October 31, 2004 - Halloween...
Comments: Ah, so the rift between light and dark, dead and living is now, eh? It feels it.... I feel it. The hours I keep sometimes hit me hard and this time is no exception.
Funny thing about me, though... You can try to break me, but you can't. Life itself has tried many times over the years. I have been through pain beyond endurance and hurt beyond comprehension, yet I still stand. You can bow my back and turn my face down, yet somewhere I find a strength of resolve to keep coming back for more. Such a foolish old creature, I am...
And so when I must be up yet again to be at work, I celebrate the season in my own fashion by staring at the Moon. How peaceful it seems there... For Fabricus, Metius, Steinheil and Watt are very old friends and I celebrate the night with them. I may walk the way of the "Vampyre" for days yet, but tonight? I walk my own path. The Plieades lead the Moon across the night and I visit with their cool, blue beauty as well. Saturn, my stern astrological teacher is also here to greet me and I see that Titan leads Saturn across the sky as well. Before dawn I seek the shadows behind work and watch as Venus and Jupiter draw closer together toward a spectacular conjunction in just days. My cup of coffee is welcome and so is Mars down low on the horizon. It is enough for me... This company.
Now I must go.
"So now the dreams and waking screams that ever last the night.... So build a wall behind the crawl and hide until it's light.
October 30, 2004 - Solar Work and "Trick Or Treat"...
Comments: What started off as a rainy day ended up being wonderfully sunny and unseasonably warm for Ohio. I know temperatures in the 70s seem a little strange for us, but it doesn't come without a price for the winds gust along at around 40 miles per hour out here. Their strong southern influence was enough to rock the steady mount on any scope, but there was a brief X class flare that happened shortly after I got home from work and I just had to have a look.
Finding as much windbreak as I possibly could, I set the scope up in the driveway in front of the garage. Talk about wow! A lot of the sunspots that I had viewed the other day had already rotated out, leave the one (687) near the limb... But you should see how 691 has grown! Since photography was out of the question today, I thank SOHO for their MDI images and you can see how the central 691 has changed in a matter of days - and newer, larger ones have joined the party. When I came back in, I started to look up current information and my e.mail began to light up as other solar observers around the world sat in amazement as the Sun kicked off repeated high end M class flares and several CMEs. Very exciting, indeed! This means we just might have a repeat performance of last year's Halloween aurora.
And speaking of Halloween, my village decided that tonight would be the best time to hold their annual "Trick Or Treat". Although I am currently working night shift and should be sleeping, I cannot turn the kids down. Napping briefly, I got up, donned my "habit" and went out with a basket of candy the promised a sugar rush to a small country. Normally I would have also set up a telescope and invited the kids to have a look, but the time has also changed this year and the Sun hasn't even come close to setting yet. It's OK, though. H doesn't mind being hand-fed candy as we wait on our spooky little customers and most arrived with costumes blown away by the incessant winds. It's a pleasant time and ends so soon. It will be a night filled with parties for others, but for me?
I must go back to sleep.
"Still the window burns... Time so slowly turns. Someone here is sighing... Keepers of the flame... Did you hear your name? Can you feel your baby cryin'?"
October 30, 2004 - The "Vampyre" and the Moon...
Comments: Back to night shift? Yes, and it will be some time before I see "daylight" again. I have softly come to despise holidays and all they entail. What a crime! For once upon a time I felt so differently... But it doesn't matter. I will go and do what I have to do.
But not before I have looked at the Moon.
There are many racing clouds as I walk outdoors and rain is predicted for "Trick Or Treat" later tonight. I know the thunder rumbled yesterday and it is somehow fitting to have storms this late in the year. For now? It is no big deal to set the scope out on the deck and snatch at the bright Moon. This is the reason I keep it assembled, for it means nothing more than to move it just outside the door to enjoy some time. How warm it is tonight! There are a few bright stars here and there, but it is only the company of that cold and distant orb that I seek. I want to learn to be like that... Cold and far away so nothing can hurt you. Mare Crisium on the decline is perhaps one of the most unusual features to me. I do not know why, but the surface curve looks shiny, almost blister-like when it is at this stage and the bright ring of its mountain border stands away from the terminator making it looks almost as if a "bite" had been taken from the edge of the Moon.
Now I must go.
"And now the dreams and waking screams that ever last the night. So build a wall Behind it crawl And hide until it's light.
October 27, 2004: At the Observatory: The Deep Totality of the Moon...
Comments: Most of us here in Ohio were pretty disappointed when the day dawned rainy. It's the last chance here in our little corner of the world for a total lunar eclipse for three more years. While three years doesn't seem like that long, a lot can happen in that span of time, mon ami. Things change, people change and who knows what time will bring?
By late afternoon the skies had gone from totally washed to extremely hazy. High thins ruled and only a few feather soft areas of blue would show through. I had found my easy chair right as soon as I got home from work and a somnolent state not long after. I was surprised to hear the telephone ring and I grouchily reached for it, readying myself to try and be polite to a salesman. It probably took a full minute before I actually realized that I was talking to Dave and he was wanting a weather "heads up" from my locale. Well, if I'd been on the ball I probably would have researched AccuWeather reports rather than the back of my eyelids and the best I can do is stick my head out the door and say "Dude? I'll see you there."
Sacraficing a fish and preparing an excellent basil pesto pasta, I tried not to get my hopes up. These skies were going just as quickly as they'd come. I took a shower and went about slowly stowing my gear in the back of Lyt Spd. By that time the sky had gone totally cloudy again and I was figuring I was a fool for heading out across country, but it never hurts to at least try. 20 miles later? Here came the Moon out from behind the clouds. By the time I hit Clearfork Reservior, it was hanging over the lake and creating a wonderfully picturesque scene. Well... What do you know about this? It might happen after all!
I was pleased to see cars at the Observatory when I made the parking lot, and even more pleased to see Keith, Bruce, John, Dave and Joe again. Setting my gear up, I went back down to the ClubHouse to put on coffee, tea and throw out an array of munchies. It's not much of a "Halloween Party", but hopefully it will be welcome. Going back up to the Dome with about 30 minutes or so before the eclipse begins, I stand in grinning amazement as I watch Bruce, Joe and John up on the lift and "Big Blue" moving on its own. Part of that dream is still alive, isn't it? And with creaks and groans that would do a deep sea submarine credit, the massive scope slowly changes position from a remote control.
Time is getting close and I head back out to my telescope and slide into my welcoming "easy chair". We can see where the Moon is beginning to flatten out on the northeast side and the progression is slow, covered by occasional thin clouds, but very peaceful. Coming up the Hill is a sound I well know and a few minutes later a Harley rolls into the parking lot. Not long ago, I had become acquainted with this gentleman at one of our public nights and I'm glad to see he's returned. Hey, Lee?
It's good to see you, m'man.
Oddly enough, he's one of those people that fit right in here. He's comfortable with using my telescope and bincoulars and we all just take turns tracking the Moon and watching the progression of the eclipse. (somehow i get the feeling that you dug some of those questions up just to see if i could answer them. ;) The conversation is very pleasant and as we go futher and further toward totality, the skies rapidly darken and the stars begin to come out to play.
As we jokingly pass binoculars around between us, it's good to see others appreciating just what these little "portable telescopes" can do. The slight haze to the sky has left our eclipsing Moon with a less than perfect image, but what does it matter? We can see it! For all the good natured teasing I have taken over the years, I hand it right back as I pick on the "computer scopists" about finding things without a chart. This particular eclipse is getting very, very dark and even at the phase you see here, the Milky Way was beginning to walk and talk. As we reached the final moments before totality, I can do nothing more than just sit here and admire it. Those last few seconds I find the most incredible of all as the Moon mimics Mars and its polar cap so wonderfully in the night.
Last year's two total eclipses left the Moon a deep and bright copper color, but not so this year. This photo was taken just moments before we reached totality, for it became so dark that my camera could not sense the light even in the telescope. Visually it had went to a very dark and dusty brick red.... There was no "golden glow" to it. I do not know how else to descibe it except for that it went "flat". I do not mean that it did not have dimensionality, for to stand here and look at the Moon was a very inspiring site, but the color? It was flat.
By now, Bruce is off to do some deep sky hunting with the big telescope. Lee and I hop with my little Orion to a few deep skies objects and end up on the M32. We can hear Joe clicking away with his scope and digital camera and some of the shots he was getting blow me away, My own are terrible by comparison, nothing more than a cartoon image compared to a masterpiece. I am very impressed! Totality is going to last for awhile and half the joy for us wicked astronomers is to simply say we saw this or that during a full Moon, so I grabbed Lee and we headed inside the Dome to see what galaxy Bruce was on.
