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January 2004

January 31, 2004 - The Sun, Mars, the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, M41, M46, M47, M93 and M44...

Comments: There was plenty of time when I arrived back from work to take a quick peek at the Sun. There's still not much happening on the solar surface right now, but there is a small grouping at the center of the disc named 547. Small and rather ordinary at this point, the group consists of a major leader with small, but mature, penumbral field. Apparently the followers have indeed "followed" the laws of differential rotation, for they are ahead. It's hard to see how broken up they may be, but they consist of two primary areas and it looks as though several of these have yet to develop their own penumbral fields.

And not long after that I crashed and burned...

I woke back up long before midnight and chucked a couple of logs back into the stove to warm the house. Following an exuberant H to the sliding glass doors, I threw a blanket round myself and stepped out with him. The boards of the deck cracked like rifle shots as we walked out... Him to run to the nearest tree... And me to look up. Oh, yeah. Transparency isnt the greatest, there's way too much Moon to do anything serious, and it is colder than blue blazes! There is something weird that goes on about this time during the winter.... I develop a rather blase' attitude toward the cold. I've become accoustomed to running out in my nightclothes and slippers to start my car. I've gotten used to working 8 or more hours in conditions that would make a cave seem warm. It has ceased to matter whether or not my hair is dry when I leave for work... Or my coat buttoned. I have forgotten what it feels like to have lips that aren't covered in chapstick, fingers that aren't cracked, or skin that isn't chapped from exposure.

You just get numb.

I walked out to the garage feeling the snow crunch beneath my slippers. I never cleared it after the last two snowfalls, for believe it or not, it adds traction to the inch or so of ice that's beneath it. The 17mm eyepiece is still covered and in the Celestron, and so I set it outside the door and wander back for more protective clothing. The moonlight adds a slight surrealistic blue light that glitters on the snow and illuminates the scene. I've noticed that H doesn't wander quite so far in these bitter cold conditions and I find myself laughing and singing a snippet of an old Frank Zappa tune as I grin at the drifts around my trails... "Watch out where the huskies go... And don't you eat that yellow snow."

By the time I had found suitable clothing and had a cup of coffee, the fire had caught back on to the point where I could dampen the stove down and reduce the smoke to almost zero. Zero.. Just like the thermometer on the side of the garage.. Zero... The chances I gave this little cat of making it... Zero. Just like what we've got going on between us, eh? And Zero himself looks at me with ancient, owl yellow eyes from the armchair as I put on my assortment of boots, gloves, scarves and coats. I dangle my bandana above him, but he's more content to sleep now than play. Tying on my "outlaw" ski mask, I step out the door and H flies past me. Snow? Heck, yeah... Big, bad and black likes snow.

My first key point was to stand and admire the ecliptic plane. Mars races ahead to the west, and the Moon lies to the northeast of it. Saturn comes next and following the arc is Jupiter. This is such a simple thing, yet I find pleasure in it. I know the track the stars take across the sky. I know where the galactic equator lies... And I take some weird pleasure in seeing these lines in my head. It's just beautiful... What more can I say? I like things that are constant.

Going to the eyepiece, I find that Mars is nothing more than a bruised looking red ball. It's glory has certainly faded, for I make out no polar regions nor details. It really doesn't matter. It is still good to see it and know the Spirit, Opportunity, Mars Express and lost Beagle are all there.

I turn my attention next to the Moon and there is only one place that stands out and screams for attention tonight...

The mighty Copernicus.

At around 60 miles in diameter, 12.600 feet deep and sporting 14 mile thick walls, I still remember my lunar lessons when I look at this impact crater. You can see where the splash marks run away from it. Crater Reinhold and the Carpathian Mountains add a bit of interest as well as the tiny wells of Gay-Lussac, T. Mayer, Pytheas, Euler, Lambert and Timocharis. Fauth and Stadius also add interest to the scene... Just a fine place to be on a cold Ohio night.

I turn my attention next to a brief look at the planets. Saturn looks very fine and you can see Titan is leading the way. A sparkle along the ring edge says the little troopers are to the east tonight. I head off to Jupiter and see that only three of the galieans are present at the moment. There is no odd, tiny shadow to lead me to believe we have a transit, so I lose interest rather quickly. I thought about moving into Orion, but my sheltered spot means that Orion is partly blocked by tree branches.... And I really don't feel like trekking out into the open field.

I am satisfied to have a quick look at the bright, bold M41... To have a practice run on the M46 and see the planetary at its' northern edge is very prominent with the 17mm eyepiece. I enjoy the richness and differences of magnitudes of the M47 and the absolutely profusion of the M93. By now I have become very accustomed to the light, and I can see a faint, on-the-edge cluster that I just have to take a moment and visit... M44. Yep. It's pretty pointless with this eyepiece, because it way overfills the field of view, but it just feels good to know I can still find it with ease. I look longingly at Ursa Major and think about all the great galaxies that still wait for me. I know from experience the M81 and M82 would still be visible to the 4.5, even under the lighted conditions... But I don't bother. I didn't put on my watch before I went out and I can tell from the numbness that I've been out here awhile.

Guess I just better go.

"And it's been awhile... Since I could look at myself straight. And it's been awhile... Since I've said I'm sorry. And it's been awhile... Since I've seen the way the stars light up your face. And it's been awhile... But I can still remember just the way you taste.

And everything I can't remember. As mucked up as it all may seem... I cannot blame this on another. He did the best he could for me. You see...

And it's been awhile... Since I could hold my head up high. And it's been awhile... Since I've said I'm sorry."

January 30, 2004 - The Moon...

Comments: I shouldn't have been up that late. I couldn't help it. Sometimes when I make the transition between daylight hours and vamypre shift, I really have trouble sleeping. There's just a reluctance my part to go to bed when it's still daylight, ok?

And I'm glad I didn't.

I watched the sunset from the west picture window, and knowing the skies were going to be clear was probably the reason I couldn't sleep. I told myself I would just wait until after Venus came out and then get some ZZZZzzz's. Yeah, rite. I convinced myself that I'd just go stand at the sliding glass door and check out the Moon phase and then crawl under the electric blanket and hibernate.

Funny how I don't pay any attention to myself.

It's still bitter cold here in Ohio, but the Celestron 114 stands right inside the garage door, is at temperature, and ready to go in a moment's notice. Putting an equally frigid 17mm eyepiece in while I could still feel my fingers, I whacked it out in a snowdrift and didn't even uncover the finder... Just pointed it at the Moon. Holy polar bears! Will you just look at the Appennine Mountains? Simply gorgeous... The stark relief is pefection and the solitary peak of Mt. Piton captures my attention. I see Eratosthenes, Ptlomaeus, and... and... Well, well. What have we here?

Me thinks we have a bit of "Straight Wall" action going on tonight! Of course, you know I started grinning like the evil, wicked, village idiot that I am. So that is why I didn't want to go to sleep yet! Gotta' be... Cuz' it's just too beautiful. Thebit, Hell... So perfect.

