February 2004

February 29, 2004 - Leap Year...

Comments: Yep. It's another February 29th date. Only this time it's about 18 hours later. It was beautiful temperature-wise here today, and I had every intention of just riding the Harley for a little bit and napping in the Sun. Head colds and night shifts don't particularly mix and I'm a very tired Vamypre. I came home loaded with the handful of Sunday goodies that I was looking forward to eating only to discover my refrigerator had died an unexpected death. If it had been just a bit colder, I would have just put everything in a box and set it outside... But Murphy's Law rules, doesn't it? So rather than get the rest I really needed, I had to turn around, head back for town, and get a daggone refrigerator.

With many thanks to my family members, there is now a shiny black sarcophagus sitting in my kitchen with more doors than a bank vault and enough features to put a local snack bar to shame. I look at it and realize that the money I had stashed in an altoids tin under my sofa to buy a Orion 10" dob with all the Go-To crap hung on it to use at AFY Star Parties is now quite gone.... Along with a substantial portion of cash I had tucked in a book about Marco Polo and earmarked for vacation as well. The only bright spot I can really see in all of this is that I found a bottle of coconut rum in the back of the old one that I had forgot about!

So there shines a ray of hope, eh?

The rum and I decided to visit the back deck after sunset, and a Coke decided to join us as well. Both H, Z and Edj the Lizard are happily napping after having been filled with all manner of things that came their way. Needless to say, there is much I will never eat again, and there is no reason not to give them everything from hotdogs and cheese to fruit and salad. Personally? I had a piece of fish I really wanted to grill and a box of Girl Scout cookies lined up for the day. Well, Z got the fish, but I guess the cookies will wait until next week. The rum and I watched a furry Venus and an equally furry Moon for a while... Then I started to feel pretty daggone furry myself. Sacraficing the remainder of the rum to greater gods of the muddy earth, I bid the night a civil adieu. It's been an interesting day. It's the extra one we get once every four years... And I'm very tired.

Time to sleep on it.

"And I'm wasting my time... Wasting my time... I'm wasting..."

February 29, 2004 - Wasting My Time...

Comments: Yep. I made it out for a little while before leaving for work tonight. The skies tonight, or more correctly, this morning were a far cry from the morning before. It's not bad... A good 4.5 ULM, but the clarity is horrible. So why would I bother? Quite honestly, I just enjoy having a cup of coffee outdoors and challenging myself to less stressful situations than what I encounter at work. I know it sounds dumb... But I feel like I've done something for me - and not for them - if you get my drift. I was quite happy to just set the old Celestron right outside the garage door, put on some quite rock and roll, and enjoy the nectar of the gods while watching the stars. There's just a peace in this I far prefer over television or webwork. I'm comfortable here...

I didn't have a lot of drive. This head cold, while steadily improving, has left me feeling more run over than run down. The Moon is still out, although it has well westered, and I'm not even in the mood for that. I was just happy to have a look at Saturn and Jupiter, not particularly caring where their moons were at or what details I was seeing. It's cool by me to just enjoy Polaris, Mizar and Alcore, Cor Caroli, Gamma Leonis and Iota Cancri (and i had the devil of a time finding it.) Just sippin' my brew, humming along with the rock and roll, and watching H prowl about the yard. It has been very warm here recently and the top layer of grass has become spongy and muddy. Spring is far away yet, for that ground is still frozen solid just a little beneath the surface.

I puttered around for a bit and found the M44... And didn't find the M67. Oh, well. I stood looking at Arcturus for awhile and started remembering two very grand globulars that should show under these conditons... One up and one under. I couldn't remember their exact positions, nor can I remember which is which. I do know their names though! One is M3 and the other is M5. I ain't sweatin' it. I'm just happy to surf the skies and I did end up finding them both. One is mis-shaped and the other has a bright core. And both?

Are big!

Finishing my last cup and checking my watch, I realize I'd better head back in and get dressed in more appropriate attire. Do them minor things like check my e.mail and feed the bottomless black pit, Z. It was just good to be out for awhile. In just a few hours this memory will seem like it was a week ago... And it does as I write this up. Ah, well. None of this is anything more than...

Wastin' my time.

"I see you waiting. Lonesome.... Lonely. I see you waiting..."

February 28, 2004 - The Sun...

Comments: Hey, hey! Even Vampyres gotta' step outside on a warm day and bask in the Sun for a bit. (it's safe folks, i wore my flame retardant cape. ;) I was anxious to see if there were any changes in AR564 and seeing is believing!

The major umbra portions have not changed so much as the penumbra has. In less that 24 hours that baby has pulled apart and is starting to divide AR564 into two seperate entities. There is perhaps only one more day to get a good look at this spot, but as nice as the weather is - I'll probably decline. It's been great fun, but oh well.

Sleep rules!

"Months went by with us pretending.... When did our light go from green to red? I took a chance and left you standing... Lost the will to do this once again.

Well, this is not for real... Afraid to feel. I just hit the floor. Don't ask for more. And I'm wastin' my time... Wastin' my time. You can't fight the feeling and there's no reason. Let's make the call and take it all again... Whoa oh, again...."

February 28, 2004 - Finishing My Messier Studies (M63, M94 and M57) and Wasting My Time...

Comments: It was fantastic out when I got up. What can I say? I don't have to leave for work for almost three hours... So what you say we take out this big ol' 12.5 Meade telescope, some star charts, a cup of coffee and finish off the last of the Messier Studies?

Pulling the dob out to my favourite observing area, I went in the garage and started a pot of coffee while the scope stabilized. I had my maps with me for it had been a very long time since I had really done anything in Canes Venetici. I took out my eyepieces and started with viewing Cor Caroli first to assess sky stability and from there? Let's find that little cluster of stars. It's time to rock...

Date: February 28, 2004
Time: 1:05 a.m. EST
Scope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 26mm Meade, 12.3mm ED Epic
Sky: 5.5 ULM Stability: 8/10 Temp: 36F

M63 - At low power. the M63 resides in a stellar field, appears slighty ovid with a concentrated core and a bright star at the leading edge. Upon magnification, an apparent double resides on the eastern edge, accompanied by another close pairing. The nucleus region has now become highly compacted, concentrated and very bright. The arm structure fades outward gradually, ending in a grainy, on the edge of resolvability texture. At times, the nucleus will appear almost stellar while averting and looking for structure. The trailing edge of the galaxy is more diffuse.

Now moving back towards Beta Cvn...

Date: February 28, 2004
Time: 1:35 a.m. EST
Scope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 26mm Meade, 12.3mm ED Epic
Sky: 5.5 ULM Stability: 8/10 Temp: 36F

M94 - At low power it is very bright, round, has an intense nucleus and resides in a stellar field. At higher power, the M94 changes considerably in appearance. The central portion now becomes very bright and compact... There is an almost mottled annular appearance to the structure around it. About two thirds of the way out from the nucleus, the whole thing just goes diffuse and looks almost haloed.... Like it is surrounded by a mist or fog. There is a double to the southeast, and a fine chain of stars there as well.

Sighing at the sky, I realize that in just a short time I can also capture the last of the Messier List. I can see Lyra is definately well risen enough... But at the same time I am almost reluctant to end my quest. I look above me at the Coma Berenices simply sparkling like a gigantic open cluster and not a constellation. I see Corvus to the south and fondly remember doing studies there as well. I realize I am wasting time by just standing here sipping another cup of coffee... But it is my time to waste. I find myself following the lines of Virgo... Spica, Gamma, Beta, Delta, Epsilon.... It is there I aim the dob with the 26mm in place and at the eyepiece I begin to move the scope west.

The Field of Dreams...

Realizing that maybe you still care enough to be disappointed in me if I do not finish what I have started, I decide it is time for me to quit looking around in the rising Scorpius and go back to business. There is one more left, you know. Just one more that I've never taken the time to write down proper. One that I do not need a map for and barely need a finder...

It is the Ring.

Date: February 28, 2004
Time: 2:30 a.m. EST
Scope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 26mm Meade, 12.3mm ED Epic
Sky: 5.5 ULM Stability: 8/10 Temp: 36F

M57 - At low power, the Ring Nebula is unmistakable. Like a bright smoke ring caught in a stellar field, this object doesn't usually call me to study it at high power, but I do so. With the 12.3mm eyepiece, the M57 turns into a slightly elliptical collection of braided structure. The interior no longer appears so dark, but has a certain "unbearable lightness of being". There is a star to the east, as well as three faint ones to the north, and two to the south. I see no central star and I wonder if it is because I am really trying not to. Nah. The M57 requires cleaner conditions than it's low position on a very good - but not perfect night to reveal the central.