M33 was the object of choice and I've got to smile a little inside because he's picked one of the largest and faintest - as well as the nearest - to that flat Moon to have a look at. Suprisingly enough a great amount of details show through as it is only possible to study one small portion of the "Pinwheel" at a time. Of course, we move off to the incomparable M31, M32 and M110 as well and it just a really nice time to be up here high above the ground and laughing again. My request is NGC891 for a reason, but the slice of heavens revealed through the Dome's slit holds that eclipsed Moon and the company is very pleasant indeed.
The hour grows late and it's time for Lee to head out. I walk down with him for my tired old bones could use a cup of coffee. I wish you very well, mon ami! And I hope to see you again on the 6th... As he rides away, I go into the Clubhouse and grab a welcome cup of java. No sooner than I had sipped it than Bruce appeared in the doorway and said he had it on the NGC891. You know what? I'm outta' here. This was a study field for me earlier in the month and you know that I have to know... I have to know what the 31" will reveal that my 12.5" could not.
Yeah... The little galaxy group.
View in the 31"? Incredible. While I could only see the NGC891 in my scope as a bright edge-on with an averted dustlane, this scope lays it bare. It takes some of the surface brightness out of it, but adds so much more extension than I realized. The dustlane is actually divided and the entire galaxy is so direct! Even Joe likes this one... I tell Bruce about the galaxy cluster and where to find it and we move off. His reaction? "Oh, yeah. There's a whole lot of them there." Mine? Move over, dude and give me that eyepiece! I decline the automated controls for only one reason - my mind does not have to think if my hands are moving the scope. Down is east, left is south, etc. I know the map in my head and where I need to go. They are there... Oh, my gosh... They really are there! The only one I could see in my scope was NGC898, but look at all of them! The NGC906, 909, 910, 912, 913, 914 and 923... They are there. They really are there. Requesting Bruce's MegaStar assistance, I soon find out why I could not see them. My one, 898 was magnitude 14 - within my reach - but the others went down from 15 to the majority of them being magnitude 17. These are not within the capabilities of my 12.5", but they've never left my mind.
They are there.
We look at open M34 and since the Moon is starting well back out of its deep totality, Bruce, Joe and myself all are pleased to watch the shadows run across its surface with far too much aperture, but a whole lot of fun. We watch the re-appearance of an occulted star and I know what I saw... A meteor pass between us and the Moon! As the brightness overtakes Tycho, we head back down to take a few last photographs and to begin to stow away equipment and pick up things for the night. The others have long since left, and it is understandable for working astronomers. The night has gone cold and dewy... I knew this when Lee and I took a last look through the Orion for I had to find the "Double Cluster" without the finder. It's ok, though. Something happened here that none of us were really expecting and we were glad we just had a chance to see it... A deep totality.
As the eclipse draws near its final moments, Joe and I review his excellent photos. I would be so proud if these were mine! With gear stowed and things buttoned up for the night, I head for my car and watch as the very last edge of the Moon is bathed in sunlight once again. Oddly enough, those thins clouds have swept back in, like a gauzy stage curtain drawing on the final act of a celestial show. As I head back, the Moon rides with me. It has been a good night for me. Filled with friends old and new, laughter and the kind of stuff I love to do. I was just thinking no where thoughts, mainly about finding food when I got home, and then the incredible happened. From the general direction of east heading west, a huge green fireball swept the skies! It actually lit up the interior of my car through the sunroof and ended before me in an emerald stream of sparks that looked like it exploded as it extinguished! Three days ago, this also happened and left half of Ohio talking... And tonight? Ah, man...
It was like one final gift from the sky.
"Well, I'm not all me. So please excuse me... While I tend to how I feel."
October 25, 2004 - Amazing Sunspots and the SVD revisited...
Comments: Whoa, bro'! Stop and take a minute to have a look at the Sun right now! After days upon days of little to no activity, good ol' Sol has recently broken out in a rash of incredible sunspots...
The largest of these is down in the lower right had corner and its name is AR687. This little beauty was responsible for a couple of CMEs over the last few days and has went through an amazing period of growth. What you are looking at is about 1/4 of the solar surface and almost entirely to the eastern limb. Do you see the rather small and rather plain area that sits in a field of faculae? Well, that's AR691 and right now it's our solar "bad boy". Holding a beta/gamm/delta magnetic classification, this one might be small...
But it could rock!
My night-time interest is a bit low right now because of the Moon, but every once in awhile I feel like waxing a bit nostalgic so tonight I chose to take the SVD8 our for awhile. Thanks to the Moon's "toasty" presence, there is not a great deal that I can do as far as studies go, but it was quite a treat to use the scope again and go through the Cassiopeian open clusters. I had truly forgotten how wonderfully this mid-sized scope can resolve things and it felt good to use it again.
For now? I've covered it back up and put it away. It won't be long until the skies are dark again and perhaps the mood will be more right for me to "play" with it.
"Don't want your aid... But the fist I've made? For years, can't hold or feel..."
October 24, 2004 - Moon Gazing...
Comments: OK, so I was tired last night. It would be all to easy for me just to sit here in my favourite chair and rock myself to sleep, but I know what happens when I do that. The difficult part of transcending between strange working hours happens right now - and I if I do not inspire my mind I will become melancholy. When I saw the Moon out and shining I knew it would be a good time to take out the 16X50 binoculars and a cup of tea and just relax for awhile. Perhaps some photons will do me good, eh? I realize that the high power of these binoculars and not having them mounted makes the view somewhat less than steady, but necessity is the mother of invention, isn't it?
And I've been known as a real mother from time to time. ;)
The easiest way for me to steady my hands is to simply pull the park bench up to the deck railing and use that. Surprisingly, it works very well and when the binoculars were "in tune"? Oh, my... The lunar surface sure sang! Extremely prominent and wonderful was crater Tycho. (somebody predicted that, didn't they? ;) I could see where the terminator had already extended beyond Sinus Iridum and the next most fascinating feature was definately the graceful Gassendi. Again, I find the view highly comparable to a small scope set at low power. I am very pleased with what I see!
Before hanging it up for the night, I decided I'd just sip my tea, put my feet up on the rail and kick back and enjoy what I can pick out of the stars. The biggest majority of the Messiers are still visible despite the waxing Moon, but no details can be seen in them. Yep. It makes it rather boring, but it's pleasant to enjoy a cup of sweet Earl Grey and simply wander around the stars without a whole lot purpose. As I near the end of my cup, I find myself drawn back to that bright Moon again. Leaning forward, I steady my arms once again and just watch. How many years have I looked at you now, old friend?
And you still blow me away... Every time.
"Now deservingly this easy chair... But the rocking stopped by wheels of despair."
October 24, 2004 - Morning Planets...
Comments: I am still the "vampyre". It was raining when I left for work this morning, but oddly enough I am in a wonderful mood. As I walk across the parking lot, abandoned by all but puddles, the Moon appears laying on its side. The dark clouds skirt its edges making it seem so close. This put me in a highly "productive" state and four hours passed without me truly realizing the time. At that point I knew that I needed a cup of coffee and a bit of fresh air. Stretching and pleased with myself for being so far ahead of the game, I decided I'd unlock the back door and just go outside where I could be by myself.
I was anything but "alone".
At 7:00 a.m., the first rays of dawn are breaking across the flatlands of Ohio. The Rayleigh scattering that signifies the arrival of the Sun has left the first few degrees of the horizon a deep copper color with a pale blue band above it that abruptly returns to "night". In this scene that no artist could portray, nor any photo do justice to, the morning planets hold court. High above stands the stately Saturn, marking its place along the eclipitic and rivaling the stars. Ahead of me is Venus, blazing... huge... remarkable in both its size and magnitude. Several degrees below Venus is a Jupiter that is not muddied by the horizon. It shines proud now... Full and well up. To the left and just above the russet tones of dawn is Mars. It boils in the atmosphere, twinkling and shining -- yet unmistakably Mars.
I stand and revel in the scene. To me there is a sense of "dimensionality" about it... As if I can truly be above the Earth itself and see the positions of the planets. I can somehow grasp the size and distance of our solar system and each part of the "puzzle" fits cleanly. Somehow I feel like I should be able to will tiny Mercury into this as well, yet I know it will be a short while before the last of the inner planets joins the show. I have nothing to aid me save for my eye glasses and I do not mind. I look round myself and realize just how beautiful this is, and wonder if there is anyone else out there to witness this. I know what is going to happen in the days ahead and it wobbles my mind. Who needs a planetarium program or an orrery?
I've got the sky.
"Excuse me while I tend to how I feel... These things return to me that still seem real."
October 23, 2004 - Astronomy In The City...
Comments: The skies were passingly clear when I woke up. Starting into a new round of the "vampyre shift", I walked outdoors and wasn't terribly pleased because the Moon was still around. Ordinarily I would have taken the old Celestron out for a run, but tonight I chose to get ready early and take the 16X50 binculars into work with me.