About that time I started realizing I had dressed just a bit too light to be out in single digit temperatures. Despite being crammed into my parka pockets, my hands were feeling the bite of the cold. I smiled anyhow and continued to watch until that bite started sinking through my coat and making me shiver. Regretfully capping up the scope, I carried it back to it's position and started thinking some very serious thoughts about how good an electric blanket would feel...

Real good.

I got back up at 2:00 hoping for more clear skies and a chance to re-observe the M51 with the dob before I left for work. Huh uh. Nothing out there but dark grey skies and a fine dust of ice crystals coming from the sky. I think it probably would have been depressing, except for it turned out to be a treat. As I did the heart pounding, blood pressure raising, slalom of county roads out to the highway, I noticed those little ice crystals were still coming down. I really didn't think too much about it, except to realize I was the only soul who had ventured this way across the virgin roads. I hit the highway running, appreciative of drier pavement and then I saw it... All the distant points of light across the snow covered fields were displaying the pillar effect! First this one, then that one... Incredible pillars of light stretching up to greet the night.

Sometimes even Winter has it's good points.

"And everything I can't remember... As mucked up as it all may seem... To be. The consequences that I've rendered... I've gone and mucked things up again... Again...

Why must I feel this way? Please make this go away. Just one more peaceful day...."

January 26, 2004 - "Reporting From Armchair, Ohio..."

Comments: Hey, hey... We got ice. We got snow. And we be grounded astronomers here in Ohio. That's alright my me. It will give me a few days to heal chapped lips and cracked fingers from being exposed to the cold... And even a better chance to get caught up with everything else that is happening!

Right now my primary interest was in the Mars Rover programs. I knew that Opportunity had made a successful landing and that Spirit was out of touch and not yet presumed dead. I also knew the ISS had corrected its' problem leak... But I wanted to watch firsthand. Settling into my favourite chair this morning with my coffee, I turned on the NASA channel and sat entranced as I caught up on all the happenings. From what went down this morning, I learned the Opportunity was not only a success, but a smashing success! As luck would have it, I had a chance to watch it relay all its little data files. First you would see one little thumbnail appear, then another, and another and another... Until an entire mosaic of pictures filled the screen! Definately fun... Over pancakes I learned that Spirit had not been kidnapped by Martians, but was experiencing "software problems"... And I imagine there's one whole lot of engineers out there who need another cup of coffee. Reboot... Oooops! Reboot.... Ooops! Reboot... Beep.

Hey, JPL/NASA? You know I'm only teasing here. You guys do one heck of a job, and we have every faith the little guy will recover and return on with your plans. If not? You've still done one heck of a job and all of us are very proud of you. I watch and learn as the ISS prepares to go on from Lab 12 to Lab 13... Words that StarDust continues on schedule... And wait on the press conference that releases today's incredible "postcard" from the Opportunity.

Yeah, yeah... There's all kinds of high resolution images out there, and mine ain't one of 'em. What can I say besides it's mine, eh? Well... Actually it's JPL/NASA's and it won't live long in my reports, but I am willing to share.

To me, it's exciting to see these things. It might sound dumb to you, but I'm sitting here in Snowbound, OH just groovin' away on looking at the footprints the airbags made on the martian surface! When the camera cuts up and runs to the horizon line, I sit here like an utter idiot with my mouth open... Looking at what it's like to be on another planet!

This ain't science fiction, folks.... This is for real!

Yep. My humble video stills will be gone in the very near future, more than likely to be replaced with my even more humble lunar or solar video stills. I'm sure my efforts bore you, but I am what I am, Popeye. An old kid who is definately enjoying sitting here in my chair and watching Mars on my TV set. I checked the solar surface as well for today, and let's see if I can paint you a picture with words... Big orange ball. (accompanied by a big ohio grin.) That's it. No spots. No nothin'. I guess from what I see that the Moon and Venus were doing some pretty incredible things as well, but they definately aren't doin' 'em here. Right now I've got a fire to keep me warm. A dog to talk to... A cat to keep me bleeding... A lizard to keep me laughing... And the NASA channel to keep my mind on the stars. So from Armchair, Ohio?

I wish ya' well.

"And it's been awhile... Since I could say I wasn't addicted. And it's been awhile... Since I could say I love myself as well. And it's been while... Since I've gone and mucked things up just like I always do. And it's been awhile... But all that stuff seems to disappear when I'm with you."

January 25, 2004 - Completing Two More Messiers...

Comments: Well, sometimes as much as I hate the "vampyre shift", it does offer me chances that I ordinarily wouldn't have... Kinda' like being wide awake and ready to rock at midnight. I gotta' admit, I was totally surprised when I glanced out the window and saw Jupiter. I know it was cloudless when I went to bed, but I didn't figure it would hold. Throwing a blanket around me, I stepped out on the deck and listened to the boards crack like rifle shots from the ice. Ah... It be cold! Padding my way out to my favourite observing spot in bear feet, (yep. bear feet slippers... i might be cracked, but i ain't that cracked.) it only took one glance to the north before I went straight into the garage, opened the door and wheeled out the dob.

Time to suck down a cup of coffee and bundle up.

Date: 01-25-04
Telescope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 26mm Meade, 12.3mm ED Epic
Sky: 5.0 (at zenith) Stability: Fair
Transparency: Fair Temperature: 4
Time: 12:15 a.m.

M101 - Marker? Mizar and Alcore. Ready to hop? Then let's rock...

M101 has a very low surface brightness, but it absolutely fills the 26mm eyepiece. With a very definate, very bright concentration toward the nucleas. Considerably larger than the M81, its' face-on presentation rivals many other such spirals I have seen. Upon examination, the core area looks to be slightly ovid in structure, and although there isn't a deep, dark dustlane, there is most notably two significant arms structures - One tight to the core and one that spins wider off the elongated edge. Rather than spiral outward similar to the M51, the M101 does its outward turn in large swatches. Patience and aversion brings up many bright areas inside these "swatches" that are quite probably distant star clusters or nebulous regions. Very, very fine!

And now for the M102...

Here I remain stumped, for I know the accepted designation of the M102 is the NGC5866. Of course, as you know, all Messier objects also have an NGC classification... Like M101, which is NGC5457. When I study, I am quite serious and I wanted to complete the Messiers in accordance with all the AL guidelines. Long beforehand, I had already made my starhop plan and consulted with another AlCor representative, because Uranometria does not designate the NGC5866 to be M102. For all intents and purposes, the NGC5866 it is! And what's the first thing I do?

Over hop...

Oh, I found it all right. Boy, did I find it! But first, let's go back and do this right.

Date: 01-25-04
Telescope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 26mm Meade, 12.3mm ED Epic
Sky: 5.0 (at zenith) Stability: Fair
Transparency: Fair Temperature: 4
Time: 12:40 a.m.

