! Even through a little thin cloud, it is absolutely striking. Now exhibiting a slightly different form, I can see where the coma is starting to extend to the northeast. (or is that me shaking because it's so cold and my hair is wet? remind me that pyjamas, slippers and a parka are not to be considered artic gear. ;) No matter how many times I look at it tonight, I can still see bright extension. The tail itself is faint, but still there... What's exciting is that change in the coma!

About then I realized that I was extremely cold. The wind pushes it through your body and exposure doesn't take long to become painful. Regretfully, I head back in. There will be other nights, and I will return. I was sent a very beautiful poem and the words are just so fitting...

"She really looks as fuzzy ball,
But one can use imagination,
She's faint and she is rather small,
Yet she bears magical sensation.
Like bride would fly to handsome groom
She flies to sun in time and space,
She's very old, yet she's in bloom,
Her tail as train filled up with grace.
She dreams their first, their wedding night, Her ring is asteroid belt,
And yes, she's ready to excite,
If even it would mean to melt."

--Lyudmila Zinkova

(I thank you for sharing them with me. May all the magic, mystery and romance that astronomy inspires be yours now and always...)

For now? Back to my warm fire and prepare myself for more long hours. Sometimes just what we are and what we do are worth far more than just what we get paid. But, there are reasons to get paid. I am a very fortunate person and 'tis also the season for charity and generousity. If a few hours of my time is all it takes to give several families a Christmas dinner, or to provide a coats for those who are cold, or to light children's eyes with toys?

I've got time.

"You broke my bonds... You loosed my chains. If I say I love you, then I'm not ashamed. I'm not ashamed... You know I believe it."

December 13/14, 2004 - The Enigmatic Geminids...

Comments: Snow here in Ohio. Did we expect anything less? Regardless, I had prepared at least somewhat in advance and set up my home-brewed radio antenna to do a little "meteor listening". Now please note that in no way, shape or form do I even begin to approach the status of an amateur radio expert. I have absolutely no clue as to how or why these things work and only the very basic of knowledge as to how I am able to pick up forward meteor scatter. I just start off the early evening by aligning the antenna where it seems I have the best success and tuning the radio to the frequency that works for me. From around 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. I could not detect anything except the normal static and knowing that Gemini had not risen yet made me feel comfortable in figuring I had the correct settings.

And then it started to snow.

With nothing to "listen" to, I just turned the power off and went about just being me for awhile. Around about 10:30 I had reached my tolerance level with television, figured Gemini had reached enough elevation to at least try, and switched the radio back on. For about the next 30 minutes, it was pretty much "white noise", occassionally I would detect what would sound like distant talking and I chalked this up to the falling snow helping to funnel a distant signal. Then it really started, folks. First one, then another... Then another. It sounded almost like someone was spinning the radio dial! Grabbing a coat and shoes, I had to go out and check to see if the wind had moved my antenna... And it hadn't. I'm still aligned with my airport beacon and the most I should be hearing is chirps or a sustained tone - not 73 different stations!

Fascinated, I put in a tape and began recording. By 11:30 the thing had gone wild. Count. Count. Can I count? Too many. Far too many! Signals are bouncing all over the place, so I began to watch the clock and estimate how many per minute. Radio fall rate? On an average, I was receiving 2 per minute. In the long term, this matches with the predictions for the Geminids! I listened and recorded for at least another hour. I had to know if the falling snow was adding to this strange acquisiton of additional signals and did some research on "ducting" as I kept both ears alert. By 1:00 a.m., we were still going strong, but I was wearing out. The temperatures are steadily dropping and the snow has stopped.

Time to grab a nap and come back!

When the alarm rang at a little before 3:00 a.m. I took my head out from under the electric blanket, squinted out the east window just inches from my pillow and saw a point of light. Holy crap. That's Jupiter! Snatching my glasses, I confirmed the skies had gone clear within seconds and the mad scramble to find as many layers of clothing as I could handle and walk began. Thermal mug filled with coffee, I retrieved the cushion for my redwood chair from the dry garage, fell into a reclining position, and tucked the old sleeping bag around me for additional protection. Watching Orion, I about half scolded myself for not taking the binoculars out for comet Macholz and then a Geminid simply dripped from the area.

Oddly enough, very little activity actually occured overhead. I know this sounds like a strange analogy, but if you could picture the sky as a bowl, almost every meteor I saw looked like it was running down the sides! Almost every single one of them would occur from about halfway from the zenith toward the horizon. And so slow and bright! Normally I equate meteor activity with a quick, thin streak... But those were few and far between. What occured during my visual observations reminded me of watching a drop of hot solder. It would run very quickly for a short distance, then it would seem to get very bright, freeze in place and extinguish. Most occured to the south,/southwest, but with a visual rate of one every four to five minutes, they did not limit themselves to that area.