Of course, I couldn't start off at 3:00 a.m., but there is absolutely no reason why I can't take my cup of coffee outdoors at 5:00 a.m. and practice astronomy! Last time I did this it was with the 5X30 binos and right underneath parking lot floodlights. This time? I went out the back door. While this isn't the worst possible scenario like last time, it certainly is a far cry from anything I'm used to. Between the glare of security lights and the overwhelming "light blanket" of being urban, it was a challenge -- but I found a way around it. By using various "blocks" I found that a significant poriton of bright stars were easily visible. This "block" might be something as easy as the edge of a building, or to step behind a trailer waiting to be unloaded, but that was really all that was required.
Just keep the glare down.
I keep thinking of an old Neil Young song that I love to play because it has so many slides and harmonics. "City lights at a country fair... Never shine but always glare. If I'm bright enough to see you? You're just to dark to care..." As I get the focus down sharp, I find it's really no problem to see the M42. The M41 is also quite lovely and I didn't have difficulties finding the M35. Hmmm... What's the rest of those words? "But if crying and holding on... And flying on the ground is wrong? Then I'm sorry... To let you down. But you're from... My side of town. And I'll miss you..." The Plieades are really spectacular and I'm impressed that even under a whalloping light dome that I can still perceive some nebulosity. Oddly enough? I don't think it really damages the "Double Cluster" at all and with the exception of losing some extension? The Andromeda Galaxy looks quite well.
M33 and M1 were simply impossible. M44? Not naked eye here, but also surprisingly achievable within city limits. (oh, save me... where did tina turner and "flatbush city limits" come from? why not the eagles and "take it to the limit"?) I cannot find the M50 so I am going to assume that it is either obstructed or not high enough yet. Going back to the M44, I steadied my arms and I'll be darned. M67! This is a "just barely" there, but I am still quite pleased. Turning the view north, I had to try it and you know I did... M81 and M82. Now here's a tough call for you. I can see them averted, but could someone's less experienced?
I realize my time is about up, but this is a very good opportunity to do some study and I am ahead of the game as far as work goes. Contemplating Auriga, I also find that the M36, M37 and M38 are easy enough, but they certainly lack the impact they do under dark skies. So what happens when I find a better position for Puppis and the M46? Viola! M50!! Awesome...
The last of my coffee had gone cold, but it doesn't matter. I've never had a chance to practice astronomy from the city and a quick streak of an Orionid underlines my experiment. It is very possible to see a wide array of Messiers even under light polluted conditions. I think trying to use the telescope would be a lot harder since you have to so much more precise than binoculars, but it wouldn't be impossible. The hardest part is just locating the stars... And the rest?
Is elementary, my dear Watson.
"Mamma they try to break me. Still they try to break me..."
October 22, 2004 - Orionids!
Comments: As you can tell... I didn't stay up late last night. Over the next few days I will revert to "vampyre" hours and when I got up in the "wee hours" it was to clear skies! Now, mind you, I'm not much one for leftovers, but when it comes to having a chance to catch a few stray meteors a bit past maximum?
Ah, break out that Tupperware and let's go!
I started viewing around 3:30 a.m. and I was not disappointed. Given the Orionids slow max of 10 per hour, we were pretty much right on the money here even 24 hours later. Short, fast and bright, it was no problem spotting these awesome little meteors. (the hard part was keeping warm!) Very, very true to the radiant, the most outward one I saw streaked by Saturn making me laugh. For the most part, our little visitors from Comet Halley were silver/orange in hue and stayed pretty much within the boundaries of the constellation. Between the thermal mug of coffee and the extra blanket, I was pretty much having a very good time just kicked back on park bench and looking loosely south.
Until the fog came...
Around 5:00 I noticed the east field was starting to disappear under a coat of ground fog. I could feel the dampness, but was trying to ignore it. By the time Venus was smiling away and I had to leave about 30 minutes later? Well, the fog had gotten pretty strong. The drive into the city was pretty much akin to driving through a vanilla milkshake! I'm not complaining though, for the morning did bring me over two dozen bright and happy meteors.
Wish you were here...
"Keepers of the flame... Do you hear your name? Do you feel your baby cryin'?"
October 21, 2004 - The Moon...
Comments: Hey! Where did that light come from? I about fell down when I finally put my "homework" down for the night and looked out the window. How could I have missed it?! After so many days of rain and clouds I am virtually amazed that I could sit right here and not see the Moon was out and blazing. I will take it easy on myself though, for right now I have been putting together an article and thinking actually two weeks into the future. May the stars forgive me...
But I'd forgotten the Moon was still around.
H was more than happy to take a run while I set the old Celestron out for a little tour. I look around the sky and smile, knowing that I don't have a planetarium program guiding me... All I've got is gut instinct and a few years of experience. I guess if I'm going to stay on top the game I've got to keep playing, huh? And so I sock an eyepiece into the focuser and hunt down Rupes Recta.
It is there, but this is not my favourite view. Right now, the "Straight Wall" is illuminated wrong for high contrast. Still, there's not a daggone thing wrong with the Apennine Mountains but I see something that really catches my eye... Tycho.
Again, this is probably not the view that most people would appreciate of Tycho, but it is the most revealing one. More special yet that our impact crater friend is Maginus above it. The reason is that by tomorrow you simply won't be able to see any detail in this crater at all! I can see where Clavius is also coming into view an truly aprreciate the deep "wells" of craters within.
Shame on me, La Luna... For forgetting you were here!
"Still the window burns... Time so slowly turns. And someone here is sighing..."
October 21, 2004 - Playing The Orionids By "Ear"...
Comments: Was I disappointed this morning? Yes and no. Yes, I would have very much liked to have seen the Orionid meteor shower, but no, here in Ohio we have learned to live without "expectations", amigo. The skies were not only cloudy, but they were insultingly cloudy. It just doesn't get more zero visibility than clouds and fog.
But, hey! As long as I've got the inclination and the time, it's not hard for me to turn on the radio receiver and simply listen as I go about my morning routine. Did I hear the Orionids? Of course! The radio is a very, very effective way of "viewing" when there is no view. Happily setting a cassette tape into the recording unit, I simply carried on with whatever it is I do in the morning (9 times out of 10 i stand in one place for minutes on end until i actually remember what i was i came in that room for) and kept an "ear" tuned to the loud sounds of static. There was one that really impressed me! It started off as a bass "thrum" and ended with a loud "ping". Awesome!
Right now, I think I'll just keep my weirdness to myself. I've got several dozen meteor recordings and they all sound pretty much the same so I won't burden my report with it. In the 90 minutes that I "listened" to the meteor shower I head 18 definate "signals". Perhaps there is more there than just what I happened to over-hear at the time, and I'm sure I'll eventually review the tape and add the signature of the Orionids to my archive collection of meteor sounds.
For now? I'm outta' here. Duty calls and they have nicely granted me an extra hour reprieve to "do my astronomy thing". Perhaps tomorrow morning will be clear and I'll catch a few strays, eh? Even if it isn't, it was still nice to know that some of the most simple of equipment is capable of doing some pretty sophisticated things. Besides...
I'll take static over Howard Stern any time.
"Now I'm off to find the hero of the day... But what if I should fall by someone's wicked ways?"
October 18, 2004 - Honors At The Observatory...
Comments: Oh, yeah. It's raining and it's cold. Sometimes I don't think we can win for losing when it comes to giving a program at the Observatory and actually having cooperation with the weather. The real question is: Are we losers?
Or are we winners?
Several months ago, a charming young lady named Kristina had contacted me from Ashland College inquiring about a tour for their honor students. Of course, the very word "honor students" strikes fear into the hearts of we very ordinary mortal astronomers, but as one conversation lead to another, I found myself anxious to meet with these brilliant young minds. We set a date and will keep it no matter what the weather will be.
I did mention it was raining, didn't I?
Arriving ahead of time, I hustled to get things opened up and I'm here to tell you that the Dome is a very creepy place indeed when the lights are off and the rain rattles the roof. (the non-leaking roof, joe... ;) It doesn't take very long though, to warm the place up in spirit if not in temperature. Set up a litle video, turn on some tunes, engage a little computer magic and viola! We're ready to welcome our guests. Joe also arrives ahead of time bringing some great history sheets to hand out and just a few minutes later I had the DVD player cooperating, everything laid out and ready to go. It might be cold and nasty out, but you are welcome here.
A knock on the door signified their arrival and as it opened? Smiling wet faces entered. Such beautiful young people! Their good spirits in the face of adversity was absolutely contagious. All the "butterflies" simply vanished and we welcomed them just like we would into our own homes. At first their tour was just that... A look at the telescope, a brief explanation of its mechanics and a ride to the top in the lift. Of course, you cannot enter here unless we pull our favourite "trick" on you and cause you to lose your equalibrium as the Dome roof turns. Their genuine and hearty laughter rings from all parts of the Dome and suddenly the "atmosphere" becomes very relaxed.