And so I have finished. I will review the list after I update it to make sure no other Messiers have escaped my attention. I will laugh as I log the entries for both M51 and M57 knowing how many times I have viewed them over the years. I thought perhaps I might feel melacholy when I had finished these up... But you know what?

I don't really feel anything.

"Well, this is not for real. Afraid to feel. I just hit the floor. Don't ask for more.

And I'm wastin' my time... Yes, I'm wasting my time again. Whoa, oh again...."

February 27, 2004 - The Sun...

Comments: Oh, yeah! Sunshine today! I hustled home from work and set the scope on the Sun to view the new bad boy, AR564. I've been keeping track while it has been cloudy, and this spot has grown very rapidly in a matter of days. At 12.3mm, it's real beaut, with two very distinct and mature umbra regions connecting by a continuous penumbral field... As always, I set the camera on it to record it's appearance, made my notes and heading back into to check the information.

I was actually going to put one of my lousy shots in here until I saw this one from Peter Paice of Ireland... And it is too fine not to show you!

(thank you, mr. paice... that is absolutely superior over what my video camera produced!)

From what I've read, this awesome spot has already been responsible for an X1 class flare and a hi-end M class as well. Of course, as much as I like viewing, I am intrigued by study as well and I go to the magnetograms to view this giant Ekc, beta-gamma-delta class spot in ways I cannot see here. WOW! This really is a bad boy... On the leading edge is a distinct and hot negative field, with no surrounding positive. The major portion of this sunpot is wild! The leader (hale values for this hemisphere) is a perfect positive of amazing gauss... Following it is an equally dense field of negative... But the real kicker is the postive field has shoved itself inside the negative! No wonder it's such a hottie!

For now, I gotta' go. It's time for me to make the Vampyre Transition again and my head is not looking forward to it. Perhaps there will be clear skies when I wake up, eh?

And maybe not...

"Well, I don't want to see you waiting... I've already gone too far away. I still can't keep the day from ending... No more messed up reasons for me to stay.

February 26, 2004 - The Astronomy For Youth (AFY) Meeting...

Comments: What a nice day! Warmer... What seems like plenty of sunshine... And an opportunity to visit with some of my most favourite people in the world - AFY! I have been very anxious to show them the latest comet because it seems like I've been the only one in our group to have found it. (big wink here, guys... you know i am picking on you. i have to uphold my reputation here of finding anything! you know you wouldn't love me if it weren't for my cobwebs, total disregard for polar alignment, a freakish ability to locate things... ;) I was sure hoping those hazy skies would clear off after sunset and we'd have a chance to observe together again.

As always, these are some mighty fine people. We are a very active organization that plans for group activities and then carries them out. Of course, Curt and I were just brimming to tell the others what a wonderful time we had with 280 students at Crestline Middle Schools and how easy it really was to work with one another. It was wonderful to be able to sit around the table, passing about ideas and knowing there wasn't going to be any tension or backlash in suggestions. We have come a long way, baby! We have a major scout troop with around 80 guests total coming for our first public night in March and we are all looking forward to it. You'd really enjoy these fellows - We just work together so easily! There's never any question of support. They know they can ask me to put together a program and it will be done... I know I can ask them for help and they will be there. And under it all is the organization and dedication that keeps us alive and growing!

Like all things we do together, our dinner meeting was also a group effort. We lay out a fine, full course meal with each contibuting and it blends in a harmony that is far superior to a restaurant. (hey, i told ya' vegetarian could be a cuisine! ;) We discuss our ideas and make our plans for the future over dessert. (oh, greg... you don't know how much i wanted one of the those felony brownies, dude... i am still dreaming of it.) We are very ready to institute our Astronomy League observing programs and other great things. I watch the brownies go by and try very hard not to drool.... And when we have finished? We go outside to try and do some observing!

Of course, those hazing clouds ruled. Curt had a perfect spot picked out and I could stand there and point at exactly where the comet would be... But there is only clouds. Happily enough, Curt, Robert, Greg and myself do not give up that easily. By golly, if Venus, the Moon, the M42 and Theta Orionis is all we can see? Then by golly, that is what we will look at! Finally, the cold chased us in and it was pleasant to stand by the fire with a cup of coffee and just laugh. Who could not enjoy an evening in the Goff home? Trish will always make you welcome...

The hour grows late and it is time for us to depart. I watched the skies on the way home hoping that it would not clear off... And it didn't. I had a terrific evening and I am very ready to find a shot of whiskey (it tasted horrible, robert...), a warm blanket and put this cold to bed. It was wonderful to be with you all again... And our future looks so bright!

We just might have to wear shades... ;)

"You can't fight the feeling... And there's no reason. We will make the call and take it all again..

Whoa oh, again..."

February 25, 2004 - Comet 2002/LINEAR T7, the Moon and Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and the M81/82...

Comments: Beautiful day here... Cold, clear and sunny. I (ah... ah... choo!) probably should have gone out and viewed the new hot sunspot that I wished we could have shown the young folks yesterday, but right now I'd rather just relax, have a cup of coffee and talk with my friend Cor via messenger for awhile. I guess I shouldn't crab about the weather here in Ohio, because it is snowing in the Netherlands right now. It just feels mighty good to sit here and (sniffle... ah choo!) have a few laughs with him again. I can't wait until the April issue of Sky and Telescope comes out! I'm anxious to read his article.

Way to go, Cor!

After that, getting some hot food into me was pretty imperative. Seems ol' ~T here has fallen victim to the common cold again, and about the time my belly was warm I set my clock and took a power nap by the fire. Waking up to dark skies, I already knew (ah... ah.. choo!) that I was going to go out and chase LINEAR again, so I bundled up and set off with my old workhorse Celestron. Taking only the 25mm eyepiece with me was a no-brainer. I don't feel like much outdoors right now - something about a fever and cold winds don't really mix. Grinning up at Venus, I followed my own starhop instructions that I had just published and decided to make sure I was being accurate by using my simple instructions only. You know what? I was right. Despite the moonlight, LINEAR T7 is still very easy to find. The coma is still severely elongated, and I take it that some could actually view this as a tail. Stretching a handsome 30', LINEAR has a very stellar nucleus that shows easy and direct. The coma points away to the east, just as it should. As bright as it has become, I would say yes. The elongation we are witnessing is truly the dust tail, and when circumstances are permitting, the thin extruding thread should rightly be considered the ion tail. Again, to confirm things, with T7 centered in the 25mm eyepiece, Flamsteed 35 Peg is just out of the field of view to the southeast. There is a wide duo system of matched magnitude white stars slightly northwest of the major structure. To the north, or the right hand side of view, there is a fine chain of perhaps a half dozen stars about a magnitude dimmer than the top pair which curve gracefully. To the east there is a few stars which are around 9th or 10th magnitude, and a smattering which approach 11. Again, trying to accurately judge magnitude, I am saying T7 is every bit of magnitude 6. I know it is billed as dimmer than that, but hey! I'm looking at it, all right? When it cuts through that easily, this close to the Moon and that low on the horizon? It's gotta' be at least 6!

Trying to breath, I search through my pockets for a tissue as I admire the close dance of Mars and the Moon. How beautiful they look together tonight! How about if we (ah CHOO! sniffle...) go and have a look? Turning the scope round, I aimed at the Moon, made a pass over Mars and went back to the lunar surface. I couldn't take my eyes off Posidonius....

Fifty two miles wide and sixty one miles long, Posidonius is a shallow beast , but I find it rather beautiful anyhow. Cut through with rimae when the view is steady, it and companion crater Charconac give a restful appearance on the lunar surface, and I like the idea of resftful tonight.

Curious as to what is going on around Saturn, I take a fast peek and (AHCHOO!) find the vision surprisingly steady as I watch Titan being towed behind to the direct east and the troopers halo around the ring system. I hop on the Jupiter and see all four galieans present and accounted for, with our colorful pair to the west. (how's come no one has said anything about the stellar field jupiter is in right now? heck, there's more points of light right around the mighty jove than a christmas tree!) Feeling (sniffle...) not exactly like hanging around much longer in the cold, out of curiousity I go to the M81 and M82 knowing we are talking a steady magnitude 8 and 9 here. They are also easily visible under these conditions, but the come no where near the central portion of LINEAR, I started to move the scope round to another part of the yard to hunt down M31 as confirmation of magnitude... But I (ah, choo... AH CHOO!) think a bit better of it at the moment. For now it has been grand to be out under very clear skies again.