By shortly before 4:30 I couldn't take the cold any longer. Temperatures have reached near single digits here and my lack of movement has allowed the cold to seep in. Going back to my warm fire, I shucked off the layers of cold clothing and stood with my nose pressed up against the southward facing sliding glass door. I want to be out there! Orion has slid westward and Puppis is fast joining it. I can look up and see Leo overhead! I can look up and see...

I can look up and see a good quarter of the sky from right here.

Abandoning the thought of milk and cookies, I wrapped up in a blanket to stave off the radiant cold from the glass, grabbed a pillow and sky-watched right there from the living room floor. Tired? Oh, my yes. About the time I got good and warm again, the "vampyre" hours had caught up with me and I was trying to doze in and out. Seems like each time I'd open my eyes, I'd catch a flash and drift back out again. By 5:30 the activity had almost ceased and some thin clouds had began to return. Prying my old bones from the floor, I can only smile as I head back for my electric blanket. I have miles of tape to listen to tomorrow and eventually share. I have seen the mysterious children of Phaethon. As I head for bed, I can't help but think of Rod Serling. I have been on a journey of both sight and sound...

Now I'm off to the "Twilight Zone".

"Well, I believe in the kingdom come... When all the colors bleed into one. Bleed into one... Yes, I'm still running."

December 12, 2004 - Frosted Flakes...

Comments: Are they grrrrrrrRRReat? No, baby. They're ccccccccCCold! Been the "vampyre" for a couple of days now and suffering a little soft depression from almost two weeks of clouds and rain. Needless to say, it's a whole lot easier to go to bed and stay there in the middle of the afternoon when the skies are as gloomy and dark as they have been. Sometime while I slept, the snow came padding in on quiet cat feet and dusted the world. This is nothing significant, only a chilling reminder that Ohio will be going into the deep freeze for a few weeks.

I walked outside with H just to see the skies. I'm always holding out hope, you know. At midnight, they were to color of steel wool, yet they seemed to glow with a light of their own. But you should see the trees. Ah, man... They looked like white lighting. The snow had stuck to the branches of the old black walnut tree and the skeletal appearance was quite impressive against that dark sky. That particular tree is rather creepy looking when it has no leaves, and the frosted flakes which clung to its old hide made it even more spooky. The many pines were a saving grace, though... For they looked very picturesque and seasonal adorned with their sugar coating.

So what's the prognosis on our weather? More to come. I broke the rules of engagement and had a peek at Monday night's forecast and it looks as though I may have a few holes in which to view the Geminids, but I'm not counting on it. It's also supposed to snow and the temperatures will be well below the freezing point. The ground is still soft enough now to set my antenna out to capture forward meteor scatter signals and I'd say this will end up being my venue. Later next week looks to be a little more promising and with a bit of luck?

I'll get to see Macholz again!

"And I still haven't found what I'm looking for..."

December 9, 2004 - Rain...

Comments: The sky still weeps here in Ohio. It's been a long ride and it's just going to keep getting longer. I was sorry to have missed the occultation of Jupiter, and although the best meteor shower of the year is still days away, it ain't lookin' good for that either. While temperatures have been very, very moderate and the warm is appreciated, it drags on the soul to have the skies so continually cloudy or to always hear the sound of rain.

I am not much one for social commentary, but I feel it relevant to note that we have lost a "star". After having just spent some time in our capitol city of Columbus, and knowing that I have been a patron of the Alrosa Villa, I was shocked to hear the news this morning. During a concert given last night by the group, "DamagePlan", a member of the audience leaped onstage and opened fire with a concealed gun. His hostility was aimed at the lead guitar player, but the shooting spree did not stop until four people were dead, two wounded, and the gunman himself shot dead by a fast-thinking Columbus police officer.

Although this may not mean anything to you, it does to me. The lead guitar player's name was Darryl Abbott and he made his way into fame through Pantera. Heavy metal music is not everyone's kick, but "Dimebag Darryl" was a truly talented musician that won "Guitarist of the Year" six times. What can I say besides "Far Beyond Driven" has long been in my CD collection? I find the whole thing so saddening. This is the kind of thing that's not ever supposed to happen. The Alrosa is a local place, folks. I've been there... People I know go there... It's just not supposed to happen. How could someone have such a grudge that they would be willing not only to take one human life but four others as well? If it were not for the quick actions of the police officer, it would not have ended there, for he had reloaded a clip and was going to go on killing. It makes me feel sick inside. This could have been one of my friends...