M102 (NGC5866) - Dude? It's small. In the 26mm eyepiece, it is not so much a problem to locate, for it is sufficiently bright, but it is far smaller than what I was expecting. Let's just say... Not even half the size of M82? (more like a third, but i'm not using a microfila... micro... ah, heck! i ain't measuring it.) The NGC5866 presents an evenly lighted, possibly considered to be eliptical structure. Risking frostbite, (yeah, rite... like i was even noticing. ;) I put the 12.3mm in for further study. Caught in a superb stellar field, the NGC5866 becomes almost "eye" shaped with a bright core. As I was patiently holding some of the perimeter stars and waiting for more structure to appear, I caught a quick glimpse of what may have been a dark dustlane that's definately a bit "off center". Trying to call it back by concentrating on the long chain of stars that runs beside it proves fruitless. I guess a glimpse is all I'm going to get.

And that's it for these two Messiers. But was that really all? Ah, heck no! In going for the NGC5866, I skipped just a bit too far and stumbled across one incredible edge-on! I'm tellin' ya' now... My jaw dropped when I saw this one! It's designation was NGC5907 and it simply creased the 26mm eyepiece! It covered every bit of half of the field of view, and just as slim and pencil perfect as you could ask for. (and it weren't alone, cap'n... ;) I would joke about being "frozen in place" when I stumbled across it, but that would really be to apt a descriptor. As you can see, I probably blubbered around the area for fifteen to twenty minutes checking all the stuff out and scribbling in my notebook before I got back to the M102. Let's just say for now that I found a rather interesting area for future study?

Thanks to lack of wind tonight, I was able to tolerate the 4 degree temperatures long enough to definately have a good time before going into work. For now, as much as I would like to look at Jupiter, or explore on through Canes Venatici, or hope for a shot on Coma Berenices to finish the very last of my Messier Studies, I gotta' call it quits. The cold has very definately found its' way through my motley assortment of artic gear... And I'm thinking a hot shower and another cup of coffee would be right fine. So keep on smilin'... The snow, the ice, and the Moon are shortly to conquer Ohio...

But not right now.

"And everything I can't remember... As mucked up as it all may seem. The consequences that I've rendered... I've stretched myself beyond my means."

January 22, 2004 - A Morning Walk... NGC1365, M36, M37, M38, NGC1499, M42, the Hubble Variable Nebula (NGC2261), The Rosette Nebula (NGC2237) and NGC2244...

Comments: I told myself I was going to go back to sleep this morning. I had time. The extra rest would do me good. And all I could do was stand outside and stare up into the stars...

How I long to just go back to the way things were! I know it is impossible... For although it is never too late to chose the road you are on, there is no way you can change where you have traveled. And I have traveled all over these skies, haven't I? Still... Still I feel this longing. What call brought me here and keeps me? Why can I just not walk away and forget....

I do not need to turn on the lights in the garage. I know precisely where the old Celestron stands, and I know it is ready to go. Go then... I will not stop you. Take me where you will, and leave me there. And so it does. It leaves me at the M81 and M82. Ah, how I wish I had never met you at all. How much simplier my thoughts would be. What a fine pair of galaxies you are! You make me forget I am cold... And now? We are going to Arcturus and remembering the hop to the M3... So fine. 10 billion years old you are, and still shining on... You make me forget I am old.. For what am I but a child compared to your age? I look round and there is one more place I would ask to see, and it is to Antares we travel. The M4 is back once again... And it promises Summer. The powder fine grains of stars are still there, right where I last saw them. How I love the stars! They never change. They make me forget just how painful change can be...

I smile at Scorpius, remembering how very close Saggitarius is... And how I long for the peace and exile in it's depths. I put the scope away and start my car to help fight off the winter chill. It is close enough to time for me to leave now, and I think it's a road I am soon to travel. I never look back, and yet sometimes I still do...

To see Mercury racing ahead of the sunrise.


The temperature has dropped almost 30 degrees over what it was during the morning hours. Add a slight breeze to that? And you've got brutal Ohio cold... So what kind of nut would go out in conditions like that?

Hmmmmm.... I wonder.

When I see the stars of Eridanus, I'm not going to stand inside and just admire it from the window. It is so infrequently this constellation lies in good grace, that I will not pass an opportunity to walk it. The Orion SVD8 is my companion tonight, and it tries to fight me with the mount. Guess it's not real keen on the conditions, but it does cooperate enough for me to find a past study object, NGC1365. As absolutely one of the finest barred spiral galaxies I have ever witnessed, the 1365's 9th magnitude form walks out easily to this aperture. Combining it with the 12.3 wide field eyepiece draws out the structure I so well remember.... Z! The intense bar of the central core is bright and beautiful, the over and under curvature of the arms brings back that sense of "blitzkrieg". Right now, I could almost swear i see some knots of stars in those arms! (an a slight over-correction reaveals a pretty cluster of stars at its' edge. What a blast. Awesome galaxy!!

The cold had already began to find its' way through my careful layers, and I realized that I couldn't continue to try to work my way through Eridanus because of the time factor. Any exposed skin, even just the bit around my face, doesn't take long to feel the sting of the cold. So, I turned everything around at that point, and I don't care if you howl about my lack of polar alignment. The mount is stiff and unforgiving in the temperatures, and I'd rather use it than fight it. M36, M37 and M38 are simply superb. Right now my eyepiece of choice is the 32mm, and leaving it in, I go on a "witch hunt". Epsilon Persei, and south to Minikib... Oh, my... Thanks to the clarity the cold gives to the sky and the unusual ability of this style scope to enhance low surface brightness objects, it is very possible to see the threads and filaments that signify the NGC1499 - California Nebula. Well, it doesn't look like that particular state in question... But it is a filamentous area that reminds me of the Veil remnants.

Now let's go thaw! Wind chill factors of 20 below don't take long for me to develop a rotten headache!

So, you're not really a northern astronomer until you freeze to the eyepiece, huh? Then call me very real, for even through gloves, the metal parts of the scope try to bite my hands. At first I think I'm seeing strange additions to the M42, Great Orion Nebula, only to realize those "additions" are me breathing on the eyepiece. Whoa, now! One more mistake like that and I'll cause frost.... Carefully picking my way back over to Monoceros, I start my hunt for the Hubble Variable. The cold makes it seem like forever until I find it, but when I see its' gas flame blue appearance, I am pleased I took the time. Not quite so defined as with the dob, the Hubble is still a great little target with the 12.3mm. Last stop of the night for me? Betelgueuse, Betelguese, Betelguese!! And the "Rosette".... Ah, yes! I really like this scope on nebulae!!! More well defined in the 32mm, the "Rosette" looks like a giant, shredded and more faded version of the "Ring". I would say it is very much like the "Helix", but it's thickerer somehow. Not quite as wispy and large, the NGC2237 is a bigger "donut" in the sky... But far more diffuse. I guess you could say it's almost fog like. Starring in the center of the Rosette is the tender little open cluster, NGC2244. Just a pretty little handful of similar magnitude stars that add a jewel-like appeal to this ghostly cloud of nebula.