I was hesitant to do some of my standard program because I thought it might be to elementary, but sometimes it's best not to think, Dr. Watson. They enjoyed it as much as anyone does and we moved at light speed between concepts as their above average education let them grasp each new thing we threw at them at a lightning pace. No rainy night tour would be complete without practicing astronomy with your "ears" and getting an opportunity to "touch" space with your own two hands. Of course, we cannot show you through the eyepiece tonight, but that has never been a problem. We can show you through some "magic" exactly what you would see and how it would look!
Real TV? Move over... ;)
When all is said and done, we extend the invitation for these fine young folks to join us as volunteers. I know it might sound strange, but we're getting older and there is a need to place this "stewardship of the Cosmos" into deserving hands. It might be a thing they would "get into" and it might not -- but the opportunity is there for them. As their thanks echo round the Dome, they are gone again. It was our honour to have you here! Their presence has endowed the Observatory with life for the evening and I hope somewhere in the "Great Beyond" that Warren Rupp and Norm Oberley look down and smile. They will never know just how much their work goes on to impact the lives of others, but their dream stays alive.
As Joe and I button the place back up for the night, he laughs and tells me that we are totally crazy. No astronomer would even think about going out on a night like this! I have to laugh and agree with him, for we are totally crazy. Only we would stand out in the rain, eh? Or in a crowd... We'll never be famous and we'll never be rich, but doing this has a reward all of its own that far exceeds making a stunning observation or a brilliant contribution to science.
We are the keepers of the "dream"....
"The window burns to light the way back home... A light that warms no matter where they've gone."
October 17, 2004 - It's Clear...
Comments: Force of habit woke me at around 6:00 this morning. Of course, if my eyes are open I'm looking out the window (hey, it's three inches from my head. you'd look, too.) and seeing if there is any stars out there. I can see Venus without glasses it's so bright and my curiousity gets the better of me so I get dressed (kinda' sorta... it's sunday morning - don't expect much.) and let H out.
Dang! Look at that!
Sending H off on his morning run, I scouted around for a blanket and just walked out to see how much the skies continue to change. We're losing Venus so fast now and it seems incredible to see Orion high in the south. Gemini is straight over-head and you can see the whisper of the M44. And Leo? Just look over there... The whole constellation of Leo is already above the horizon. I admire for awhile, about half wishing I had woke up earlier and went out, but sometimes that just the way it goes.
The day stayed mostly clear and I did put the Celestron out for a few minutes to have a look at the latest sunspot. It's been pretty interesting to know that we haven't had any solar activity in a long time and I think back to last year when things were just incredible with CMEs and aurora. For now? No imaging. No reports. Just an ordinarly everyday backyard astronomer having a quick look at the solar surface.
And it was fantastic at sundown, too! At this point in the day I was on the road, but sometimes even driving has advantages - especially given Ohio's flat landscape in this area. It was pretty cool just to watch the Moon hanging out in front of me and see such low Rayleigh scattering. It's plenty cold out and I imagine those skies are going to be very fine in just a short while!
And fine they were. Again, it's a little too late for me to get very involved in anything, but this is one of the reasons why I have so come to prize binoculars. It is so easy just to step outside, open them up and dance across the universe! Fortunately, Saggitarius has not quit the sky from my part of the world and I am happy to indulge myself. A great deal of what I did this evening was to burn into my memory (and why i don't write it down is beyond me.) how easy it is to find certain things and think about how to descibe to others to find them in a way that everyone can understand. I don't know if it will work or not... But you know me.
When I had pretty much exhausted everything in both pair of binocular's range, (there is no comparison between the two sets of binoculars. again, the larger ones would be better compared to a small scope at low power.) I was feeling pretty good about myself and life in general. Thanks to earlier skydark, the hour is not late and there is still plenty of time for me to do other things that require my attention. (feeding is nice. so are clean work clothes.) I know the skies didn't hold all evening because when I went out around the time boredom with being indoors set in? Well... They were pretty much gone. Guess I'm not complaining. It was just good to have a day off and to be able to look outside and say...
"I'm wastin' my time again... Whoa, oh... Again."
October 16, 2004 - It's In The Bag...
Comments: Still raining here. Sometimes it spits a bit of snow and every now and again some sleet, but the bummer is that tonight is the AFY Halloween Party and Public Night at Malibar Farms. Given the amount of distance I have to drive, I usually do one last e.mail check around 5:00 in the afternoon before heading out. Last word? Dress warm and let's do this!
And so I did...
It's no great secret that I actually enjoy putting on a costume for Halloween and in my well over 40 years of celebrating the season have been a wide variety of things. There have been times when my costumes have been painstaking -- very creepy and highly original. Others have been brilliant with make-up effects or outlandish clothing. This year? Oh, my... I went for something very offbeat. Let's just say this costume would be quite believable -- if you didn't know the person wearing it.
Because the weather was rotten, I piled on layers of clothing underneath and packed lightly. My binoculars would be enough if skies cleared and I always take along my observing "bag". This particular "bag" always contains a few essentials, like a red flashlight, spare batteries, pens, pencils, paper, a few old eyepieces, a bottle of water, tissue and an umbrella. There's room enough for a small notebook, a couple of granola bars, or anything else I figure I'll need during an evening's session away. It's doubled as carry-on luggage and I dare you to call it a "purse". This particular "bag" always sits in my dining room and most of the time it's open. There's nothing in there... Why zip it up?
But I digress...
Setting out across country, I know I got a few strange looks as I would stop here and there... But the looks were politely curious. I was secretly quite enjoying my new identity, but there was something odd about the whole thing. It smelled, OK? No, no... Not mothballs or spray starch. This was something evil. Something rotten. I couldn't quite put my olafactory senses right on what it was... But I knew it was following me. I just kept dismissing it as my imagination and went on. When I arrived at Malibar Farms, Greg and his family were the only ones there. Checking my clock, I was curious because I'm pretty much right on time. No one else?
Getting out of the car, I met "Death" himself and right now? We struck a perfect harmony... Death? Meet Sister ~T Celestia. ;) Laughing as we stood out in the rain, Greg explained that the others had been there, but quit the scene because of the cold rain. Dude? You don't know how much I appreciate you staying here... For a 70 mile trip for nothing is not funny, no matter how you are dressed. We both hung around for awhile in case Stuart should show up, and then I headed towards Curt's house where the others had gone and Greg stayed just a bit longer.
When I arrived, the party was pretty well over. I was the only one besides the kids left in costume. It was worth the extra 40 minute drive though, just to hear Tim's comments: "There is NO WAY you are going to talk yourself out of a speeding ticket, because there is not a state highway patrolman on the face of this earth that will believe a nun drives a car like that!" Grinning, I realize this particular "habit" of mine just might serve me in the future!
I stayed and talked for awhile, but it didn't take long until the heavy clothing underneath my costume became unbearably warm. We had pretty much discussed what business needed to be attended to, and Greg and I slipped back outside to tuck the SVD8 into a new trunk. Perfect fit! I know that he will miss using this scope, but it holds great personal meaning to me and it will feel good to use it once again. My "attachments" have long since faded, but it is one of the few quality Orion scopes left out there...
And it's time to take it home.
Speaking of home? I'm off that way myself. The hour is very early and I have a new movie I'd promised myself I'd watch. Time to "kick the habit", dress down and make some popcorn. The journey back was still rainy and it might have even been kind of pleasant if it wasn't for that smell. I know it's not me. I know it's not my clothes. The only thing my car should smell like is leather on the inside and still I'm smelling something very unpleasant. Something I feel like I should know... Something I've smelled before.
About 10 miles from home, I figured it out. About a year ago a little raggedy black cat turned up in my life against my will and he's still hanging around inside my house. We aren't really friends, but he keeps the dog amused and earns his keep during the year by performing a "hunting service". Once upon a time, D-Con took care of this rural visitor problem and that smell? Was a tell-tale sign it was doing it's job. Apparently Cat Z has felt a need to leave such reminders of his own prowness in pest elimination problems. Obviously cats really do have a sense of humor as well as a sense of pride. Perhaps he just felt like the only thing missing from my observing equipment was a mouse, eh?
Because it's in the bag.
"Cuz' I'm wasting my time... Wastin' my time... Again.... Whoa, oh.... Again."
October 16, 2004 - A Hole In The Sky...
Comments: Here's another Ohio fall weather reality check for you... Either we have cold and clear nights -- Or we have cold and rainy ones. Needless to say, you can tell from the absence of reports that we've had the happy rain for the last few days and tonight was no exception.
We had a group of educators and home scholars scheduled for the Observatory tonight, but for some reason they decided to chose the weather dependent program, so they were (of course) cancelled. Honestly? I think that's too bad because we give one heck of a great program that doesn't require a telescope or stars to be educational and informative, but that's not my call to make. After 8 months of doing this, it simply doesn't matter anymore and I'm happy enough just to throw my "business" and a plate of cookies in the car and attend the monthly RAS meeting. It was nice to see a couple of long absent members in attendance and to actually make a little bit of progress. Most doen't really want to face up to the politics that make a Club a Club, or what it takes to keep the Observatory running, but there are times when you've just got to and that's the way it is.