But it was someone who's music is as much a part of me as one of the "stars".

And so I'll go back to watching it rain. I'll write my next article and try to pretend inside what it's like to be outside under the night skies again. The sky will be a little less bright with one of the stars gone now. I cannot offer solace, nor bring back life to the young man with the long hair and the guitar...

But I can remember him well.

"And I still haven't found what I'm looking for..."

December 5, 2004 - The Richland Astronomical Society Christmas Party... Sundogs...

Comments: A very quiet one this year. No drama, no theatrics. Just a small gathering of good friends with common interests and plenty of good food. We have become the "Dead Poet's Society", with most of our members either working or finding other interests elsewhere. It is fine for those of us who are left... We are the ones who will always be there. Some come, some go, some are around for a long time and others burn out like a shooting star, but for those of us who are left?

We are as steady as the Cosmos itself.

As the evening ends, I drive home watching the clouds. They are the thin type, and fraught with sundogs. I am surprised to see that many of the occur so very far away from the Sun itself and I am a little disappointed to know that the rains are about to return. As I drive yet again to other obligations, I watch as the Sun stretches and sets not quite forming a pillar but elongating itself like a giant drop of orange amidst the pearl grey clouds. I am afraid to look at the weather, for heresay has it that it will rain and we will not be able to see Jupiter occulted by the Moon on Tuesday morning.

When my night has ended, I stand outside watching the clouds. The stars are gone again and there is a warm heaviness to the air that speaks of rain. I wonder if there is aurora out there, or how bright comet Macholz is tonight or how far it has moved. I have often dreamed of moving to a place where it doesn't rain as much as it does here and I wonder what happened to those dreams.

And if I'll ever dream like that again.

"I have spoke with the tounge of angels... I have held the hand of the devil. It was warm in the night. But I was a cold as stone..."

December 4, 2004 - A Kiss Of Pink and a Moonless Comet Macholz...

Comments: Well, the Sun went and did it again! Blew off a CME when I wasn't watching and listening and the results gave me a wake-up call when I went out to observe tonight. I started out with the intention of doing a little bit of work around the Perseus and Auriga area and my first point of business was to stop Christmas cookie production, turn off the blue lights and assess sky conditions. While I was waiting on my dark adaption to arrive, I'm busy checking out what stars I can see and what telescope would be the best to use and I can't quit seeing pink to the north. Figuring it was a bit of "after burn" from looking at a blue light source, I was just patient and by the time I could see the M31 unaided I was ready to go fetch a scope - yet the north remained pink.

What's this then?

Rather than go set a scope out, I just stood there and watched. Surely that white pillar is an errant cloud? Nah. Can't be. Yet clouds don't just dissapate like that! Confirmation? You bet. Despite the fact that I only was wearing slippers and my coat was a blanket, I wandered out to the east field, looking north, to make sure no artificial light source was doing this. Ahem. That's not man-made... That's aurora! Laughing a bit at myself and my strange collection of winter gear, I pulled the blanket a bit tighter around myself and just watched. The northern sky was just kissed with a pink light dome and every ten minutes or so and soft white spire would appear looking like a faded contrail. The show wasn't particularly long, and had faded mostly away by the time I had melted the ground where I was standing. Of course, I had gotten pretty cold by then and decided I'd just call off some challenging searches tonight, set the little Celestron out and return later for Comet Macholz.

And, of course, I couldn't "stay" in.

I popped in and out many times during the evening, not particularly dressed for success but knowing by the time I got cold that something else would be ready for me to do. The 16X50 binoculars sure got a workout! And I'd keep wandering further and further out... Because I want Macholz - and tonight the Moon won't interfere. By the time Lepus had achieved good altitude and climbed about a band of low lying southern clouds, the slippers and blanket had given way to lined boots and a parka. I really want to see this comet. And did it deliver? You have got to see it!

I don't care what other's reports state here, my friends. I am looking at Comet Macholz, not reading its statistics. Caught in a triangle of stars last night, Macholz is far exceeding the size of the M13... As in, probably two or more times as large. There is absolutely no mistaking cometary signature. The nucleus is a bright, precise stellar point and the coma is concentrated around it and fades right out to the outside edges. The tail? The white portion of the tail extends up, up and away! I traced that puppy for probably three fields of view at 25mm. The blue ion tail is probably getting close to a degree in size and the whole thing is simply incredible. For the life of me, I can't figure out why the "astronomy network" just isn't buzzing with observances of this outstanding comet! It is every bit as bright as the M42 and once you've located it, you can see it unaided. I guess I'll just be quiet (yeah, rite.) and hope that others will catch on that it's out there. Once you see it, you can't help but want to go back out and look again!