I'll be back. Promise...

"Well this is not for real... This way I feel. I just hit the floor. Don't ask for more...

And I'm wasting my time. Yes, I'm wasting my time..."

February 24, 2004 - At Crestline Middle Schools...

Comments: Don't cha' just know it? Another scheduled "classroom" appearance and not only is it cloudy, but we've a mixture of rain and snow to boot! Ah, that's OK. We be good. We be partners...

And the AFY be rockin' the house!

With an additional six classes for a total of 140 young people scheduled for today... Sure it's disappointing we didn't get to take them outside to firsthand solar view. But it really wasn't a bad thing. Curt and fellow AFY member Tim set up scopes in right in the classroom. Three different styles of scopes and two very knowledgable gentlemen willing to work with young people. With a little devious programming on my part, I put together some video footage of some work I had done with Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon and the Sun on video and set it to music. As the young folks came into class, I played my meteor recordings for them to pique their interest in studying astronomy in different ways. It was a lot of fun to watch their faces as I explained what they were hearing and to see the comprehension when they realized they could do it themselves!

Dividing them into three groups, we streamed 'em through. As one group would go to learn about telescopes and how they work, another would actually get to see through a scope at a terrestrial object, and the other group would come watch on screen exactly what appears in the eyepiece. If we can't take them out and show them these things? We'll bring it to them. The theme of the video segement was "Rollin'..." After I got a "tight tension on" by showing them the planets and Moon, we'd move on to the solar angle and I'd explain what they would have seen by showing them the "Walking On The Sun" program and then illustrate on the blackboard how CME's happen and what happens to Earth. I was surprised at how many of them had also seen the aurora!

Very kewl... Very kewl, indeed.

I would like to thank the seventh and eighth grade classes of Crestline Middle School and Mrs. Susan Brodnyk for inviting us into your classroom. We had a wonderful time with the students! And for all of you out there who were just dying to hear Beavis say the name of the seventh planet again??

Uranus... Heh... Heh Heh. I said Uranus... Heh. Heh Heh. ;)

"I see you waiting."

February 23, 2004 - Comet HA - T7, Venus, Saturn, M35, Jupiter, M45, M42, M36, M37, and M38...

Comments: Where the heck did this come from?!? I only stepped out the door to fetch a soda and I'm looking stars in the eyes! Popping the tab of my much beloved and now one daily Coke, I stood there just admiring the slim crescent of the Moon and then it hit me that I really was looking at clear skies!

Oh, what the hey...

Putting on a pair of old snow boots to keep the mud, water, slush and ice of my bare tootsies, I took another tasty sip and trucked out to the garage and set the old Celestron out. Always ready, ain't ya' kid? Pop the top, uncover the eyepiece and aim! And ya' know where I had to go, don't you" Darn right, LINEAR. Pushing away from Gamma, I spot the little fuzz beast right away with my 25mm workhorse Celestron eyepiece. Awesome! Before I head back in to get a better one, though, I started looking around and noting positions of the handful of stars that accompany it and then everything just went dim. HUH? Giving a cautious sideways glance, it's doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the western skyline is slowly being toasted by a bank of clouds. Well, fine then, Comet HA! I am going to take advantage of the clouds natural dimming ability and look at Venus!

Grinning as I watch the clouds creep in from around the edges, I went on to Saturn just to enjoy watching Titan cruising along with the Ring King to the northwest. It reminds me of a shepherd.... Just always keeping things in place. And ya' can't possibly look at Saturn right now without taking a bump over and viewing the M35! Figuring I better head on to Jupiter before the clouds claim it as well, I am pleased to see all the galieans with a close pair up on the outside edge. Gotta' be Europa and Callisto because their colors are so prominent. Giving a quick look around, I figure I better just keep right on a'movin' if I want to see anything else, so it turned into a fast hop to the Plieades, the Orion Nebula, and the big M's in Auriga. I realize it's not like the most outstanding of things to go look at, so why do I bother?

Cuz' they're my friends....

"I'm lonesome... Lonely... I see you waiting."

February 20, 2004 - RAS Meeting...

Comments: No skies tonight, folks. Ohio is back into its volatile state of changes and that means one day it is 50 degrees and rain, only to have the temperatures drop by 20 and snow hours later. It's OK, though. Spring is not far away for us and it really feels good just to have a warmer day on our hands. But does the clouds mean no fun at all? Ah, heck no! It's time for our monthly meeting...

Although Club business is not featured in my reports, I will say that I was both surprised and elated at the turn-out for this meeting! It has been months since I've seen "Doc" and the first time I've seen John N. here as well. Bruce, Ken, Dave, Mike A., Monty, Keith, Dan, Terry, Joe and myself were all in attendance, including several guests! How wonderful it was to all sit around the table and enjoy each other's company again. Of course, there are so many conversations going on... It's hard to chose which one to follow! It's like having this amazing plate of fellowship set down before you. And when you've finished? Oh, my my... What a real treat!

All in all, it went very well. It was a pleasure to meet "Doc's" wife and to see Pat again as well. It was really a pleasure to meet Dave's son who has just returned from a tour of duty, and to see Dave once again feeling better and back into the swing. I had to grin when I saw Dan had let his hair down for the night... Maybe one or two of us still hold on to those old notions, eh? I am always captivated when I listen to Keith talk about his re-enactment hobby, and hard put to divide my attention between him and Mike A. when I hear telescopes being discussed. Let's just say another Edmunds is in the works and we look forward to Mike's review in "Cloudy Nights"!

When we are finished, I really don't want to leave. Dave has given me back the smiles I so need at times and he is such a wonderful friend. I find myself drawn to both Joe and Keith as we depart. Just like Curt who kept me from drifting out of orbit during our school program, these two gentlemen have a way about them as well. They are as solid as the Sun and Moon... Different - Yet alike. When I seek wisdom and guidance, they are always there for me. Like the two celestial orbs I have a fondness in studying, both of them offer their rock solid presence. We bid the Moon "good night" for now... But if you don't mind? I'd like to linger here in the Sun for awhile longer. There's just something about its' light that I find extraordinarily appealling... Like watching the solar surface evolve, change and grow - It makes me feel good inside.

It is my favourite "star", you know...

"I see you waiting..."

February 17, 2004 - Venus, Comet C2002/LINEAR T7, M36, M37, M38, NGC2392, M44, M67, M78, M42, M43, NGC1973, NGC1975, NGC1978, M41, M47, M46, NGC2440, M93, NGC2362, M50 and the Hubble Variable Nebula....

Commets: My only real intention tonight was to go out and view T7 again. It has been a long day, yet a rewarding one. I enjoyed my "classroom" experience very much and I figured just keeping a handle on a comet would be all I'd need. By the time the sky had began to darken, I had the SVD8 set out and was ready for clearer condtions. I played around for awhile with phat Venus, and found my best results to be with a 17mm plossl, stacked with both blue and green filters. Its rough half-form became much more apparent... And I just kinda' enjoyed looking at Venus for Venus. I puttered around for a bit, drank a cup of coffee while admiring the skies, and when I couldn't stand it any longer?

I hunted down LINEAR.

Gotcha', baby. Approximately a degree west/southwest of Gamma Peg is where you will find it. And the moment I locked onto it and put the 12.3mm ED into the focuser, I knew something special had happened since I'd seen it last... We've got tail, folks. A thin extension to the east extrudes from the tip of the tear-drop shaped coma and spans approximately 10' before I lose it with this aperture. There is also an unmistakable bright core as well! Several dozen low-wattage field stars accompany it, and when I switch back to a 32mm, 1.25 Celestron eyepiece, I find that I can just squeeze Gamma Peg into the edge of the "picture" as well!

Excited, I capped things back up and went inside to e.mail some of my friends on its location... And then I read the other letters. Sigh... You know, I really get tired of this crap, you know? So, I took the time to sit down and write the most diplomatic reply I'm capable of... The whole time knowing all I'm going to get back is poison. A certain individual once told me that I'd better never cross him or he'd make sure I'd never find any peace. What a shame... The only thing you've succeeded in doing, sir, is to take someone who was willing to be your friend and continue to wound them because your friend is all they could be. Go ahead, sir... Bleed me. I'm dying anyway.