I've paid my "dues" for another year.
When all is said and done, four of us gather together and head toward a local eatery to have some laughs. It is Dave's birthday! It feels good to have a few spontaneous laughs or get into a straw fight in the middle of a restaurant. It's fun to look at the menu and just say "I'll have that." without really thinking about it and to just talk about nothing and everything in particular. When we are finished? We still don't want to go because we really and truly enjoy one another's company and that is 99% of what keeps us coming back. With a bit of luck? We'll all see each other again on the night of the total lunar eclipse...
If it doesn't rain.
Heading back out on the highway, I hadn't gone too many miles before I noticed I didn't need my windsheild wipers anymore. A few more miles down the road and I was seeing stars. By the time I turned the engine off and opened the door? There was a hole in the sky light years wide and the stars were shining. Everything outoors is cold and wet... It would not be a comfortable journey and I wonder at my own sanity as I lay my notebooks down and find myself building a fire and knowing the whole time that I'm going out there. There is not a chance that I will risk a wet leaf or stray raindrop blowing inside the big Meade and there is no where dry to steady myself to use binoculars. What kind of fool would take an optical instrument out on wet and windy night?
One with an old Celestron telescope.
It's mount is used and abused and doesn't work quite right anymore. That quality old Celestron 114mm mirror has dew stains and dust on it, but is still aligned sharp as a tack. The finder has seen better days, but you know what? It's seen worse. The 25mm eyepiece I chose has had thousands of eyes look through it and seen countless fingerprints, but still remains one of my favourites. The old Celestron doesn't mind if I'm wearing snow boots and sweatpants... And I don't mind if it's less than perfect. We make a good team and together we walk into the hole in the sky.
The M15 is still right where I left it. Still a little powerpunch globular cluster and still an old favourite. Oddly enough, someone appears to have left that old Andromeda galaxy in the same spot as well and apparently the M32 and M110 lack the motivation to have left for better climes. Cassiopeia sings and the M101, NGC457, M54 and NGC7789 harmonize. Better resolved in this small scope than in the large binoculars, but I find joy in both the views. (7789? i could stare all night... i love those large, rich, similar magnitude galactic clusters. NGC6940 and M67 are two others...) I follow the leader and NGC869 and NGC884 are truly superior.
I journey to the M34 and wander across the bright and beautiful M45. The Plieades are going to have to hustle if they are going to make their midnight "deadline" by October 31st... But I know the sky. They will. M1 really lacks the appeal that is there with the big scope, but it certainly rocks out far better than it does with binoculars. The little binoculars show it is as an averted, very small glow... The bigger ones leave no doubt that you are looking at the M1, because the magnfication is similar to what the 4.5 does. In the old Celestron? What does not occur in either set of binoculars begins to happen... The "living" quality to the polarized light. I would think that would show better with two eyes than just one, but it may just be a resolution thing. It doesn't matter to me if I don't understand all the mechanics behind the instruments. Maybe one day I will and maybe it will always be beyond me. What matters most to me is that I am seeing it... Not the great big hole in my head where the "scarecrow" wishes she had a brain...
But the hole in the sky.
"Well, you can't fight the feeling. And there's no reason.... Why you can't make the call and take it all...
October 12, 2004 - Dancing at Dawn...
Comments: Last night wasn't a night meant for observational astronomy. It's been a week since I've had a day off, watching all these clear and deep skies go by and just waiting on a time when I could just go out play until my heart was content...
And ya' know it was cloudy.
I kept going out to check... And going out to check... But each time I'd walk out on the deck the clouds were stringing their way across the stars and it was just hopeless. It is pretty, though.. The whole sky looks like a giant nebula with star points winking here and there. A great setting for a little science fiction daydream, huh? But I'd rather be doing tonight than dreaming.
Catching up on some sleep, my body is just accustomed to being up very early so it's no surprise that I am awake before dawn. Coming back to consciousness, I can see the chamomile blooms brushing the lower part of the window at my head, and the pinkening of the sky behind them. As I focus, I can see something else as well... Venus high and bright in the sky. There is something more just below my upside down line of sight and I find myself rolling over on my belly and staring out the window...
You should see the Moon.
Fully awake now, I threw off the blankets and scrabbled around for some clothes to warm. The Moon was just coming up over the treetops and minutes later my cup of coffee, my dog and myself were standing at the edge of the east field watching a pure vision climb higher and higher into the dawn skies. It looked like a ring. As the eastern half cleared the trees, I could see the slimmest crescent imaginable. It was a deep gold in color, but it was not the crescent that stole the show... It was the "earthshine". All the way around the Moon was a thin line of gold and you could see the dark maria inside the shadows like a double negative.
Perhaps it was the crisp, cold autumn morning with a hint of woodsmoke on the air. Maybe it was the wet grass, soaked in dew and a tender fog hanging over the fields. Could it be the influence of Venus blazing like a beacon ahead of the rising Sun? Is it possible that the sight of one of Comet Halley's offspring, blazing in a fiery train of glory across the skies is to blame? Was it the fading stars of winter? Or the first sight of Jupiter winking in the mist? It might have been the mixed ambrosia of the aroma of black walnuts and the taste of coffee... But whatever it was?
I felt like dancing.
"Well, this is not for real. Afraid to feel. I just had to fall... To lose it all. And I'm wastin' my time... I'm wastin' my time..."
October 10, 2004 - Laid Back...
Comments: Same date as the last report? Of course. When I end "vampyre" duty, I pretty much have to stay up 24 hours to turn myself around for the next shift. It's not as hard on the body as it may sound, for a few catnaps here and there refresh... But it's hard on the mind. Some people would get grouchy, others get silly, but I usually just fall off the deep end and get super quiet. The entire day was absolute Fall perfection and the night held so much promise that I knew I couldn't just vegetate indoors.
I find the early dark hours very relaxing. After having soaked in the hot tub for awhile and eating well, I was feeling pretty mellow and just the big binoculars sounded like the ticket. The skies are superbly clear and I know from just a glance around that they would support magnitude 14 and edging on 15 studies should I chose to take the 12.5 out for awhile. Quite frankly, at the moment I'm very happy with just the binos. Saggitarius still holds very good sky position and the view at 16X is incredibly rich. Curling up in the redwood chair with a blanket means I can steady my hands suprisingly well and I continue to be amazed as the binos deliver a view that almost matches the 4.5 Orion with a 25mm eyepiece. Messier after Messier falls into place and it is an amazing experience to just soak it in with such ease. The entire Milky Way offers such richness of view that you have to stop and think about what you do and why you are doing it.
There's probably a lot of people out there that think it's a shame that I don't have a highly competitive astronomy nature. If I study a particular field, be it with a monster telescope or just a cheapie, I do it not because I feel a need to challenge myself to every object in the sky, or to impress others with what I can do. I do it because I love it. Anyone who has ever observed with me can attest to the fact that one time I can be totally brilliant and another totally silly. One night I can struggle for an hour trying to find something as simple as the "Cat's Eye" nebula, and the next I've done 35 objects in the same amout of time, let you look at them all, and then sit on the edge of the picnic table grinning like a fiend until the sky turns and we can hunt more. It's just all in the attitude. And tonight?
It's laid back.
To me? This is the simple joy in astronomy... The unhurried, unregemented and unplanned moments of beauty. There is more to it than just "target practice". I am not educated and I am not brilliant, but what I am is incredibly thankful that I've been given a mind that can understand what it is I see. Some people could look at the M22, M28, M54, M70 and M69 and see nothing more than little fuzzy round patches of light. I see them as some of the oldest things in our galaxy... Huddled in the halo around our galactic core. Some might find the M8, M20, M17 and M16 to be just pretty glowing clouds... I see them as areas of emission, absorption and reflection, fueled by stars and spanning light years across the Cosmos.
And I see them as pretty.
I can look at star clusters like the M18, M21, M24 and M25 and describe to you how they look like diamonds and dust strewn across black velvet... Yet my inner mind wants so much to understand a Hartsprung-Russell diagram and push those stars around like an abacus so they fit into a pattern I can relate to. Astronomy is just so much more than looking at the things... And yet it is the beauty of seeing them. I lay the binoculars down upon my lap and sip at my glass of wine. Who knows where these stars take us, mon ami? It is in the beauty of the moment and never planned. How easy it would have been the night I saw the natural spectra of Antares to have just ignored it? Ah... These are the golden moments that make us what we are! It was nothing more than a fluke of atmospheric phenomena... Yet that fluke caused my mind to be inquisitive and the answers that I found make me so much more.