It's that good.

"I have kissed these starry lips... Felt the healing in their fingertips. It burns like fire... This burning desire."

December 3, 2004 - Soft Observing...

Comments: It is passingly clear, but the skies are by no means deep. It's been quite some time since I've given the little Orion ShorTube 4.5 the honors and I chose to use this very light and incredibly portable telescope. Eyepiece of choice was another old favourite, the Celestron 25mm SMA. Neither scope nor optics can be considered particular valuable, but together they make an incredibly pleasing and relaxing combination.

It's just a good night to look at old favourites, like the M30, M15 and M2. A lot of things I do, I do because I continually check myself on how I express starhop instructions to others, and 20 minutes later I am grinning like a fiend after having viewed Mu Cehpii, S Cephii, the NGC457, M103, M52, NGC7789 and the Double Cluster. I started walking around in Cassiopeia identifying all the other small open clusters that I have given instructions for, but I can't quit looking at Perseus! I keep thinking it's a trick of the clouds, but Algol is the wrong color. It's wrong! Out of all the crazy things to happen, and it certainly wasn't planned, I had the opportunity to visually watch Algol begin to go into (and eventually achieve) minima and I was thrilled! Not since the beginning days of my serious questions into stellar spectra have I had the incredible good fortune. I know I am always encouraging others to do these things for themselves and just as often I am clouded out when particular events occur. Perhaps others would not find such a thrill for such a predictable event, but you've got to see it to understand.

You've got to see it.

As I returned over and over again to the "Demon Star", I walked over the other beautiful things. M34, Almach, the M31 and the M33. I take a break for awhile and go back out. This telescope is quite limited, for it doesn't perform quite so well as the Celestron 4.5, but that does not mean that I do not enjoy what it will do the the Plieades, or the M36, M37 and M38. What I like it for is its portability and as Orion and Lepus achieve the proper height, I am happy it is so light and I carry it out to the south field to enjoy Comet Macholz in a totally different way. Again, I am thrilled with this comet. Low level, thin clouds rob some of the beauty, but there is no doubt that Macholz is sporting a long, straight white tail that extends beyond the field of view, and a short, stubby blue secondary tail that looks like an afterthought jutting away for a short distance. Macholz is still quite compact and very, very nice!

I know the Moon will be along soon, so I enjoy the M42 for awhile. Sirius is flashing and rolling through the atmosphere, but it has also gained enough height to see the M41 again. Out of curiousity, I think about Greg's "mashed potatoes" and I am pleased that the little 4.5 can still pick the M1 out of the sky. There's more out there, and I know it. I think about the "Little Dumbbell" and the other little bright nebula here in Orion and cannot remember their position without a map. The same holds true for a few other things as well, but over there? Over there is Saturn...

And I can't miss.

"And I still haven't found what I'm looking for..."

December 2, 2004 - Comet C/2004 Q2 (Macholz)...

Comments: Again, it looked like another night that there would be no astronomy despite predictions that the temperatures would drop rapidly. The early evening held no promise at all, so I worked for awhile and enjoyed my movie at last. Around about 10:45 or so, H wanted out. Opening the door for him, I decided it would be a good time to go turn off the Christmas lights and no sooner than I stepped out on the deck than Orion just slapped me in the face. Jaw dropping, I went right back in to fetch my binoculars and find shoes and a coat. I want what's out there...


Extinguishing the soft blue lights, I wandered out to the south field with a delighted german shepherd leading the way. The stars of Lepus came easy and one - two - three... There it was! C/2004 Q2 (Macholz)... Why isn't everybody out there shouting and cheering about this comet??? Holy monkey on a rope, it's got twin tails! Not since Ikeya/Zhang have I seen one like this!! Even with the very orange Moon sitting quietly on lower horizon, this is one impressive by-gosh comet! All thoughts of being cold vanished, and I'm here to tell you that you can hold binoculars incredibly steady when you really, really want to. The body of the comet is not terribly large, roughly the size of a very small globular cluster, but its got a sharp and bright nucleus and the tail? Oh, my gosh... I am not a very good judge of how much sky these binocular span, but I'm seeing at least one quarter of the field!