And I'm tired of wasting my time on you.

I go back out to put the telescope away, feeling sober instead of the excited person I was. The sky above is beautiful with the promise of stars. The M44 glitters to the unaided eye and the stars of Lepus and below dance on. I stand contemplating Leo and a meteor blazes across the sky, scattering its eldritch light like a path toward Auriga. I smile, knowing the stars are here for me - just as they always have been. I have seen their light through swollen eyes. They have comforted me when I had no one to take my pain to. And they are here for me now. Too bad they are not human! And then again? In a way, I am glad they are not.

Is there any place in the world as rich in stars as Auriga? OK... Maybe Cygnus, but how I admire this winter fire! The M36, M37 and M38 brought to the eyepiece by my own hand. I go the Gemini and marvel anew at the NGC2392 and how great it looks in 12.3mm eyepiece! Sweet... very sweet. I'm beginning to think I like planetary nebulae almost as much as I like galaxies! Going back to 32mm, I have to look at the M44. Our busy little pairs and groupings are still buzzing away in the night... And not far away, I go back to the 12.3mm eyepiece, for the M67 continues to be one of my most favoured of rich, galactic open clusters.

I don't tilt windmills, don Quixquote... I slay dragons.

I feel the petty stuff slipping away as I head toward the mighty Orion. It's a stretch to find the M78 at power, but thanks to this terrific finder, I see a tiny contrast change and it doesn't take long before I've home in on two young, hot, blue stars that fuel this small, somewhat circular nebula. Sticking with the 26mm eyepeice for now, I thoroughly enjoy the richness of the M42 - From the teasing winks inside the Trapezium to the "fishmouth" that seperates it from the companion M43. Triple nebulae NGC1973, 1975, and 1977 appear as a triangle of haunting light, spangled with stars breathing in the womb of creation. What a fine constellation Orion is!

Glinting like a cosmic diamond, Sirius calls and beckons me downward toward the M41. Ah.... Another old favourite brought to new life by a different scope! I don't suppose I shall ever tire of it's richness. I do not know what is more beautiful... The little swarm in the finder - Or the big swarm in the eyepiece! My smile broadens as I move on to M46 and kick in the power to enjoy the profusion that accompanies planetary nebulae NGC2438 at the lower edge. Back to less power, and on to M47! Yeah, baby... I start my drop hop toward M93 and go back to power for small, blue planetary NGC2440. When I have throughly enjoyed it, I go on down to M93, drop back, and start grinning again. It almost reminds me of the M11! A little profusion aimed toward a reddish star... A circle of points of light caught in the center... Too cool!

Lookin' for a little bit of Tau in the finder, the NGC2362 is one very nice open cluster.... Lots of different magnitudes and variables here! Now I'm ready for a bit of Monoceros, and the M50 is where I go. Again, easily visible in the finder, the M50 is probably even better than the M35. Like the outline of a Rubik's Cube set on point, the M50 is rich in stars and color. Dead in the middle is a very pretty sunshine orange star... Stretching away in chains. Tiny blues dance amoung their older white cousins, an occasion glint of yellow is seen and a tiny touch of red rubies glimmer at the edges. Ah, yes... An antique brooch set on the breast of the Last Unicorn... How fitting! Now Epsilon, hop one, hop two and Bingo! The NGC2261, or Hubble Variable Nebula. I go back to power to view this little gas-flame blue comet shape and just dig every minute of it. Even more blue than Joe's "Snowball", the SVD8 takes its high surface brightness and slams it right back into your retina. A strikingly superb nebula and even grander because I found it myself.

For now? This is enough. It has been a wonderful day! I think of all the young folks who smiled my way and wish that I could show them all these beautiful things. Perhaps one day they shall join us at a Star Party, eh? I would like that. And even if they don't? Perhaps for just one moment...

We put the stars in their eyes.

"Well this is not for real... Afraid to feel. I just hit the floor. Don't ask for more. I'm wasting my time.... I'm wasting my time.

You can't fight the feeling... And there is no reason. We can't make the call and take it all again....

I'm wasting my time. I'm wasting my time, again. Whoa oh, again...."

February 17, 2004 - At Crestline Middle School...

Comments: I knew the day was gonna' be super the moment I saw the sun pillar. Armed with a briefcase full of stuff, a laptop (thank you again, i still appreciate it.) programmed and ready, and box of toys, I started out across country. I want you to know that H has throughly involved himself in this process of teaching...

He ate the Moon.

I'm being totally serious here!! I had this open box filled with things: globes, lights, balls, orrery, etc. And one of my prizes was a softball that was perfectly to scale with the globe I use to illustrate how the Moon orbits the Earth and goes phasic. It was a nice softball, too! Brand new... White stitching...Even decorated that bad boy up with a grey marker and pencils to make it look like the Moon... And when I got up this morning and put on coffee, I noticed this weird thing laying on the living room floor. Turning on the light, it only took a moment to recognize my "moon" was now a mass of slobbery leather and a complicated mass of strings that apparently Z also fancied. Not to be outdone, I just went to his toybox and helped myself... Today the Moon is a tennis ball. Thanks, H!

Anyhow, I was a little worried about the drive time, but I made it there in style and Curt ended up right behind me. We carried the things in, set up shop, and by the time the bell rang? We were ready. As the kids filed in, they were surpised to hear Soul Coughing's "Circles" playing and watched as the Mars program ran on screen. "Circles" is a catchy tune, and one that has meaning to me. It gives me a mental picture that I smile at, and dedicate this particular astronomy program to. We explored the world of "Circles"... The orbit of our own solar system, the orbit of the Moon around our Earth, the orbit of comets around the Sun. Meteor samples made the "circle" around the room, and I was really surprised at how many were reluctant to touch a piece of another world! Spaces germs... Eeeew! We walked in circles as my favourite "string" trick had all the particpant's laughing and dancing along. As they stretched farther and farther out, even my corny Beavis and Butthead commentary made them all laugh. We explored the "Light Speed" program I wrote, and how I love to watch the understanding dance in their eyes! We explored light itself with my homebrewed spectrometer and "Tasting The Rainbow".

It was all great fun! I cannot express my appreciation enough to Curt for drawing me back into orbit time and time again. To have those facts ready to call out and keep them smiling was more of a help than you will ever know. I thank you deeply, Curt. I have also found that presenting so much material and hands-on experiments in a short period of time is more of a mind bender than I realized it would be! When I would start to zone out? His ready smile and quick hand would bring me right back where I needed to be. (if any teachers out there read this? it was my very first time at doing six consecutive classes with a total of 140 teenagers. i had no idea that i would blur between classes so easily! you guys are awesome... how do you do it?!) Ms. Brodnyk was also wonderful at helping to keep me focused. And the young folks? They were GREAT! They are smart. They are fast.

And they are the reason I keep doing this.

Until we return next week, I am now sitting as I write this and thoroughly enjoying a cup of coffee. Perhaps the sky will be clear tonight and I will be out there "chasin' down the cyclone, all alone in the fields" once again. For now? I want to tell everyone thank you. For every smiling face out there will help me remember the very best part of what I do...

Is share the love.

"I took a chance and left you standing... Lost the will to do this once again."

February 16, 2004 - Comet C2002 LINEAR T7...

Comments: Yup. It's the same date. It is not uncommon for me when working the vampyre shift to observe before I go into work at night (well, morning actually)... And then be back out there that same night. The only way I can make the transitions between shifts quickly and painlessly as possible is to simply not sleep, eh?

The day was just beautiful. Clear blue skies, not a cloud to be found. I probably should have been out observing the Sun, but I've got some classes to teach I want to prepare for and the sunlight is absolutely brutal on eyes that have become three days accustomed to the dark. I spent the day looking for my tranquility by practicing the guitar. It is soothing, this blend of harmonics and coordination... When I have it together? It makes me feel good. And lord only knows I could use a something in my life right now that makes me feel good. So how about a Comet? I figured I'd make up for the lost days by getting myself psyched up to view T7. It's so beautiful, it's gotta' hold, right?