Laying back in the chair, I return to the sky. The M11 is a celebration, the "Coathanger" a smile. I think of all the questions I had when I first noticed certain "properties" about the M27 and how that simple observation lead to a deeper understanding than just making a note that I had seen it. I sweep the fields of Cygnus and the Scutum star cloud, knowing that planetary nebulae hide in the profusion and yet just the simple act of tracing the spiral arm of our own galaxy can bring so much pleasure. Laying the binoculars down again, I smile up... Knowing how it will turn against the obsidian backdrop of the night and wondering if there is anyone else out there that can just look at it move and feel the same simple rush wonder of knowing and understanding the galactic plane.
H comes to sit beside me and I am happy to rumple his ears. He might not care if there is a planetary nebula in the M15, but he knows he likes being outside at night with me. He picks up his windfall walnut and goes off to play... Never once knowing that another galaxy shines above him, yet I know his eyes are capable of seeing it. I could stare into the Andromeda Galaxy forever, understanding every working part of it... Yet at the same time wish to be as carefree as a big, black german shepherd who can see it, but prefers the simple nut.
"From childhood's hour I have not seen... As others view. I have not seen... As others saw. I could not bring... My passions from a common spring. From the same source I have not taken... My sorrow. I could not awaken my heart to the joy at the same tone. And all I loved? I loved alone."
Sing it to me, Mr. Poe. For as I walk fields of Cassiopeia, I feel you and feel for you...
"Then, in my childhood, in the dawn... Of a most stormy life, was drawn. From every depth of good and ill to the mystery which binds me still. From the torrent, or the fountain... From the red cliff of the moutain. Frome the Sun that round me rolled in its' autum tint of gold. From the lightning in the sky, as it passed me flying by. From the thunder and the storm and the cloud that took the form. When the rest of of Heaven was blue... Of a demon in my view."
And so I end appropriately at Algol. My eyes have been filled with stars once again and my mind taken on the wings of eternity. Perhaps I am going crazy at last, eh? A night worthy of the faintest of studies and yet here I sit, with a pair of binoculars, an empty wine glass...
And a head full of dreams.
"I see you waiting... I'm lonesome. Lonely. I see you waiting..."
October 10, 2004 - Enter Auriga...
Comments: Back to being the "Vampyre" again. The first night wasn't too bad. Ohio weather cooperated grandly with sleeping and produced enough light rain and clouds that the sky held no interest. Catching up on my sleep, I was awake and quite ready to go by the time the date had changed. And the stars?
I could not believe at that hour that Lyra was about to totally disappear, Aquila was low to the west and Cygnus was nose-diving. It seems so funny to me to see that Pegasus is already westering, Perseus holds high court and Auriga is in the house! Pulling the dob around to my favourite spot, I decided to stick with the 26mm only and do a little "refresher" course in Auriga.
Theta, of course, is my first choice and I happily watch as the scope stabilizes and Orion emerges bow first from the eastern horizon. Grinning at a random meteor, tonight I have with me nothing more than the Peterson's Field Guide and a piece of scratch paper stuffed in my pocket with my keychain red flashlight and a pencil stub. My first "hunt" is for the NGC1664 and it is an admirable target. Well suited for large aperture, the NGC1664 is a continual series of overlapping "rings" of faint stars. Very pretty and calming... The next is familiar to all, the M38 and I think it is by far the finer of the three Messier objects in Auriga. A vast cloud of ever fainter stars and one that I appreciate!
Going southwest, my next hop is for open cluster, NGC1893. Several dozen members make up this worthy little open cluster and I can detect only the faintest whisper of nebulousity that is supposed to accompany it. The only clear-cut nebula in this area is the IC405, or "Flaming Star". Granted, Auriga's position could be better, but I take what I can get, eh? And the IC405 looks like a smeared star... Very similiar to the Merope Nebula.
Of course, I must visit the M36 and M37 as well! One simply does not trip around in Auriga without looking at them! Nice, very "stellar" groups and truly easy for all. But the last? The last is not easy. My aim? The NGC1499, or "California" nebula. Again, sky position may have possibly helped, or a lower power eyepiece. I scan the area but what I can see reminds me of the Veil. It is a whisper of smoke that drifts here and there... A long tounge of softly "glowing" stuff... But no real form.
Covering things up, this is enough for now. I take the dob back to the garage and put my small binoculars in the car to take to work with me. Who says you can't practice astronomy on breaks, huh?
And so I did.
More than anything, it was an experiment to see what can be seen with absolutely the worst conditions you can imagine. Every city has them... Everyone has been there.... Picture ~T standing in the middle of a parking lot in a Towne Center of every store you can think of happily light polluting the skies beyond belief trying to find the M42. You know what? You can. You can see the M42, the M41, and the M35 as well. If I could have figured out where Monoceros was in all the light? I'd bet you could see the M50, too.
Right before dawn I went back out again. The last quarter Moon and Venus were just rockin' the sky. Leaning up against the light post, I pointed the binoculars that way and loved every second of it. It wasn't long until I was practicing Espanol and showing Mond, planetia Venus and planetia Saturn to others as well. They teach me Spanish, I teach them English... And we both enjoy what we see! One by one, the curious stopped and the binoculars were handed round. One person brought me a cup of coffee from McDonalds... Another is the dude that drives the lot sweeper and carves me a cave to park in the snowbanks each year. A couple were just curious as to "why" I was standing out there... I even involved a co-worker or two, eh? It just made a Sunday morning a little more special.
Now, I better head back into work. There's tons of numbers to crunch and hours and hours to go yet. The break was fun while it lasted. I've got a much clearer notion now of what a "city dwelling" astronomer has to deal with...
And I'm glad I live in the middle of NoWhere.
"And I'm wastin' my time... I'm wastin' my time, again.... Oh, oh, again...."
October 7, 2004 - Takin' It Easy...
Comments: Ah, man... What a day. Long one? Yes. I didn't take off my work boots until 8:30 and the day started at 6:00. I'm hungry and it's too late to fix anything fancy. I'm tired and just going to bed feels pretty tempting. But I'm also wound tighter than a transformer for a Lionel train, ok? A lot is going on in my personal life right now and there is two sure ways to cure "stress" for me. Writing...
Right now I don't want to look at any keyboard... No matter how familiar! Shucking the work duds off, I hunted down some sweats that had probably seen cleaner days, but didn't care. H is doing the Saint Vidas dance wanting outdoors, and while he's running? I'm laying my binoculars out here on the park bench to cool down and raiding the refrigerator. I watched the stars coming out on my trip back and anything that even remotely looks and smells like food is welcome. Beer? Hey, it's liquid bread - it's good for you! Score one for the food pyramid. Hmmmmm... Velveta slices? Dairy group. Got it. Protein... protein... where for art thou protein? Mori-Nu tofu! Cook it? Forget it. You'd be surpised at how good it tastes right out of the carton... And it saves dishes, too! Now all I need is veggies... Veggies... Veg... Dill pickles once started their life as cucumbers, didn't they? Darn right they did. Now all I need is fruit... An ancient carton of single serve Fruit Loops!
Carrying my well balanced meal toward the back door, (hey, now... it was well balanced. i could carry everything at once.) I deposited it on the deck rail and took the spoon out from behind my ear and stood it upright in the tofu. Unwrapping a Velveta slice, I folded it up, stuffed in in my mouth and headed for the garage. Time to turn on the rock and roll, grab my notes and field guide and sit down! Watching for random meteors, it didn't take long until the spoon had reached the bottom of the tofu carton. (extra firm, please.) Feeling vaguely satisfied, I chased it down with a sip of bread and opened the maps for Cassiopeia and turned the binos that way.
I am still blown away. Tracing the constellation, it is possible to see NGC654, NGC663 and NGC659. All are small and faint, but splendid concentrations of stars. (we need a pickle.) M103, NGC225, NGC133, NGC189 and NGC129 are next. By the way? 103 is awesome. Another pickle and we're off to another location. NGC7790 and NGC7788. Not spectacular, but there. (barely!) NGC7789? Oh, yeah baby.... NGC457 and then M52! I'm learning all over again and I like this... I really, really like this.
Venturing toward Perseus, I enjoy the "Double Cluster" and shift for the M39. Re-positioning myself for comfortable and steady viewing, I opened my Fruit Loops and happily crunched my way through the NGC1499 and the M34. I found a cool little one in there that I believe was the NGC1245. The cereal might be stale, but the view of the M31, M32, M110 and M33 were not! Noticing that my hands and my notes bear the strong aroma of kosher dill is the least of my worries at the moment as I lay on my back on the deck and head into Cygnus.
The NGC7000 is quite large and very remarkable to trace around. M29? A snap. And then I started getting into a bunch of clusters once again that sure look like NGC6871 and NGC6883 on my map. I head for the M27 and am pretty positive about locating NGC6830. M71 is a given, and Brocchi's Cluster just barely fits in the FOV of these binoculars. Then? Well, then just laying there was starting to feel pretty good. H is happily cleaning the cartons next to my head and there's one lone floater left in my jar of pickles. Smiling, I put the binoculars away for now and finish off Claussen's finest and chase it down with the end of my Corona. A random meteor is all it takes to convince me that I am now thoroughly relaxed and well fed in both body and spirit. There's some thin clouds to the south that tell me the fun is done for the night, and quite frankly?