Needless to say, if you can find Epsilon Puppis, you can find Macholz. There are three stars that run south of Epsilon, and if you go to the southernmost of these three, it's just to the west. Of course, it's going to climb in the days ahead, but you gotta' see it! (and if my stubborn pride would let me, i would straight up write you and tell you to go look...) This comet is going to make a name for itself really soon, because it is as bright as some of the Trapezium stars and I am honoured to have gotten the opportunity to spot it. Macholz definately rocks!

I wish you were here to share it...

"I have run... I have crawled. I have scaled these city walls, only to be with you.

And I still haven't found what I'm looking for."

December 1, 2004 - The Sun... Comet C/2001 Q4 NEAT, Comet C/2004 Q1 Tucker and Comet 78P/Gehrels...

Comments: So was I tired of the rain? You know it. Even folks who aren't interested in astronomy "feel" when we go too long without starlight, be it from the most distant in our galaxy to the one in our own solar system. I'm no different than anybody else, so when the first rays of sunshine began peeking through the clouds I had to be outdoors - even if it was just for a few minutes. By the time I got home from work, I knew I had to at least take a fast look at the solar surface because it has been weeks! I was surprised that we have three very admirable sunspots right now, and if I recall correctly, their names were AR706, 707 and 708. Although they are nice and large, none of them are particularly complex in appearance, leading me to believe they are the "quiet type".

I didn't hold out a whole lot of hope that the skies would be clear tonight, so I decided to get a movie and had every intention of just curling up in my easy chair, icing down my slightly mangled right paw, eating popcorn and watching "The Day After Tomorrow". By the time the Sun had started to set, I could see where the skies were going to be clear and apparently the day after tomorrow is when that movie is going to get watched! It's been far too long since I just went outside and played...

And I don't want to play simple games.

While the 12.5 stabilized, I busied myself studying maps and laying out my observing plans for capturing a couple of comets. I realize that if I'd just hook up this bunch of electronic gizmos to my telescope that I could be out there, observe them and be back inside to watch the tube before the hour grew late, but where's the fun in that? I think nine tenths of the pleasure is using a locator chart, finding the proper field, and actually working for what you get to see! And brother? Comet C/2001 Q4 NEAT was a bit of work. Located in Draco, the hop stars are tough ones for me. Draco has always been so and it actually takes me longer to home in on the proper field than it does to observe the comet. Caught around a handful of mid-range brightness stars that have no real asterism, Q4 is nothing more than a blip on the radar screen, folks. Faint, very diffuse and small, this one is more like looking at a small spiral galaxy than a comet. And trust me, I checked Uranometria over and over again to make sure that I wasn't looking at one!

The second comet I went for was C/2004 Q1 Tucker. Now that's more like it! Located in Andromeda, Q1 Tucker looks like what I equate most comets to appear. Yes, it is diffuse, but it is far brighter than Q4, very round, and looks a great deal like a small, unresolvable globular cluster. Kicking up the magnification, at very best I see a slight concentration toward the nucleus, but nothing that even remotely looks like a cometary core, nor do I see any type of extension. Just a nice little comet that should be able to be observed with a smaller telescope.

Smiling, I fetched myself a cup of tea and just admired the stars for awhile. Just for laughs, I poked around looking at a few things like Omicron Cygni and the NGC7331 and realized about that time that I could probably find a galaxy that was reasonably close in appearance to compare these comets to! Shooting back over to Andromeda, my choice was the M32 and this was a good call. Q4 is about half its size and probably two magnitudes fainter. Comet Tucker is pretty close to the same size as the M32 and about a magnitude fainter. And now I'm ready to go back to the charts and find a third!

The next hop is to Aries and the search for 78P/Gehrels. Yes! Even at 26mm Gehrels snaps right out. There are several nearby bright stars at lower power that look kinda' like the letter J. Remembering my "anchor" of the M32, Comet 78P/Gehrels is very close to the same magnitude, just a tad fainter, but not much. Now here we have a comet! Gehrels definately displays a condensation toward the nucleus that is much more pronounced, but not quite stellar. Aversion also shows a faint tail extension! Not exactly what you call a lengthy ion trail, but just a nice "stretch". Gehrels was work the hunt!

And so this is enough for me tonight. There is another, very bright comet out there that hasn't risen yet and if I know my sky, the Moon will be right along with it. It's OK, though... It's a nice one that will just get better as the skies get darker! There's several more out there as well, and perhaps I'll have an opportunity to hunt them down as well. It's been a very long time since I've "played Messier", and although I greatly miss my "co-conspirator" on the west coast confirming things for me, I've learned there's others out there that like to play, too.

Hand me the maps, will you?

"I have climbed the highest mountain... I have run through the fields... Only to be with you. Only to be with you..."