And folks? That's enough for me tonight! Each time I expose my hands to switch an eyepiece, my fingers numb immediately, and I have a fear of either dropping my optics of losing a set screw. (of course, you knew right from the beginning i had a screw loose, didn't you? can't afford to lose many more... ;) My sideways breathing has caused a big patch of frost on the SVD8, and I am unwilling to continue to risk the mirror and my fingers to frostbite. Time to put ol' "Lightsop" away... I smile up one last time at those diamond hard stars of Winter as I crunch across the ice back toward the house. H flies past me, toenails scrabbling for a hold. It was a jimdandy night for nebula... And even a better one for a cup of hot chocolate and a warm fire!

How I wish you were here...

"And it's been awhile... Since I could hold my head up high. And it's been awhile... Since I first saw you. And it's been awhile... Since I could stand on my own two feet again. And it's been awhile... Since I could call you."

January 20, 2004 - The Sun... A Little Touring... Messier Studies...

Comments: What light through yonder window breaks? It be the sun, homeboy! What a welcome relief to the stark winter landscape of Ohio... And you know me.

Gotta' go look.

There's something rather interesting about these particular two series of sunspots that I just barely managed to squeeze in the same frame... That little ol' innocent looking spot at the upper left hand corner of the picture is named 540, and it just chucked off a CME. All right, nothing new... Except for that it is Earth directed and is setting up an aurora alert! As for the rest of them spots? They look pretty common as well, don't they? Uh huh. They might look ordinary enough... But they appeared in less than 24 hours! Trailing through the upper half of the frame behind 540, series 543 is only about 18 hours old in this photo, and the whole string across the bottom section is 542 and appeared less than 24 hours ago. Magnificent, huh?

Our ever-changing star... Ain't she beautiful?!


Of course, this means a clear night and a chance for me to wheel that big ol' dobsonian telescope out across the ice and do what I love to do best...


Starting with Venus before the sky had even fully darkened, it's not hard to see its' phat, gibbous form when stacking both blue and green filters. It looks like we have some really steady conditions and excellent clarity in the making and I am very ready!

As the sky darkens further, I hop on to enjoy the M31 and companions at lower power. Much smacking of lips, I tell you. How good it is to see the galaxies again! Dropping completely back down to the 2", 32mm means a real pleasure cruise through the "Double Cluster" and all the beauty that resides in Cassiopeia. I don't think I will ever tire of NGC467 or NGC7789. Both present such stellar richness that they will always remain a fine and often sought target. (psst! i just like the 457 cuz' it's cute. ;)

And now? Now it's dark enough to head back to the M74...


January 20, 2004
Scope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 32mm Televue, 26mm Meade, 12.3mm ED Epic
Sky: 5.5 Clarity: Excellent
Condtions: Very stable Temperature: 22
Time: 7:30 pm EST

M74 - Lowest power reveals the M74 spiral structure immediately. Caught in a stellar field, the signature of a face on spiral with a concentrated nucleus is easily held direct. No questions... But no structure. Switching to 26mm reveals the beginning of dark dustlanes, more noticable toward a chain of three stars. The nucleas now becomes a stellar like point and shows condensation. The 12.3mm shreds it, dude. The ultra wide field of view provides admirable eye relief, and totally dims out structure. There are three stellar points, or condensations at the edges of this galaxy and two arm structures. The dark dustlanes that define the arms are more easily caught upon wide aversion. Upon serious study, the M74 almost appears to expand! There is a grouping of three stars to the side and the perimeters of the galaxy seem to mist away almost to these! Very large and very fine... The M74 is a worthy study for any aperture.

Now? Well, now I'm feeling a bit less serious. You know what? I kinda' like stars. I like stars just for the sake of looking at stars... So my next choice is Van Maanen's Star. Burnham's Celestial Handbook gives impeccable field directions, plus a very positive map for locating and it is there I head next. After having properly identified it, I stop to look at this tiny white point of light. It is not exceptional in appearance... But it is something more. Van Maanen's Star is a white dwarf. At magnitude 12.4, it is an easy catch for the dob, but what makes it hard to believe is that Van Maanen's Star is only the size of our Earth! At about 14 light years away, it should be all but impossible to see... But since it is a star, and its very radiation is what makes it visible. It inspires me, this star. For it is reputed to be one of the oldest in our Universe.

And here it is... Fantastic.

For now? Time to go take a break and perhaps a nap. I cover up the dob well and secure my eyepieces. There are a few studies I would like to complete tonight... And I'll be back.


Are you ready to rock? The let's head out to Leo and capture the Messiers I need and then capture some sleep!

January 20, 2004
Scope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 32mm Televue, 26mm Meade, 12.3mm ED Epic
Sky: 5.5 Clarity: Excellent
Condtions: Very stable Temperature: 10
Time: 11: 10 pm EST

M95 - Quite bright and easily caught at 26mm, this smallish galaxy immediately shows a strange looking core area and an echoed, round structure in a stellar field. Upon closer examination with the 12.3mm eyepiece, it is possible to see a bright, almost stellar nucleas and thick accompanying concentration that signifies barred spiral structure. The whole thing seems encased in a nebulosity that strengthens out the outlying perimeters, giving it a "haloed" appearance. Continued patience and aversion shows more dusty, wispy areas... But nothing that signifies arm structure.

January 20, 2004
Scope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 32mm Televue, 26mm Meade, 12.3mm ED Epic
Sky: 5.5 Clarity: Excellent
Condtions: Very stable Temperature: 10
Time: 11: 25 pm EST

M96 - Also a very bright galaxy, easily caught at low power. At this magnification, the M96 show a very distinct concentration toward the central hub. Upping the power does little to reveal more structure, only improves the view! It is very definately ovid, a tilted spiral to our perspective... With a bright and highly concentrated core region. No dustlanes or arm structure present.

(can jupiter be considered light pollution? hola! you can't believe how bright it looks tonight! but i ain't looking through the scope, because it will toast my night eyes.)

January 20, 2004
Scope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 32mm Televue, 26mm Meade, 12.3mm ED Epic
Sky: 5.5 Clarity: Excellent
Condtions: Very stable Temperature: 10
Time: 11:45 pm EST

M65 - Beautiful, bright tilted spiral with an incredibly strong interior that just barely fits in the same field of view with M66 in the 26mm. Now let's go pick it apart! When I quit drooling, I see the M65 is highly concentrated... And I do mean highly. No discernable nucleas, the whole thing looks simply jam packed with stars right until it starts to fade out to the edges. And... And there is like five exclaimation points on my notes here... I am seeing something on the trailing edge. There is, upon slight aversion, a dark dustlane! Holy moly... Look east! As you hold the nearby star, you can see a definate dark division... And that's not all! To both the north and south, wispy extensions appear stretching this puppy out even more proportionally! Man... I am very glad I took the time to really study this one! I've never seen that before... Too cool!