"Well, this is not for real... Afraid to feel. I just hit the floor... Don't ask for more."
October 6, 2004 - Heading South...
Comments: Wow! This is really a nice time of year to study certain portions of the sky. At around 9:00 my local time, Saggitarius has started its' descent, Capricornus is coming up towards prime time, and Aquila and Scutum are absolutely perfect. I was kinda' tired, and had thought about just taking the binoculars out... But it's just too daggone clear to pass up. Towing the 12.5 out to the back field, I had a very clear notion of what I was after tonight and so I brought the good 32mm, 2" with me, the 26mm and the 12.3mm. I dislike switching eyepieces around alot, but thanks to Mr. Wizard, an adapter makes things a bit more pleasant when going between 2" and 1.25" eyepieces.
Let the good times roll, eh?
My first target is one I'm not sure I've ever looked up before. I was hard put not to visit the Wizard's galaxy and planetary, for what I am after is not too far above them... But I stuck with the game plan. After some searching around, I did locate the NGC6814 and was very glad I did! It's visible at low power as a small, round patch of light and "lights up" in the mid-range 26mm. It is a perfect circle of galaxy "stuff". Caught in a stellar field with a nearby star, the NGC6814 has a deep, concentrated nucleus and fades wonderfully and evenly out to the edges. Easil seen direct, this moderately bright and fairly good-sized galaxy should be visible in smaller scopes.
I simply cannot resist from there going to the M11! Good old Admiral Smythe dubbed it the "Wild Ducks" originally and right now it is just a breeze to find. Even at low power there are literally hundreds of stars and it simply sings with magnification. At around 5500 light years away, most of these are main sequence, but when being scrutinized, it is possible to see soft, faint colors of distant yellow and red supergiants. Not too bad for something thats around 500 million years old, eh? The star population borders on the edge of being a less condensed globular cluster, with some of them being less than a light year apart. Low power is spectacular, for you can see how Messier might have mistaken its elongated form for a comet. Only the sparkling resolution of aperture gives away its true nature and the more magnification you add? The more stars you see...
Moving down to Delta Scuti, my next object is the M26. Bright and well resolved at the least amount of magnfication, this open cluster forms a rather tight grouping that appears to me to look like the classic astrological symbol for Taurus. The are many "fringe" stars here (several dozen) at magnification which may well be considered part of this open. Very sweet!
And last for me tonight? A journey to Gamma Aquilae and the search for Barnard's Darks. This particular hunt is best left only to the wonderful wide field and rich resolvability of the 32mm. The B143 is nothing more than a glorious absence of stars and starlight! To me? I see nothing.... And nothing is exactly what dark nebulae are about. Have you ever seen a dark "floater" in your eye? This is how a dark nebula appears... Like there's a dimensionality to the nothingness. B143 is simply an oval shaped patch of nothing with a small intrusion of stars on the leading edge. The other half of the "Double Dark" is B142 is south and it appears much, much smaller and more elongated.
Grinning happily at the sky, I return to Gamma Andromeda and back over for my study fields from last night. I dig that edge-on! Still happily combing the fields, I tried for perhaps 30 minutes to pick a small galaxy out of that area... Even hoping is was looking for something almost stellar... But no show. Just the one little booger is all I'm gonna' get in this area.
For now? That is enough. Almost two hours have passed very pleasantly and I feel very relaxed and ready for nothing more than a bite to eat and some sleep. These beginning days of October have been very, very kind to astronomy! I have seen Leo on the rise in the morning and know it is about time for me to change my observing times around so I can complete my small binocular Messier list. But every now and then?
I just gotta' head south...
"I took and chance and left you standing... Lost the will to do this once again."
October 5, 2004 - In Search Of New Studies...
Comments: A very decent dark night here in Ohio and I'm ready to try for some new stuff. Taking out the 12.5 around 9:00, I left it and my good eyepieces to stabilize while I happlily wandered the skies with the binoculars. I am so wonderfully excited about what they can do and I putter around with a map and Cassiopeia for awhile, simply stunned that so many NGC objects are within its' grasp. But the real map I have in mind is Uranometria and I've found a galaxy field which I am confident I can find with patience.
Readying my notes, my first object is to enjoy Gamma Andromeda and then head towards the NGC891. When I find it, I realize why the scale is so nicely drawn on the map... It's quite impressive! Easily located with minimum magnification the 26mm provides, the NGC891 is one sweet, sweet edge-on. Using the 12.3mm wide field reveals a superior structure, with a bright concentration towards the nucleas and the teasing hints of dark central dustland upon aversion. This galaxy is large, bright and definately one "cool customer"!
Continuing to the north, I find the marker star I'm looking for a go back to reference the maps. What I am showing is a field of galaxies... And what I am seeing is nothing. Repeating the hop, I drool on 891 again and drop down to the good 9mm study grade... I return to the proper field and confirm star patterns. I have played this game many times before and I know that sometimes it takes a lot of patience to drawn a small, faint galaxy out.... But out of a field of nine candidates?
I'm only seeing one that's definate and a possibility of two.
Going back to the wide field of the 12.3mm, I go back over the area again, stopping where the star patterns align and use all the tricks I know. I am barely seeing one small one with a star caught at the edge and another at the opposite edge of the field of view that is absolutely on the verge of being undetectable to 12.5 inches of aperture. Without reverting to my computer programs to give me magnitudes, I am going to assume this particular grouping is out of the dob's reach, but possibly not out of its' range. It was an easy enough area to locate, and the NGC891 was well worth the time. Perhaps sky conditions could be better? I make notes of what I've seen in this area, not confident enough at the moment to make the call on the one fairly clear galaxy. Making a ring on my notes, I do a rough field sketch of the star patterns and where my suspects are located. Sometimess bound maps alone are not enough and a difficult field study requires a great deal of reference work. To me? This is the part that keeps it interesting... Actually having to do the work to find out if I've got enough light grasp or not. One thing is definately for sure...
It's fun trying.
"Months went by with us pretending.. When did our light go from green to red?"
Comments: Yet another outstanding clear night in Ohio! I had spent the earlier part of the evening in a meeting with the Observatory Director and it was one of those nice ones where we were out under the stars while we talked. I had brought along the new binoculars because right now I simply can't get over how easy it is to spot things. I know I've often fought with the telescope for several minutes to locate simple things like the M75, M55, M54, M70 and M69... And they are just POW! Right there... Another one that drives me crazy until I've practiced it a lot is the M2... Once again, these binoculars just cough it right up like a cosmic kitty hairball.
As we discussed the weighty issues of politics, I laid the binoculars down and we both enjoyed the beginnings of the Orionid meteor shower. I guess it puts things into perspective when you're staring at the Andromeda Galaxy and realizing what it's gonna' take to keep things up and running. Every so often I would pick the binos back up and simply delight in sweeping Cassiopeia and Perseus. And as Taurus rose? We adjourned the meeting and I headed back west...
It wasn't terribly late when I arrived and still some time before the Moon rose. Knowing I don't have to work the next day is quite a bonus and being able to see the M1 with something as limited as a pair of binoculars means I'm hard put not to want to take the 12.5 out for a run. Hey... Why fight it? It only takes me about three minutes to open the garage door and tow it around to my favourite spot. Leaving off the lights, it only takes me about three minutes more to change into warm, comfortable clothes, snatch a beer out of the fridge despite the white light, and be back out there. Two eyepieces are all I need, the 26mm and the 12.3mm and I don't honestly need a detailed map to find the M1. (ok, i peeked at the field guide... ;) Having the scope in an unheated garage means it's close enough to stable for me and away we go!
At low power, the "Crab Nebula" is a fascinating object. I've long ago done my lessons on this particular object, yet the spectral qualities never lose fascination for me. I watch, knowing the pulsar is generating polarized light, as the "living qualties" shimmer and dance before my eyes. To me, this is so palpable and I cannot help but wonder if there is anyone else who can see it the same. To visually describe it is a glowing cloud with ragged edges... But does not the word "glowing" describe the fact that it is more than just illuminated?
Trading out for higher power, the M1 becomes stunning. It looks like a high altitude clouds shredded and tattered by the wind. (no kidding, ~T? it's at altitude alright... 6300 light years away and it was shredded by the wind of supernova!) The filaments in the structure are absolutely incredible and the embedded stars twinkle to life. I look for the central pulsar, but near the center all I can see are two very small and very averted vision only matched magnitude stars. At this point, I am wishing the scope would either stablize further or that I had a bit more aperture, because these particular stars are a real tease. Letting them alone, I simply revel in tracing each filament with my eyes and delighting in the fact that this supernova remnant truly looks like a remnant, especially to the right... South, sorry. Raggedy, thin, and definately criss-crossed with beauty... The Crab Nebula is definately a premier object for the mid-large scope size. If you have ever seen a reflection bounced from a pool of moving water, you can understand the M1. It has areas that are brighter and areas that are less pronounced, but it always seems to move. That pulsar at the center keeps right on turning like a lighthouse, providing one of the most miraculous and spectacular shows in the sky!