By the time the Sun started to set, it began dragging wispy clouds in with it. I'm not really the type to be daunted by a few clouds, after all doesn't every silver lining have just a touch of grey? (hmmmm.... apparently my hair is beginning to think so. ;) So... I went out anyway! All I need is my marker in Pegasus. That's it. No maps. No trajectories. All I need is where I saw it last and to know in my mind what path it's going to take. Did I find it? Darn right I did. And man, oh, man... It's picking up speed! It's moved a solid field and a half to two fields from where I last observed it. I'm guessing about about a degree and a half from its last position. Tonight I was just sticking with the 4.5 Celestron and the 25mm Celestron eyepiece, and thanks to the haze that continually helps to dim the picture, I still see no evidence of a tail. Like so many comets before it, it looks like it is becoming larger and more diffuse. Of course, this is observing under less than optimal conditions... But they all can't be perfect.

At this point, T7 is in a relatively starless field. There is perhaps a ninth magnitude star at the edge of the eyepiece, and a few brave winks that tell me around magnitude 12 for additional field stars. Without aperture or exceptional clarity, there is no coma present at this time. My best guess is that T7 is stretching approximately 30' in diameter. (whooops? did i say that?) Again, the skies aren't cooperating to full capacity, but T7 is still rocking... Even through the haze!

Taking the Celestron back into the garage, I found myself wandering out a few times during the early evening. Every so often, we would have a very decent looking skies and I'd think about going back out and decide against it. Even though I have the day off tomorrow, I've got a lot of anxious faces that are gonna' be looking to me to shed some astronomical light their way and I'd like to be able to do it without sleepwalking! If I could only learn how not to dream....

Now tell my brain that.

"Months went by with us pretending.... When did our light turn from green to red?"

February 16, 2004 - M51 and NGC5195, M64 and Jupiter...

Comments: So tonight I was grateful of the vampyre shift, eh? When I got up and looked out the window, the amount of stars that could be seen from indoors blew me away. There was absolutely no question in my mind about whether or not I was going to go out and observe...

Just try and stop me!

Whoa. Cold! Very cold... Pulling the dob out to my favourite spot in the backyard, I opened it up and left it standing to rid it of any possible tube currents. Heading back in the garage, I glanced at the thermometer and decided that after I had set my eyepieces out that I'd best go back in after more protective clothing. Although I have been procrastinating at finishing the last of my Messier Studies, clarity like this does not come round often enough and I have sufficient time to work on it. Keeping the house dark, I fumble around for extra duds and end up using my red flashlight at the table to read my maps and get the location of the M64 firmly planted in my mind before I go out. To me, the M51 is fairly easy for it is right by a naked eye star... But it is too cold out to mess around with the maps and flashlight! Finishing my cup of coffee, I put on my watch, start off my observing notes, and head out the door....

Telescope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 26mm Meade, 12.3 ED Epic
Sky: 6 ULM Stability: 7/10 Clarity: Perfect
Temperature: 10 degrees
Time: 12:15 a.m. EST

M51 - Ah, man. I can see with my own eyes that sky clarity is awesome and when I view the M51 in the 26mm, I know it is. Even at this lower power, the M51 is outstanding. Bright nucleus, the curl and swirl of spiral arms, and the shining mass at the end of the arm that is the NGC5195. I almost hesitate to put more power to it, for I can see knots and glimmers just as it is, but I know you want me to be more precise. At power, the super wide field of the 12.3mm eyepiece does it the justice it deserves. The core area is strikingly deep and rich. Spiral structure begins as little as one-quarter the way from the nucleus. Far more concentrated is the western arm which eventually curls north to meet the NGC5195. There is a seperation from this particular arm branch and the companion galaxy... Yet the extreme leading arm shows very faint structure that appears to meet the NGC5195. To the east, another grandoise arm begins from the nucleus area and as it moves toward the south it branches in a Y like formation. It is in this interior arm that the majority of knots and clusters seem to appear, although the whole structure almost looks like a concentration of them. At the eastern most extreme, a more faded arm looks as if it feathers away in the direction of south. The beginning of the interior arm that curls outward from the southern edge of the core also displays bright knots. To do the NGC5195 some justice, however, I will say that apparent ellipticity is broken to the western edge. There is something about it that reminds me a great deal of the M82... It just looks broken. Very, very fine! I could not have picked a better night to view this galaxy.

Although I wish it had been a warmer one. ;)

Telescope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 26mm Meade, 12.3 ED Epic
Sky: 6 ULM Stability: 7/10 Clarity: Perfect
Temperature: 10 degrees
Time: 12:35 a.m. EST

M64 - Hey, little dude! At 26mm the M64 is bright, easy and very conspicuously in the field of triangulating stars, with a real dandy to the south. At this magnification, it is compact, concentrated, with a bright nucleus, a dark dustlane on wide aversion and an oddity in structure. With the 12.3mm eyepiece in place, all questions are answered. The M64's nucleus is too large to refer to as a stellar point, but it is bright enough to be considered stellar. With slightly averted vision, a conspicuous, single dark dustlane lays shifted south of the central portion of the galaxy, and if not for a slight curve to it, would seem to bissect it. The M64 has a curious extension to the northwest, pulling the overall structure of the galaxy into a tear-drop shape. While looking at this extension, averted vision cleanly picks out concentrations of structure that border the dark dustlane again to the south. The whole galaxy gives off a rather uneven appearance... Like no particular area can make up its' mind where to shine or fade the most! Most curious and well worth the hunt.

A glance at my watch tells me I have made my time and I have room to joyride for a bit. And I gotta' tell ya'... Jupiter is doing everything but screaming, OK? So, given the clarity, I break my own rules of DSOs on a transparent night and decide to have a look. Ye, gods! My guess on stability must have been slightly in error, for with the 12.3mm eyepiece, details do everything but jump into my eye! The north temperate zone is a smooth brown line. The EZ is loaded with grey hashmarks. The southern belt is loaded with little odd markings that I am hard put to descirbe, and the real kicker is... Nah. Too far south. But... Nah. I'm seeing stuff! Correcting the scope, I move over to take in the galieans and again I think I've gone nuts. HUH? There's one on this side, there's two on that side... But what the?!? I did everything but start jumping up and down at this point. I know I laughed... Heck, I probably hollered! The two little buggers toward the inside are eclipsing one another!!! I had every though of running back in the garage for the barlow, but I was totally captivated in just watching this pair of siamese moons disentangle from one another. Had I any idea that this was going on? The Messiers could have waited! Keeping an eye on my watch, I viewed for as long as I dared... Just barely feeling the cold. I watched until I had to go... I guess this was my piece of eye candy!

From the finest skies this side of Mt. Hamilton... Wish you were here, Mr. Wizard.

"You can't stop the feeling ... And there's no reason. Let's make the call... And take it all again.

Woah ho, again...."

February 15, 2004 - M65 and 66, M81 and 82...

Comments: RRRRRrrrrrrt! Rewind.... Man, I'm tellin' ya'... This shift gets to me. Half the time I don't know whether I'm awake or asleep! I go to bed while the Sun is still out, wake up to half-light, thinking I'm late to work, run in to jump into the shower only to realize the Sun is on the wrong side of the house! Smooth move, ~T... If I'm not confused enough, add a real emotional rollercoaster ride on top of that and you can see how I can stand in the corner laughing one moment and crying the next.

Ah, well. Give me a cup of coffee, wind me up and point me in the right direction.

When the alarm clock went off, I looked out the window to see the skies were still clear. Although I really don't feel like going out at the moment, I also know that if I don't get up and do something that I will promptly sit in my chair and go right back to sleep. I decided I'd take the little Orion out for a bit of practice, so I set it outside to cool and put on some nectar of the gods. Getting dressed, I filled my thermal mug and went out to play with that nasty little reflex finder. I have a new 5X30 for it, but for some reason I've procrastinated putting it on. I guess I'm just stubborn. (who me?) Either that, or I'm getting lazy in my old age. (more likely.)

Heading for Chort, I am pleased to see that Iota is naked eye and that will help to make this hop at least a little easier. Placing the red dot loosely between the two, I go to the eyepiece and see it isn't even close. Was it over? Or under? Loosening everything up, it takes a minute or two, and half a cup of coffee, and I finally found what I was after.... The M65 and M66. Hey, dudes! How ya' doin', little guys? Not particularly impressive in small aperature, I still find a certain grace in knowing they are there. Two little smudgies laying at odds with one another, and still right where I left 'em last.