January 20, 2004
Scope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 32mm Televue, 26mm Meade, 12.3mm ED Epic
Sky: 5.5 Clarity: Excellent
Condtions: Very stable Temperature: 10
Time: 11:55 pm EST

M66 - In the same low power field as M65, appears brighter and smaller than it's companion. At power? No comparison. The M66 has been a long standing favourite of mine. Appearing as spiral structure, the core area is ragged and spread out, giving it the look of a barred... but not the concentric rings I associated with that structure. There is some "clumping" or concentration of star light predominately to the leading, or western edge. It's orientation is roughly north/south, and some structure is also evident toward the north. What really gets to me with this one is the southern tip of the arm. I've seen this in the past, and tonight it really appears to "glow" with a light of its' own. It is nothing more than and extension of the arm, but brother? That thing looks almost like a jet! Superb galaxy.

Now... Although I had planned on continuing on toward Ursa Major with the few remaining studies I have to complete the Messier List... I'm saying "No thanks." It's very, very cold out and I'm afraid I want to be hasty. If I had hurried across the ones I looked at tonight, I probably would not have seen the structure I so prize. I may not be the fastest collector of galaxies, or the quickest at finding them... But hey.

I can really see what they are, eh?

"So get yourself a car... And drive it all alone. Ooooh, oooh, oooh... Get yourself a car. And ride it on the wind...."

January 18, 2004 - M74

Comments: Well, I had every intention of polishing up a few more Messiers tonight, but the skies had other plans for me. There wasn't a single cloud to be seen at sunset, so I crunched across the ice and set up the SVD8 in anticipation of some study...

Date: January 18, 2004
Scope: Orion Sky View Deluxe 8"
Eyepieces: 26mm Meade, 12.3mm ED Epic
Visibility: 5/10 Conditions: Unstable Temp: 15
Time: 8:20 pm EST

M74 - I had chosen the Orion for a specific reason on this galaxy. To my recollection, the M74 was rather large and I remember spiral structure, but low surface brightness. I have been impressed in the past by the Orion's ability to improve these particular studies and I was not disappointed.

The M74 does indeed appear as a rather large, face-on spiral. At 26mm it has a stellar nucleus, round, misty structure and is in a stellar field. At 9mm the nucleaus improves by showing condensation and the beginning hints of dustlanes upon aversion, with a notable arm structure that ends in a chain of three stars. I am also picking up a few glints at the frontiers of the structure which I believe are probably field stars and not part of the galaxy.

After that, I had every intention of continuing on to Leo later in the evening to complete four additional Messiers that seem to be "missing" from my own AL notebook. Of course, I find it rather silly, for I have looked at all of these repeatedly... And I guess the sky thought it silly as well, for it decided to cloud back over. Waiting until around 10:30 or so, I had to give up because of my work schedule, but these are ones I have plenty of time to catch later. And don't cha' know? The skies cleared off about 20 minutes later. Ah well, amigo... At least I tried tonight. Unless the night has every intention of staying clouded over forever, I will get there. And if I never see them again?

Guess that's the way it goes.

"Settle down... Or I won't hesitate. To hit the highway... Before you lead me to waste. Oh.... Settle up. And I'll help you to find... Something to drive. Before you drive me insane..."

January 16, 2004 - RAS Meeting... At the Observatory... Completing Two Messier Studies...

Comments: Hey, hey... It's a brand new year and what better way than to begin it in the company of friends? It was my pleasure to have dinner with my compadres as we discussed Club business. The smiles and laughter are free here, and it is good to see a few faces that are the backbone of the RAS enjoying themselves. When we have finished both our meal and our meeting, a few members head off toward the Observatory to do some work on their own respective telescopes and I eventually follow for we have a couple of very special guests coming tonight...

Yep. The driveway up the "Hill" is sheer ice. The moment my headlights hit it, every bad memory of every time I've tried to climb this bad boy came immediately to mind and I could feel my legs start to shake. I remember all too well sliding down this one backwards! But we aren't doin' it in a sports car this time... So shifting into four wheel low, I look only at the curves and grade ahead and do my best to convince my left leg that palsy is not an option. I don't think I breathed until I reached the top, eh? And when I turned into the parking lot and saw the little red car I was expecting, I gotta' hand it to her...

You got nerves of steel, kiddo!

Our guests were a delightful young couple who had contacted me about a tour for a special occasion in their lives and I couldn't have been more pleased to make their acquaintance. The skies might be cold and cloudy, but the hugs and fun we had were warm and genuine. Stepping outside, I see we have a rogue clearing and I only hope it lasts long enough for these fine folks to get to see something through the big telescope. Bruce is on the lift, and as soon as things are ready to go he gives them a taste of just what it's like to be suspended twenty feet in the air to use this metal monster! Below I can see white knuckles gripping the railing of the lift as the dome turns inches above their heads and I gotta' smile... This part isn't half as scary as climbing the Hill! As Bruce shows them the working guidance system, something akin to a miracle happens...

The sky cleared.

The scope moves off to the magnificent Saturn and it is going to have to be fast. Jumping into the lift, we all get a quick look at "Ring King". It's actually a bit more stable than you might think, but it is only a matter of moments before those clouds come back to claim it again. Coming back down, we were going to head for the ClubHouse to warm up for a bit, for the raw temperatures here will make you a believer faster than you can imagine. As we start out the door, you can see where another large hole is on the way and we duck back inside quickly to have a go at the M42. Haste is the word here, and I stay on the ground this time as Bruce quickly moves the scope off to the Orion Nebula for our guests. When I hear their exclamations from below, I know what they have seen has made both the trip and the cold all worthwhile....

It's awesome!

Our guests (gosh, you guys were great! i haven't had so much fun in a long time!) were ready to continue on with their holiday weekend, and after just a short time in this cold? A hot tub is soundin' mighty fine to me as well. They say their goodbyes and down this Hill they go... And I hope they know that a million good wishes followed them down. It's folks like you that make it all seem worthwhile...

And I'm outta' here as well. I guess my own life has taken an inward turn. Once I would have stayed for the companionship and knowledge, but now I'd just as soon find a cup of tea and my dog to talk to. I mean no offense, but things have become strained, and that's not the way it should be. It's better I be gone than to be this way. Vaya con dios, Teacher....

Carefully gearing my way back down the drive, I hit the open ground running. Thar be stars out again, Admiral... And I have some studies to do that must be done on my own. Arriving at the backyard well before midnight, I set the Orion SVD8 outside to stabilize along with a single eyepiece. In order to hold myself on track with a study I am completing with another friend, I had recently compiled my past observances into a Messier List so I could see quickly and easily what studies I needed to complete to have observed all 110 following the Astronomical League guidelines. I had to laugh as I put it together, for some of these are repeated so often I cannot believe I have never listed them correctly!