Sighing, I turn my attention back to the night and grin widely at the Plieades. It will not be long until they reach the zenith at midnight and mark the ancient date of Halloween. I smile as another meteor creases the sky and put my eyepieces back into their case. I finish my beer as I cover the scope back up once again, toasting the bright spot on the horizon that marks the advent of the Moon. It was a beautiful night...
And I just felt like being a little "crabby".
"You can't stop the feeling and there's no reason... Why you can't make the call and take it all... Again. Whoa... oh, again...."
October 3, 2004 - Soaking In StarLight...
Comments: Another spectacular Fall day here in Ohio. There are very few of us who live in this part of the world who do not appreciate this weather, and for many it is our favourite season. The days are wonderfully sunny, yet they are not hot... And the cool nights?
Crystal clear and filled with stars.
I knew I had tempted the rain genie a few days ago because I had made a purchase. All fans of Murphy's Law know that any new astronomical acquistion means the days ahead will be filled with rain and clouds with no opportunity to "test drive" new toys. Of course, it is a sound law and it was firmly adhered to, for the night I got the new binoculars was total trash. The next night was better, but I really didn't get an opportunity to use them because I was at the Observatory and didn't do anything more than take them out before dawn to see Venus and Regulus appearing like a double star. (all right, one star was phasic... but you really don't need to be picky.) And when things cleared to perfection and the Milky Way sang and danced at skydark? Oh, brother... You know I was out there.
Before I tell you what I saw, let me explain to you what I saw them with. I had been curious to use a better (or at least larger) pair of binoculars and when the opportunity came knocking at the door to pick up pair of barely used Bushnell 16X50s for pocket change? Well... I changed pockets. I was a little unsure if the eye relief, focus, weight, and all that jazz would be suited to astronomy, but I did know the porro prism design was what I was after and if they did not work for astro I could always use them for birding. How could I resist at least trying when they cost less than a pizza, ok? Trying not to get my hopes up, I had dawdled around, enjoying some time in the hot tub and stuffing pita bread with cucumber salad by candlelight. I had been watching "From Earth To the Moon" over the last few days and when an episode came on that I had already seen, I wrapped blanket around myself, took off the lens caps and headed out.
Cautiously, I just laid down on the deck, took off my glasses and loosely pointed up at the Milky Way in the Cygnus area. Getting myself steady, I adjusted the focus for my left eye, and switched to the right using the diopter to achieve perfect focus for that one as well. When I opened both?
Oh my gawd...
It's a good thing I was laying down, for my jaw would have probably hit the ground. Trying not to laugh and jiggle the view, all I could do was sweep and sweep... Perfect resolution? No. Stunning clarity? No. The stars falling out of the sky and into my eyes? Damn skippy. Parking my back against the house, I raised my knees for leverage and went into Saggitarius. I was absolutely captivated. The M22 is just unreal! Even the M28 just blows right out of the sky. Messier after Messier floats by and I am totally awestruck and the effortless ease with which this aperture and magnification range picks off objects. The M20! The M16! Running back and forth across Saggitarius, I realize that I'm reaching 8th magnitude with ease!! I've got NGC objects just popping out all over the place...
For perhaps the next hour I was everywhere in the backyard to find the perfect vantage point and a way of steadying myself to look at all the sky had to offer. I am not joking with you... The M31 extended even beyond the binocular's field of view and it only took the slightest amount of aversion to pick out the M32 and M110 as well! My gosh... You should have seen the Triangulum Galaxy! And Cassiopeia... And I'm not nutz. You can even see the M57 as well. You can image the extensive list of things I viewed with a quick and practiced ease of knowing where they are at in the sky and doing nothing more than just looking there! And more... oh, so much more.... The Messiers are easy enough for me to remember, but the incredible amount of NGC objects that are within the grasp of these binoculars would require me to use the maps and take notes to keep up with them all.
Am I happy with the Bushnell design? They are a tiny bit heavy, but not unreasonably so. How were the optics? They could have been better, but part of this is because of my own astigmatism. Am I complaining? Not hardly!! For $20 I now have a very worth pair of binoculars with enough light gathering ability and magnification to do justice to yet another AL Club activity. For now? I will complete the small binocular Messier list with... You got it... Small binoculars. I started the project with the little Tasco and will complete it. But I can sure see one thing...
I'm gonna' have a lot of fun for that $20.
"Well, this is not for real... Afraid to feel. I just hit the floor... Don't ask for more. And I'm wasting my time... Wasting my time...."
October 2, 2004 - Warren Rupp Observatory - Public Night!
Comments: It didn't look like it was going to happen. The day dawned grey and rainy just like the one before it. Knowing our luck for Public Nights, I was pretty sure this was going to be another "Cloudy Nights" progam and began assembling things to educate and entertain just in case. What a fool I can be at times, huh? By mid afternoon that good ol' Sun was ashinin' and by the time it was ready to set?
Not a cloud in the sky.
Smiling the whole trip over, I knew this was going to be fun right from the start. Not only have I ceased to miss my Camaro, but I've even come to respect and enjoy this quick little new ride. The "disco traveling astronomy road show" fits just perfectly in the back and I'm here to tell you that it's a blast to drive! Highly recommended on ~T's list of toys to have? A new Mitsubishi Eclipse GT with the 24 valve V6 engine, 5 speed, 17" wheels, leather interior, Infinity stereo and power moon roof. The speedometer says it will do 160... And you know me. "I am not you rolling wheels. I am the highway." So if getting there is half the fun? How fun is it when you do get there?! Let's go find out...
It was good to see that both Terry and Joe had arrived before me and got things opened up. We've already got quite a few people here and ready to go, and it doesn't take long until I've got the audio/visual portion of tonight's program up and running and our guests are free to explore at their leisure and lounge in the Dome while learning about our nearest star. In the mean time, I take the opportunity to set up the Club dob, get the rest of the facilities opened up and the hospitality flowing and ready the 31" for tonight's celestial tour. It is good to see so many new and smiling faces and Joe opens the show by getting the ball rolling with his ground based Celestron. Terry soon follows with his 12.5 and with some aid from the 8, we pick off the bright and beautiful stuff and wait for good sky dark.
When the SolarMax program reaches its crescendo and ends... The timing is right on the spot and I head back into the Dome to get the 31" set on a few sky delights. It is such a pleasure to see so many people here this evening! And it's even more fun to whisk them up into the sky and show them what's out there... A couple of hours passes so quickly and when I go down for a break, I can see that it won't be long until the Moon rises. Going back to the 8, we let the big scope idle for awhile as I take requests for DSOs and teach eager new hands how to do the same. Looking about, it is wonderful to see people crowded around Joe and Terry... We're alive again! With around 35 people in the observing area, it's a fun sized crowd and it's even more fun to show a group of them just how easy it is to find things in the sky without a scope! Binoculars change hands and it is so much fun to listen to others exclaim as the wonderful Andromeda Galaxy blooms before their unexpecting eyes.
Of course, we wait on the Moon and it is not long until Selene complies. First this scope and that picks off our nearest neighbor and eager children see what they were after. Moving the visual one step ahead, I had Joe the camera and in moments he's got the lunar surface on-screen so everyone can make easy observations. The night has grown cold and the hours have passed, but the people sure keep it warm! The last object for the 31" is the Moon and when all have seen? It's time to ease on down the road...
It was really wonderful to see such a renewed interest in the Observatory. There were folks here tonight from all age brackets and each one was wonderful. Some were new, and some would tease me as we rode up on the lift about having been to the eyepiece with me before. (my driving hasn't improved much, has it? ;) As things are being shut down, I go to steal one last look at the Moon and Joe comes to show me something I have never seen before... Eyepiece projection of the lunar image. Using a variety of screens, I know he had me laughing like a little kid as sure enough... You could do it just like you can the Sun!
Once all is secure, I am off again... Time to take the silver speedster west and eventually have an equally wonderful time chatting with two of my oldest and dearest astronomy friends. The date has long since changed, but there is still one more thing that I would see before I go to bed. Dawn is not far away and I chose the binoculars to take with me. H makes a beautiful contrast in the blue moonlight against the heavily frosted grass as he leads the way. The stars of Orion are so sharp they almost hurt your eyes and Saturn sings its yellow tunes from up high. I turn the binoculars to the eastern horizon for one last moment to end a beautiful night...
Venus and Regulus are about to kiss.
"Well, I don't want to see you waiting... I've already gone too far away. I can't stop the day from ending... No more messed up reasons for me to stay."