Finishing my coffee, I decided to head out for the M81 and M82 before I packed it in. The days ahead are still going to be really busy, (you cannot believe the massive amounts of numbers i have waiting on me this morning.) and I just want one more photon fix. (make it a double, please. 3,000 changes in 8 hours is going to be a super-human feat.) I just really loosely used the reflex on this one. General direction is all I need for the M81 and M82 anyway, and a few minutes, several erroneous hops and 30,000 stars later I have it in the eyepiece. Grinning that lopsided, tired grin that only the hopelessly romantic (or lunatic) can give to the night, I realize I better go write this up before I go. Time will be a precious commodity over the next 48 hours...

And the 30 minutes I spent here was worth all the while.

"Well this is not for real ... Afraid to feel. I just hit the floor. Don't ask for more. I'm wasting my time...

I'm wasting my time."

February 14, 2004 - The NGC864 & 889 and the IC1805...

Comments: Yes, I am nightwalking again. The vampyre is back on duty and I had an object in mind that could only be captured on a certain day. It is not particularly faint, nor is it small. It is not difficult to find, but it does require a moonless sky and a very low power.. I would have preferred to use the SVD8 on this one, but it won't accept my 2" eyepieces. A real shame ya' couldn't handle the big ones, kid... Nothing gives field like the 12.5 and this eyepiece.

I open the garage door and pull the scope out to the west side yard. It is very cold, suprisingly clear and I can hear things snapping and cracking as I set up with only the 32mm Televue. Cassiopeia is now out of what light pollution I have to the north and it is possible to see the "Double Cluster" with the naked eye. It is to there I go, realizing that very few scopes can truly do justice the the NGC864 and 889 like this one can. I try not to sigh, for it is imperative to keep the eyepiece without any fogging of the eyepiece for what I am after. As I hold my breath and look at the stars, I move the dob ever so slowly to the northeast. The body of the IC1805 is impossible to see... But the threads and filaments that make it up are easily grasped by the combination of averted vision and movement. It is a very tender nebula... It is billed at magnitude 6.5, but I think you will find it much shyer than that. You could say that it has taken a lot of abuse over the years, and it still shines on.

Now, I really do sigh. It is not for days gone by, nor dreams of tomorrow. To me it is just enough to have caught the IC1805 on this particular day. If I were to move the scope out to my normal observing area, I see I could complete my Messier list, but I don't really want to this morning. I guess it would be like cutting the last thread, and sometimes I still need to hold onto one. I put away my good eyepiece and cover the scope back up. The days ahead will long and difficult, but I shall remember what I have done and smile.

Maybe one day I'll show it to you again...

"I still can't keep the day from ending... No more messed up reasons for me to stay."

February 11, 2004 - The Sun... Comet 2002/LINEAR T7, M45, M42, M41, M35, M36, M37, M38, NGC869 and 884, M44 and M50...

Comments: I saw the Moon this morning when I went out to start my car. I thought, for just a moment perhaps, about setting the Celestron out and having a look... But didn't. I found myself on the inside, behind the glass like a zoo specimen, just watching that yellowish, distant, half-orb like a tired animal. The call is still there... But oh how calm the Sargasso Sea has become. I have become content to watch the Moon race ahead of me on my way to work... To watch the sunrise as I roll across the open plains... And to hide my face from Jupiter as I walk into work.

Some how that desire has slipped away...

I was pleased to finish the day and walk back out into sunshine. I have completed my workday and when I have completed my routines, I set the little Celestron out for a look at the solar surface. I am surprised to find that AR554 has changed magnetic classifications once again by going back to delta-gamma and I would see for myself how the field has changed.

The leader has a very dark, definate and mature umbral region and a very mature penumbra as well. Since yesterday's clouds prevented close scrutiny, I was curious as to "why" the classification changed so rapidly without expelling anything more than a minor M class flare. It is definately Dsc, but there is clearly a reason here why it is twisted and not so volatile at the moment.... There's no mature umbra in the follower! It has broken up... Dissolved. It will need to "congeal" again before those little electromagentic circuits can twist and interact with one another again. Poor baby... My neck itches just thinking about it. ;)

Although the skies were relatively clear, they began deteriorating after sunset. I was still anxious to have another look at T7, so I left the scope out and ready to go. Just as soon as it got dark enough for me to find my marker star, I was on it. Thanks to hazing conditions, comet 2002/LINEAR T7 isn't much more than a tear-drop shaped contrast change in the field with Gamma Peg tonight. I keep hoping to spot a tail, but it's not going to happen tonight.

As always, I still have this love of just being outside at night. Simple things are fine with me. I am happy to turn the scope towards the Plieades and the Great Orion Nebula. I like watching the flash and roll of Sirius masked behind the thin clouds and dropping south to pick up the M41. I brush past Saturn with a nod, preferring instead to look at the stellar grouping of the M35. It is fine by me to pick a beer out of thinning snowdrift and enjoy it as I watch the night. The M36, M37 and M38 are residing in a clear patch at the moment and I enjoy them as well. I can see where Perseus and Cassiopeia have reached a clearing spot and I go to the "Double Cluster" and enjoy the pure photon fix. It will not be long until this particular object will be difficult for me to catch. Yes, indeed.... It is just a fine thing to be out here. I am very ready for the old redwood chair and lazy summer nights again. Night swimming... And when I see the shimmer of the M44? I visit it as well, for it calls back warm memories. Monoceros is a bit low, but I don't mind the work it takes to find the open jewel box of the M50. It is colorful, and the thin clouds add an irridescence to the spectra of the stars which I appreciate far more than curse.

I cover the scope and watch for awhile in hopes of catching a meteor... But there is none. Sometimes the night sky can be a lonely place as well. For now, I put the scope away much like lowering the jib on a sailboat. The stellar winds are calm tonight and I am content to wait at sea.

And wonder what's beneath the surface...

"Well, I don't want to see you waiting... I've already gone too far away."

February 10, 2004 - The Sun...

Comments: Whoops! There it is!

Gotta' at least smile. With our chancey Ohio weather, I take what opportunities I can get and don't complain too loudly. There was a bit of on again, off again sunshine today, so I did set up the workhorse and take a peek at newest "bad boy", AR554. Need a laugh? Then look at this...

As you can tell, this one's a real temporary shot. The only reason I even tried is because 554 went beta-gamma-delta and is up for X class flare activity. I was simply hoping against all odds to catch something on film that I have weird tendecy to catch visually... And that's a solar hellion. Nope. You can look up that term from now until the daggone thing coughs off a CME and your aren't going to find it. It's just a quality that I see in some spots and not others. Call it a vibe... Whatever it is, it is what keeps me interested in solar viewing. (and apparently my neck is safe yet again... ;) Perhaps someday if I take enough video footage, study them against known data, and do all the proper stuff I will understand "why". Right now it's still a sweet mystery to me and I'm sitting here wondering if it's a spectral quality as well as magnetic. Hmmmmmmm....

Got some research equipment you can loan me?

"It's something unpredictable, but in the end is right.

I hope you had the time of your life."

February 9, 2004 - Pillar Of Fire...

Comments: There would be no repeat performance of clear skies tonight. No matter how much I would like for it to happen so I could try to image LINEAR T7, it's not going to work. (that's ok, cuz' i seriously doubt even the 12.5 is gonna' pull enough light out to make use of the equipment i have.) But I'm not crabbing. I'm actually busy in the kitchen making a fragrant concoction with fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, minced garlic, olive oil, gnocchi and mozzarella cheese. I put the finishing touches on it, and as I placed it in the oven I could see red light in the other room. Wandering that way, my mouth drops open...

The western sky is on fire.

Not even caring, I snatched up a video tape containing some specta studies I was working on and put it in the camera. I didn't even think about a coat... I just put my boots on and took off walking. You gotta' see this....

The entire western sky was a brilliant red and dominating the scene was a sun pillar. I can only smile as I know I'm eradicating some of my spectral studies by filming over them... But isn't it awesome? (yeah, and it's darn cold too. you should have put on your coat stupid.) I have tried to alert everyone I know in my monthly "Seeing Stars" column about these beauties, and I only hope they see the light. Making a hasty retreat back for the house, I only hope I haven't burned my dinner instead of just my retinas. The clearing just below the pillar never made it here, and there will be no astronomy tonight...