And here's one that's gonna' make you smile....

Date: Jaunuary 16, 2004
Scope: Orion Sky View Deluxe 8"
Eyepiece: 32mm Celestron
Sky: 5/10 Clarity: Decent Conditions: Unstable
Time: 11:45 pm EST

M45 ("The Plieades") - So how about the Plieades? We tend to forget this is a Messier Object, don't we? When I saw this entry had gone unreported, I realized that time was moving very quickly and I best get this study revisited before it had gone too far west to be seen easily. Even though sky conditions are not the most pristine tonight, it is no problem to make out the fog-like nebulosity around Alycone (a nice four part grouping) known as van den Bergh 23. Temple's Nebula is vague under the circumstances, but still apparent with averted vision and is a soft "smear" accompanying Merope. I am rather pleased with the performance of the SVD8 on the Plieades, for it does reveal a great many of the finer stars that I know to be within this area... But not the red one at the heart! Still, an ultrafine view and one of the more outstanding Messiers.

For the next study I need Alpha Hydrae to guide me... And right now my old buddy Al is in hiding. I could have hopped on to look at a few other things, but I am fast believing I am seeking a sense of closure to all of this, for I chose to simply cover the scope with an old sheet and walk away.

Date: Jaunuary 17, 2004
Scope: Orion Sky View Deluxe 8"
Eyepiece: 32mm Celestron
Sky: 5/10 Clarity: Decent Conditions: Unstable
Time: 12:45 am EST

M48 - A sprawling open cluster. Easily caught in the finderscope. M48 fills the field of view with the 32mm eyepiece and is a study in white and gold stars. Several long, looping chains of roughly 12 magnitude stars populate the general area with a slight concentration of stars roughly to the middle that range perhaps a magnitude higher. I see no real asterism in this loose collection of perhaps a hundred stars, although the addition of a handful of golds among the whites do add interest. Of note, there are at least three pairs of apparent doubles.

And so that is enough for me. I have nine more Messiers to have completed all 110, and although I could have quite probably kept sky watch tonight and added a few more? I ain't in the mood. Once upon a time a group of fellow astronomers used to discuss what motivated them... And what turned them off. I miss those discussions. It was a very real part of what we do - And why we do it. I have walked the road of "burn out" on more than one occassion, and I can tell you right now that it is "Better to burn out... Than it is to rust." And I keep away the rust...

But I can feel myself wanting to fade away...

"You're tired of walking... And you loathe the ground. The sidewalk will barely touch your feet.... Life moves too slowly to... Hold you down.. With ringing hands you take it out... On me."

January 15, 2004 - The Moon and Spica...

Comments: What's the odds on two relatively clear mornings in a row? I was surprised as I was about to leave for work when the Moon made its' appearance. It was cloudy when I first woke up! No matter... We've had some sleet and a powdering of snow, so as my car warms...

I am delighted to take a Moon walk.

As I set the scope out, I can only smile at how close Spica is to the Moon. No more than five degrees away, it looks to flat vision almost like a sattelite that orbits another world. What blues do you sing, kid? I uncover the old Celestron and go to the eyepiece... It is an area that I recognize well. The singular peak of Piton, the Teneriffe Mountains, the flat eye of Plato... Eratosthenes is beginning to look beautiful again... But it is an old friend that catches my eye.

None other than Ptlomaeus, Alphonsius and Arzachel... Ah, how well I remember these! But way up there... There is a place that is very special to me. One that I shall always remember, for it was there that I met the Wizard...

Perhaps only I can see him, but he is there nonetheless. He stands in Crater Stofler and is 5,600 feet tall. I only see him once in a great while, for the light has to be just right to see his robed form with his back turned to the Sun. Yes, he is nothing more than a slim, old rock wall...

But he's everything to me.

"Settle down. Or I won't hesitate, to hit the highway... Before you lead me to waste. Oh... Settle up. And I'll help you to find something to drive... Before you drive me insane."

December 14, 2004 - A Taste of Morning...

Comments: I see something strange outside the windows as I walk through the darkened house this morning. I pause by the fire, holding my cup of coffee and realizing just how "blue" the light outside looks. I can see a fine dusting of snow on my car... And it twinkles in this light. Could it be that the skies are clear? I walk to the sliding glass door to allow H his morning "run" and I see both Jupiter and the Moon smiling at me.

And I smile back.

I am in no hurry. I am not a creature who awakes one moment and is off to work the next... In my world there is time. Time to savour my morning cup... Time to enjoy a bagel. Time to shower and read the news... And plenty of time to have a taste of sky before leaving for the rat race. When I am dressed and ready, I step outside to greet another day. How wonderful it is to see the stars again! It has been so long that I have to look around just to see how things have changed... I cannot hardly believe that Lyra has returned - Or that Ursa Major hangs over the top of Polaris. Where has all the time gone? I guess it slips by me when I'm not looking, eh? But I have time. It's all I have.

Jupiter is there... And the waltz of the galieans have drawn them all together in a knot on the trailing side. I look at them and wonder if they can eclipse each other as well? Hmmmm... It's an interesting thought. I stand in no one's shadow, save my own. Perhaps one day I shall see such an event? It would definately be exciting!

And I take the time to visit with the Moon before I scurry off to my workplace. Ah, my... You should see the beautiful mountains. So steady... They look as if they are capped with snow.

Are we going back there again? Tell me, please... Mr. Wizard. I hope so. It was the stuff that once upon a time I only dared to dream about. And the stars only know...

I could use those kinds of dreams again.

"The first time I saw you... You were chasin' down... The cyclone. All alone... In the fields. With rail yards and clover, I kept... Rollin' on. I never thought you'd wind up chasin' me..."

January 11, 2004 - A Taste Of Sky...

Comments: I watched the Sun anxiously. While we are not as blazing cold as we have been in previous days, the atmosphere still holds the right conditions to produce sundogs or sun pillars. But... There just be a bit too much cloud. A spectacular sunset? Yes. Atmospheric phenomena? Nope.

This has been a long vampyre shift. There were no skies, so mainly I slept. Sleep without rest is a terrible thing, my friends. To me it is wasted hours. And the hours paid off the debt I guess I owed, for I find myself quite awake - But with no real burning desire to chase the stars tonight.

I did say stars, didn't I?

Yes, they were out. I knew this because I watched Venus as I practiced guitar. Part of me was called to go out and look, but the half that answered sat right there in my easy chair and played until my fingers couldn't take it anymore. When at last I sat it to the side, I stuck my head out the door and quickly realized something... It is still incredibly windy. Although I have a few hours before moonrise, what's the point? I can't explore faraway and unusual places because the dob won't hack the wind... And the sky won't support really deep studies. Why bother? So, I shut the door and went back and sat down. I watched Venus through the window, and then I realized something very important about myself....