But there was a "Pillar of Fire"....

"It's something unpredicatable, but in the end is right. I hope you had the time of your life."

Feburary 8, 2004 - The Moon and Jupiter... The Sun... And Waitin' On LINEAR T7... M74, Comet LINEAR 2002/T7, M31, M81 and M82, NGC7814, NGC1365, The Fornax Galaxy Cluster and the M1...

Comments: I was restless last night after we talked. I probably shouldn't have napped in the earlier evening, but when it's cloudy I tend to sleep more. As soon as I turned off all the lights, I could see the Moon sparkling on the new snow crystals and it was very compelling. As always, I rarely have the heart to say no to clear skies and when I walked outside I knew I couldn't stay indoors for long. You should see how beautiful the Moon and Jupiter looked together at 3:00! Riding on the zenith and outshining everything in the sky...

I suppose it was a certain wistfulness for all the times I have chased the planets when they have been near the Moon. Even the lowest power I possess will not put the two of them in the same field of the eyepiece tonight, but how many times have I had the good fortune to witness such events, eh? Saturn on many occassions, Jupiter twice, and the night I killed the mount on the Celestron for Mars and the Moon. And it is with a rather evil grin that I walked to the garage and set the old Celestron right outside the door and did just that. What a gorgeous picture it would have made to see the stark beauty of Mare Crisium paired with Jupiter! The waltz of the galieans has left Europa out on its' own while the rest team up on the other side in a wonderful display of dimensionality. Ah, my.... Perhaps one day I shall see the edge of the Moon eclipse them, eh?

And I will be watching.


And I got my chance to study AR551 visually today as well. First let me show you my crappy picture from my highly abused and over-worked video camera....

As you can see, fuzzily anyhow, AR551 is a well developed series. Visually in the eyepiece, (and on the moving film) you can see that the penumbral areas are very well formed, the umbrae themselves very regular and no particular signs of a tug-of-war in the followers that suggests to me to be "hot" magnetic activity. It is no doubt bi-polar, but you know how I often like to lay my neck on the chopping block and see what happens. Quite frankly, after studying the steady increases in the x-ray flux data.... I don't think this one is going to do anything spectacular. It grew very fast... It dispersed very wide... But it just looks tame to me. Let's see what happens, eh?

On the incoming limb is one that shows a bit more promise visually. Its' name is AR554 and will be with us for another week or more... Let's have a grainy look, shall we?

Now! Although this spot series doesn't display itself well yet, what you can (barely) see in the photo, but what can be well observed visually is the haunting faculae that surround it. Well enhanced by the limb darkening effect, these beautiful "parts" in the solar sea of granulation I find rather exciting! One thing I found rather curious about this spot is the lack of the Wilson Effect... That would mean it's coming in magnetically "hot", but I simply do not see it. No, I am not a dolt, I know it's a bit far away from the limb to see the WE very specifically, but I look at these things all the time, OK? It's close enough that it should have shown some distortion if it was present. Of the pair? I would say that we will probably see more action out of 554...

And I'll keep a turtleneck sweater handy just in case. ;)

For now? I am outta' here.... It's starting to get dark and I have a hot date with a comet. The later rise of the Moon will buy me some time, and I'll burn a few feathers and see if I can't keep the clouds away.

Wish me luck!


So, you want to know about Comet LINEAR, huh? Well, I'll be happy to tell you. I was so itching to see that comet again, that I had both the Celestron 4.5 and the Meade 12.5 out before the stars even showed up. We had clear skies, and I wasn't taking any chances! First and foremost, I wanted to locate it with the little scope, because sometimes switching between so many apertures means I have difficulty calling magnitudes. What seems bright and easy in one scope can be much harder in a smaller one... And... I'd kinda' like to tell you without a shadow of doubt in my mind that you can find it with your little scope, ok? So here I am... Loaded for bear and standing in the frozen wastelands waiting on anything to show up in the western sky besides Venus. Blick! Ah... There be one star in the "Square"... Blick! There be another... And maybe, just maybe that one over there is Gamma. Let's try, ok? So I uncovered the finder in the little Celestron, stuck in a 25mm eyepeice and homed in on it. Daggone.. Where is it? Oh, come on... I know you're here. You've got to be right here. I've been doin' this for years and I know a comet's trajectory when I... Oh! There you are. Oh, my... You are so faded. You aren't even close to the....

Ahem. It was the M74.

Feeling like the worldest most magnificient palomino's posterior and blushing redder than Betelguese, I looked up to notice I wasn't exactly one the right star. Well, hey! To be honest with you, it is scoring a coup to be able to get the M74 in a 4.5 scope at twilight! Even if it ain't a daggone comet....

Going this time to Gamma Peg instead of Eta Pic, it only took 3 seconds to find my mark. At whatever magnfication the 25mm supplies with 4.5 (here's my calculator, you do the math.) it is possible to just barely place Gamma and T7 in the same field. Just the slightest movement reveals a splendid field of stars between them. To the eye of the 4.5, T7 is still huge, diffuse and sports a very concentrate core region. I wasn't kidding when I told you this comet was easy to find! Now let's see if I can judge the magnitude a bit more closely.... Going to M31. Now going to the M81 and M82... It's in between the two. I am still holding firm that it is approaching magnitude 6 in the core region and around magnitude 7 in the coma. Now let's try the 12.5 on it... POW! Comet-city!! At three times the aperature, LINEAR T7 can be mistaken as nothing. It is a comet. Perfect depth and concentration around the nucleus which gives a stellar glint and a evenly diffuse coma that is definately taking on some stretch. I sweep the appropriate direction for tail, and other than just the elongated coma, I am still seeing nothing. Darker conditions would probably be more helpful... But I am not complaining! So get yourself out there... If you can find the southernmost star of "The Great Square" of Pegasus, you CAN find this comet!

Rock on, Traveller...

Oh, by the way, you did say we were looking at Gamma Peg, didn't you? (big grin here... you'd almost think i plan this stuff. ;) Then you wouldn't mind terribly while I have the big scope out holding this 12.3 ED eyepiece for me would you? Cuz' I wanna use the 25mm for just a minute. Mmmm... Yeah. Right there, baby. OK.. Hand it over. Oh, yeah... I haven't lost the touch. Come're. This is for you. NGC7814 has got to be one of the finest edge-on presentations in this part of the sky. Stellar core, phat concentration aroud the nucleus, stretched angular form and a deep, undeniable scratch of a dark dustlane. There is something about this one, just as there is something about the "Sombrero". While the M101 has a "see through" appearance to the core, the NGC7814 has this on the verge of perception thing going on at the remnants of the dustlane. I don't know how to describe it, save for it seems to continue on. Just superb....

And since I have you with me tonight, and it is quite early enough to play around, give me back the 25mm and let me take you to the NGC1365. Here now... We have looked at a comet, the largest galaxy from our point of view, a pair of galaxies, both spiral and irregular, and ultra-fine edge-on, and this barred is for you. Incredible, isn't it? The NGC1365 has a bright central hub, a highly defined bar, and two incredibly well formed and easily held direct arms. Hush now, we need no more power than this. I want you to put your hand under the front of the scope and gently draw your fingers together, ok? This is just enough to give the dob the breath upwards it needs to explore the Fornax Galaxy Cluster. Do you see them? Look... Ellipticals, yes! No, no... It's ok. Tell me what you see... Yes. Yes, there is another there! Yes, it is standing on its' head. The faded one? Probably a spiral... It has been a long time since I studied it. Over? Oh, sure... Just put your hand under it like I showed you and move it ever so slightly. What's that? Yes, there are more isn't there? Tell me...
How many do you see?

And so I find myself enamoured again of this region. The very first time I saw it I knew I would not rest until I could name the galaxies and sketch them. But that was oh, so long ago. I had this wonderful fire back then and I often wonder what happened to it. But, when I look into the heart of the Fornax Galaxy Cluster, I remember a much younger and much more innocent me... The one who wandered about in joyous abandon in the Virgo Field, laughing and clapping like a child at the wonders I had discovered. I sometimes miss that child...

I lay the dob down and find myself walking over to the Celestron and beginning the process of putting things away. The sky is still very dark, only a soft brightening to the east tells me the Moon will be along. I carry my old companion back to the garage and listen as the re-verb of a meteor sings out on the radio. What is wrong with me? Any other time I would have been looking up, eh? No matter. We can't catch them all. I go back out and offer a smile to the beauty of Orion and the fine normality of the setting Venus, the march of Mars and the brilliant yellow of Saturn. Jupiter is just beginning over the trees and I know the Moon is getting nearer. I gather the last of my things and as I am about to take the eyepeice out of the big scope, I pause...

I would see the M1 before I go.

Perhaps I have waxed too often on the M1 for you to care... And perhaps it will never be enough. It is more than this handful of filaments, thread-like and pearlescent. It is so much more than the twinkle of embedded stars. It is so much more than just knowing what it is... It is the "seeing". Knowing that as an astronomical "child" I could see a quality which I called "living"... A thing I did not understand, yet could see. I know now that it is the pulsar at its center. That magnificent pulsar that emits polarized light like the beacon on a lighthouse... Forever sweeping, tantalizing and changing the visible appearance of a supernova remnant. Forever a fascination to me...

Perhaps I haven't left that child too far behind.

"Tattoos of memories and my feelings on trial. For what it's worth? It was worth all the while.

It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right. I hope you had the time of your life."

February 7, 2004 - Chasin' the Sun...

Comments: All right... All right! Enough snow here in Ohio, please. We warm up, we rain, we freeze, we snow... And all in 24 hours, thank you. I sat inside by the woodburner this morning, re-grouping from last night's "social" activities, happily watching my little feathered friends fight over the food I had provided for them, and despaired over the phat lazy snowflakes that were swirling down. I was too tired when I got back last night to listen for meteors, and I sure could use a dose of astronomy. After yesterday's warmer temperatures, and the rain that helped to reveal some of the landscape we know be be there beneath its' veneer of ice, it's kinda' a disappointment to see more winter. What's up with that, Buckeye Chuck? I'm movin' to Pennyslvania - I hear Phil's forecast is better!

Despite the inch of snow, it eventually mellowed out and the occasional ray of sunshine would stab through. I don't get my hopes up anymore, but I did take my nose out of "From a Buick 8" long enough to set the Celestron out for a look-see - And it was a cat and mouse game.... Ah, you know it doesn't take but the most minor of shadows for me to get aim on the Sun, but it does take an occassional clearing to view it! I had heard AR551 was growing rapidly and I was interested to see it. Let's just say a couple of fleeting glimpses of a massive Dao classed, bi-polar beauty was all I got. I even had the camera ready so I could film it and study the structure later in warmer leisure... But no way. I asked for a peek?

And a peek is what I got.

Not bothered, I put the scope way and curled back up by the fire with my book. Although I'd like to tell you it was a textbook of cosmology, or the latest research in physics... It wasn't. It was just good ol' Stephen King, a bowl of carrots and a jug of water. Now that's happiness! Crunchin', page turnin', toasty-toed, comfortable Ohio Saturday afternoon stuff.... And then I noticed that I was actually seeing sunshine again. Looking up, I grinned at the west picture window, thinking I might get to see Comet T7 again later. And then I laid my book down. I know what those thin clouds are. I know what happens when it's about ten degrees outside and the clouds look like that.

And I know the Sun is about to set.

Grabbing my camera off the table, I took it over to the window and waited in anticipation. I can see the Sun stretch and distort and I know it's going to happen. Moments later, the first "sun pillar" appeared...

Knowing the phenomena wouldn't last long, for the Sun is already within 20 minutes of dropping below the horizon here and even more shortly to drop behind the lower clouds, I slipped a pair of boots on over my bare feet, grabbed a coat and the camera and set off over 100 yard icewalk to the south field. Slipping, sliding, falling through air pockets in the ice, and hoping the pillar would hold, I made it out to where I normally observe and turned the camera west....

Although a lot of the "fire" had gone out of the pillar by then, you can still see how beautiful it was. (and you can also see why i like my own backyard to observe in... you can chase the stars right down to the ground here to the east, south and west! ;) I just turned the camera off then, because I knew the last of it wouldn't show on film. It was glorious to watch the Sun, misshapened by the atmosphere, drop into that final band of clouds. "Goin' down in a blaze of glory...." Of course, I also realized that my choice in clothing was mighty thin to be standing out here in 20 below chill factors. My uncovered right hand had gone to feeling like it was on fire to not feeling at all... And I still had that five minute walk back across the ice! Laughing, because I've pretty much gotten used to it, I started back to my book and the comfort of the woodburner. Frostbite really isn't so much a consideration as mistaking my fingers for a carrot, ok?

Besides... I can turn the pages with my left hand.

"So take the photographs, and still frames in your mind. Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time."

February 4, 2004 - Comet LINEAR T7, Beta Orionis, Delta Orionis, 20 Tau Orionis, Beta Monocerotis, Sigma Orionis, Struve 761, Alpha Geminorum and Iota Cancri...

Comments: It was my fault. I should have really been watching where I was walking rather than just looking at where the Great Square was positioned. I only made it off the deck by about two steps and found myself laying on my back seeing far more stars than what were actually in the sky. How's come? Well, let's just say there isn't a spot in the backyard that isn't covered in ice. I just laid there for a few minutes, realizing that if I could feel H checking for my breath that I was still alive. I just kept staring at Saturn and it came to me that I could actually feel my back (boy, can i feel my back.) getting cold, so I guess I ain't paralyzed. Given my circumstances I just better stand up, cuz' this place is as bad as space...

No one can hear you scream.

Doin' the Arte Johnson "Old Man" shuffle to the garage, I knew I wanted the SVD8 tonight, but I also knew I'd be scared to carry it out. Where there's a will, there's a way, isn't there? Darn right. Gathering up some old blankets and rugs, I made myself a "trail" just outside the door and gingerly finessed the big Orion out onto my makeshift observing pad. (ow. i am going to feel this tomorrow! heck, i'm feelin' it right now.) I carefully uncapped everything and put it in my coat pockets, patting myself down to make sure I still had my notebook and little bitty red flashlight. The good 26mm Meade eyepiece was my choice and after making sure the radio was on in case I caught a stray meteor, I promptly switched it back over to rock and roll and headed out in search of a comet.

The moment I had Gamma Peg in the finder, I started grinnin'. With a great big hand from Mr. Wizard, I can smile when faced with the rising Moon. I see ya'... Going to the eyepiece, my smile turns to a Scottish war whoop as I see Comet LINEAR 2002/T7 just as big as you please! Large and completely diffuse, T7 is kicking around in a very stellar field, and sports a condensed nucleus. Having a guess at magnitude, I gotta' say this baby is punching in somewhere in the neighborhood of at least 6, for it is far brighter than the M81, and darn near as close as the M31! No wonder I could see it in the fi... ahem.... field so clearly. ;)

Nobody can top your act, baby.

Although the planets and the Moon were doing everything but singing Palachi for attention, after that I just felt like doing a few common doubles I know the location of with ease. I like Beta Orionis little blue component, which I truly prefer at lower power since I don't consider it a disparate. Delta Orionis is a little harder at this magnification, but during a stable moment, you can see it's bluish companion right below it. 20 Tau is also easy, as the triple system of Beta Monocerotis. A word of caution to those of you who want to try this one at minimal magnification: The B and C star are quite close! White and too blues... Dig it.

Sigma Orionis is also very cool at low power. The white primary leads across the sky, dragging its' little red and blue companions behind it. A very persuasive reason to use low power on this particular object is because you can also see another multiple system in the field, Struve 761. Struve's two more major components also lay east/west of one another, and it's third member is widely seperated to the north. Castor is also awesome. At low power, you have to wait on your "window", but when it happens? Hola! These two also sit side by side and the little orange brat kicks away south. Last for me tonight? Iota Cancri. Just a very sweet yellow who's blue companion walks down and ahead of it. I like...

Tucking my notes back away in my pocket, I cover things up and see that I have indeed chosen a good time. I can see to the north that we are starting to collect some high thins and it won't be long until the show would have been over anyhow. The Moon is gaining in brightness as it gains altitude and although it looks quite pretty, it will make a mess of already hazing skies. I pat the heavy little black beast on the side and promise to be very, very careful carrying it back inside the garage. It has done its' job very well indeed tonight, and it has been most pleasant to be able to observe in temperatures that are just a bit below freezing....

And not quite so close to extinction level.

"Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road. Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go. So make the best of this test, and don't ask why. It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time.

It's something unpredictable, but in the end is right. I hope you had the time of your life."