I don't do what I do because I care what anyone thinks. I don't practice astronomy to impress anybody. I don't follow rules. I don't chose difficult studies because I'm competitive. I don't specialize in any field, because I like them all. I don't look down on a Messier, a planet or a double star as a lowly target. I don't use the technology at my disposal, cuz' it just ain't me.

And I don't leave my telescope inside on a clear night.

Bundling up against the wind, I chose the 4.5 Celestron because I wanted it. I did not polar align because I don't have to. And I walked to the same old stuff I always look at.... Because it's as peaceful and relaxing to me as an hour in the spa, or a glass of wine. I like the Andromeda Galaxy! It makes me forget my hands hurt. I like the Orion Nebula! It doesn't notice that I'm walking funny today. I like the M36, M37 and M38! They don't care if my weekend was stressed or not. I like the Plieades!! They don't require dusting. I like Sigma Orionis! They don't want anything from me. I like the M35! I don't have to baby it. I like the M41! It doesn't ask questions. I like the M1!! It might be tuff to spot tonight, but it's happy to share the night with me.

And I like Saturn...

By now, the winds have made me unescapably tired. Small wonder, it's been close to 24 hours since I slept last. It's a happy kind of tired, though... One I like as well as the simple things I looked at tonight. I put my old scope away with a smile. It serves me over and over again, like a faithful friend... And I like it as well. There is one thing more that I would like to see, however... And I find myself procrastinating on sleep just to wait for it to rise.

I like the Moon... And the way Jupiter trails right behind it tonight.

"I just had to let it go...."

January 7, 2004 - The Moon Cruises Gemini and a Taste of Saturn...

Comments: Once again, the cold is almost unrelenting. You will notice I said "almost" won't you? The lessening of the wind has at least made it tolerable to be outside for just a short time, and when the clouds parted enough to see some stars, H and I decided to go out for a walk.

As he skated around on the frozen lakes that were once yards, I set the Celestron out for a fast peek and the Moon. It's not that I'm all that interested in checking out a full blown Selene, but the diamond hard stars of winter are so brilliant that I can see right now that we might be in for an occultation or grazing event.... And Gemini is a pretty good place for that to happen. Looking not so much at lunar features as I am starfield, it only takes a few moments from watching the drift to realize that although several bright stars will accompany the Moon around the edges tonight, none will be close enough to occult, or to be considered a grazing event. (but, oh boy.. there are going to be a few of them that will be darn close!)

By now, I'm starting to feel that cold... But I would like a quick look at Saturn before heading back in. Tuning in on the "Ring King" only takes a minor adjustment and as quick as a I spot Titan trailing and the glitter of the "troopers" to the leading edge I have had enough. Sure. I'd like to go doubles hopping, but there are snatches of clouds here and there that say I would probably be more frustrated than entertained.

So, once again I head for that "armchair" astronomy thing... Thoroughly enjoying the high resolution imaging that has returned for the Mars Spirit rover, and equally enjoying the latest imaging sent back by StarDust of Wild2. I watch a little of the NASA coverage of the ISS air leak, with faith they will soon have it under control. Then I do something really out of character... I start re-reading some of my old reports and published articles looking for new ideas. How I miss that "fire" I used to have! Ah, well....

Seems like I've gotten pretty content just to sit by one.

"I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round... I really love to watch them roll. No longer riding on the merry-go-round...

I just had to let it go."

January 6, 2004 - The Sun... A Quick Pass on Venus, Mars and Saturn...

Comments: Hey, hey... The Vampyre stepped outside today. Nope. I didn't burst into flame - But I did almost freeze to the spot. In less than three days Ohio has taken a nose dive in the temperature department, dropping an overwhelming 50 degrees. To make matters worse, we have a driving wind to add to that 12 degree temperature out here in the Styx, making the wind chill... Well... Damn cold! To give you just a rough idea of how cold it truly is, when I went out to set up for solar observing, I took a towel from the bathroom with me to put over my head. It had been a good twelve hours or more since I had used it to dry my hair, so it was just a little damp. I figured it wouldn't matter, eh? I only needed it to sheild the sunlight for a few moments. Dressed like an eskimo, I put the Celestron 4.5 on the Sun, tuned the focus as close as I could get it, put the towel over my head and ran approximately 90 seconds of video.

The towel froze.

Taking it off my head, I had to start laughing as I saw the perfect impression of my dome sculpted in black terrycloth... And even a little ridge where the camera was held! Either it was total stupidty, total die-hard, or total need to observe anything... But whatever it was? It made me laugh, eh? Only in Ohio. And what we have here today in Ohio is a slightly out of focus, but still quite passable view of the latest solar "hot spot" - AR536.

Right now, 536 is spanning approximately six Earth diameters in size and is holding a delightful Ekc classification with a beta-gamma magetic field. After having just been responsible for a M7 class solar flare event, this same sunspot triggered a CME directed toward Earth, and may spawn auroral activity. Pretty awesome, huh? And quite worth braving the cold to see...

Let's hope I'm as brave when it gets dark and colder.


And those temperatures continued to fall... Down to the single digits with a wind chill factor around 20 below zero. How brave was I? Ha!

The old Celestron was still set up, ready to go as always, just inside the garage door. As the Sun set in a glorious array of color, Venus blazed out of a darkening sky. A brief look to confirm phase and a fast look at Mars was all I could handle before I made a run back indoors. Leaving the scope out, but covered, I returned a while later to have a fast look at Saturn to see that Titan was to the east... But unusually flanked by two of the "troopers"! Very strange... Only Titan's brightness sets it apart and I can only wonder if it is possible that the saturnian sattelites can eclipse one another. There is a tiny wink to the leading ring edge that signifies at least one is to the west and not being eclipsed by Saturn itself. Unfortunately, the wind is gusting so hard and cruelly that I cannot do much more at this point.

I put the scope away, for the temperatures and wind are painful. There is no point in trying to continue further, for the wind will make not only me, but the scope shiver as well. Those double stars will wait on another night, eh? Tonight, there is no need to call H... I can see him standing at the sliding glass doors looking back over his shoulder at me and wanting to know if he may go in now. (Z? Zero disappears when you open the door. Thanks to his close brush with death at the hands of the cold, he does not "do" the great outdoors. ;) As I walk back to the house, I have to smile at the full Moon with Saturn hanging below it in the 4:00 position. They definately look quite fine together! Yes, it was cold.

But it was worth it.

"Ah, people asking questions, lost in confusion. Well, I tell them there's no problem, only solutions. Well, they shake their heads and they look at me... As if I've lost my mind. I tell them there's no hurry....

I'm just sitting here doing time."

January 5, 2004 - "Sleepy Hollow"...

Comments: What a fitting name! I can only sympathize with the good folks at JPL/NASA over the last few days. Their excitement over the success of the Spirit landing and intial signals and pictures have left all of them sleepless... and a goodly portion of the rest of the world as well!

Needless to say, I have been following what's going on very anxiously... Waiting on those first pictures. After having looked at Mars so often this summer during both study and pleasure, it's going to be a real treat to see what the "Red Planet" looks like up close and personal! Right now I am once again doing the vampyre shift several times this week, so I am in and out of touch... What luck today when I got home to sit down to watch a press conference. And wouldn't ya' know it...

The first pics are in!

The guy named Steven (and i remembered his last name right up until i sat down to do this report and now i'm so daggone tired i can't remember my own right now...) was just a fantastic speaker. His liveliness and "down to earth" manner made the whole presentation terrific. He explained how this was the initial photo to basically just "have a look around" and I guess it must have been made in stereo imagery, for the press was wearing those really cool glasses. One of the places Spirit's camera caught was a depression you see in the photo which they lovingly named "Sleepy Hollow" since none of the JPL/NASA team are getting much of that!

There's really a lot more to it, but I'm sure you are following the reports as well. The days to come will bring the "unfolding" of Spirit and the first high resolution images. As each of the stages are tested and ready to go, the Spirit will soon begin its exploration of the martian surface and "Sleepy Hollow" will surely be one it visits. (they also thought perhaps one of the marks in the hollow was a footprint where Spirit bounced by! too cool, huh?) Somehow I found this all so fitting... Not only has Spirit been a wonderful success so far, but those tireless people at JPL/NASA have also been quietly pulling another rabbit out of their hats behind the scenes....

Behold Comet Wild...

JPL/NASA StarDust Press Release

I am sure you also knew that the StarDust mission has also been a success! These folks must have a never ending pot of coffee, I tell ya'. This is just some of the most incredible stuff! Although it will be 2006 before StarDust returns to Earth with its' precious cargo of "space seeds", they have already given us something that can only be matched by the images of Borelly and Halley. Just look at that thing!

So, from a rainy Ohio... The vampyre has become an "armchair astronomer".

"People say I'm lazy... Dreaming my life away. Well they give me all kinds of advice... Designed to enlighten me. When I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall.. Don't you miss the big time girl? You're no longer on the ball...

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round... I really love to watch them roll. No longer riding on the merry-go-round....

I just had to let it go. "

January 3/4, 2004 - Into the "Spirit"... And Listenin' to the Quadrantids...

Comments: What an exciting time we live in! I remember as a child the NASA broadcasts as John Glenn orbited the Earth, every launch of everything covered by Walter Cronkite, and viewing in amazement as Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon. How the world held its' breath during Apollo 13... And the end of those glorious missions with the broadcasts of Apollo 17. (it has even been my privelege to have been on the press platform and watch the launch of a weather sattelite.) I dig 'em all... Right down to shuttle launches and ISS broadcasts. It guess it's a lifelong fascination and even in my older years I still follow this stuff.

Yes, it's raining in Ohio tonight, but who could ask for a more exciting thing to do than watch as the "Spirit" mission lands safely on Mars? I had been following the reports all evening, and as Spirit began its' descent through the martian atmosphere, I was glued to both the television set and the edge of my chair. I have every faith in JPL/NASA... Yes, there are things that sometimes go horribly wrong - But how many times are we gifted with such fantastic successes? Don't you dare knock these fine people in front of me...

I'll knock ya' out. ;)

Listening and watching as each phase of the entry becomes a success, the critical moment comes when Spirit actually touches down in Crater Gusev. Did it survive? How long those minutes seem until the signal reaches Earth! The control room is so tense... And then? It happens...

The signal the the world awaits has come! Spirit is safe...

Of course, I am grinning from ear to ear. Man, it just doesn't get any better than to be able to see history being made! Once again, humankind has reached across the infinity of space and touched another world...

Although I could have stayed up all night watching and rewatching these glorious moments and waiting for the first video signals to come back to Earth, I'd also like to capture a "signal" of my own... The Quadrantid Meteors. You know I would have far preferred to have seen them with my own eyes rather than listen, but I'm just the type of person who would rather beat the odds, and the odds are that it is usually cloudy during a meteor shower. Still... I'd like to see what's going on with Spirit! So, brother... I stack the deck.

Long before the mission's final moments, I had gone outside and removed the feed line from the meteor listening station in the garage and snaked it inside to my house stereo. It really doesn't matter where the receiver is at... Just how and where I've placed the antennae, eh? Since the equipment in the house is far more modern than what I keep in the garage, it is my pleasure to seek a "non" station through digital tuning. Radio set, I rest after the successful landing until 4:00 a.m. As soon as I get up, I flip the radio on right from the comfort of my own living room... And it's going wild! Swishes, snatches of signals, squeals, bongs, beeps... If this had been any other type of tuner? You would have swore someone was spinning the radio dial!

Of course, I had a genuine blonde moment. As I'm standing in front of the receiver, I realize that it had a built-in tape deck and I could have recorded the whole thing with a cassette tape... But my "ace in the hole" video camera is quite charged up and ready to record what I'm hearing. Muting the television set during a break in the NASA commentary, I do my best to capture some of the meteor sounds that are more easily understood as a "meteor" and not just a random broadcast. One of my favourite is the low key, reverberating bong. Here again, I find that I've not quite got things right, for my house stereo is a surround sound model and certain speakers play certain tones. (the bass is behind me, dude...) While recording from the garage speakers, all tones come from the same place! OK... I can live with this. And so I try to capture this "bass" tone the best I can.

Quadrantid One

Some of the ones more quickly and easily recognized are the chirps and whistles. These tones come fairly easily for the one speaker I'm holding the camera against...

Quadrantid Two

And again, some of the signals are very short-lived. The most fantastic ones start with a "whoosh" noise and end in the acquisition of a partial signal that sounds like a tuner being run back and forth. One moment someone talking, another a jazz tune, and yet another either a country and western song or rock and roll! But under all this, and accompanying it, is that brief tone that signifies you've caught a meteor that didn't leave a long lasting ion trail...

Quadrantid Three

So let's just say it was a very exciting night! The meteors would come in waves... I would pick up perhaps ten signals in a period of just two or three minutes, and then it would taper off for around then minutes before it would pick back up again. Last night there were far too many for me to keep accurate count, (maybe because i was watching the NASA channel at the same time, eh? ;) but I would "guesstimate" approximately 75 in a 90 minute period. Around 5:30 the activity had significantly tapered off... And I tapered off in the recliner....

Dreaming sweet dreams of stepping outside to see clearing skies and to catch one of those "shooting stars" with my own eyes.

"People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing... Well, they give me all kinds of warnings.... To save me from ruin. When I say that I'm o.k., well they look at me kind of strange... Surely you're not happy now you no longer play the game?"

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

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

Sometimes tomorrow won't come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never raised in anger and never will be.

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

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

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

And I'm heading eleven degees due west.

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

In the last remaining night..."