April 2005

April 27, 2005 - From the Oort Cloud...

Comments: So what's been happening? First there was the snow. We're not talking little fluffy stuff here and there, we're talking about big wet flakes that piled up anywhere from 4 to 5 inches depending on how cool the area was where it fell. In places where the ground was still warm from our Spring weather, there would be nothing except beautiful green grass - with Owl Creek meandering peacefully through it. But on trees, flowers, cars and open fields it looked like dead Winter. Winter that didn't belong because it doesn't snow here when leaves are on the trees and flowers bloom. The day it melted started off cold. When I let H out I could see Jupiter to the west and the Moon was making some fantastic reflections off the snow laden branches. By the time I thought I'd go out? It was gone... Yet I chased the Moon into work.

The days have passed, my friends. Skies full of threatening grey clouds and no trace left of the snow. Here and there I have caught a glimpse of the Moon or the Sun - but never anything more than fleeting. I really doubted tonight would be any different, but when the temperatures dropped, the skies cleared... Or at least part of them did. I did little more than pull the dob just outside the garage door to have a look at Jupiter. It shows wonderful detail, and oddly enough the skies are quite steady. As always, I am fascinated by the waltz of the galieans and all four are very "there" tonight. Even though the hour is kinda' late, I've had enough of TV over the last few days and it just feels good to be outdoors. I wasn't going to journey much further...

Until I saw a very fine meteor!

A Bootid? Quite possibly. The direction is most surely right. This, and the current articles I've been working on, got me to thinking about comets. Believe me, comets haven't been very far from my mind! I swear before all that's holy that by the time I lay down my virtual pen that I should qualify for a master's degree in physics. Has this been a chore? No way, For some odd reason, physics really turns me on and I love learn. I cannot just report on someone else's work... I need to understand it. The words I use will be my own - from studying the hows and whys. And so with great joy I have been lost yet again in light curves, spectra, polarization, chemical bonds, sub-atomic structure, and many many other wonderful things that make astronomy far more than just looking at something. Just try to get me to quit thinking about why the meteor I just saw had a yellowish tail, and what chemical composition should that grain of dust contained to cause it to have such a visible spectra? Once upon a time, an old friend very much made fun of me for my interest in spectra... But everything you need to know about everything is locked inside that rainbow bar code.

But enough! My goal was to view a comet - a comet that is about to play a very important role in history. 9/P Tempel 1 is easily located with larger aperature just north of Epsilon Virginis. Tonight it is in a very stellar field possessing many magnitude 9 stars. Defocusing shows me that Tempel 1 is considerably fainter than the field stars that I have easy magnitude listing for, and I would estimate it at around an 11. Since this is my first observance, structure was key to me. It is hard for me to report on something which I have not seen! At this point I would call it as DC3. I had thought that it would be much more diffuse, but it definately looks like a comet. Getting out my little note pad, I make a quick rough sketch. It ain't exactly quality, but it will help me later when I need to translate it to a proper form. After that, I just stared at it for awhile.

It's pretty incredible when you think that Deep Impact is on its way there right now, and in just a few short weeks will blow a big chunk - like a hundred square yards - away for study. Won't that be grand?! This will be something we can watch right in our scopes!! At the same time, (even though science has assured us that this is really a minor thing and won't effect anything) I can't help but wonder if we should be messing around with the natural order of the Universe. Who's to say that our "little ping" won't ping that puppy into a collision course with something else? We were pretty wrong about how Borelly behaved, weren't we? There's been a lot more than one "Oh sh*t" in our little excursions. What happens if what we do splits it? What happens if our "flying football field" we knock away decides Jupiter's gravity is just irresistable and heads off where we didn't expect it to go? Should we really be up there... Picking a fight with a comet?

Yeah. Bring it on. I wanna' know, too.

"Momma they tried to break me..."

April 23/24, 2005 - A Final Insult?

Comments: Well, after all... These are the "Daily Observing Reports", aren't they? And all I have observed for the last two days is snow...

It is bad enough that I am working "vampyre". Does it have to dump several inches of white, fluffy, frozen stuff on the ground as well? It's like a final insult, I tell you. It looks so strange against the green, green grass - out of place on budding trees and blanketing blooming flowers. Ah, Ohio...

Don't you just love it?

"Mamma they tried to break me. Still they try to break me. Mamma they tried to break me. Mamma they tried... Mamma they tried. Mamma they tried to break me. Mamma they try to break me. Still they try to break me... Mamma they tried.

Mamma they tried..."

April 21/22, 2005 - The Lyrids...

Comments: Could it possibly be any more break your heart clear out tonight? After the welcome rain, the temperature dropped sharply and with it came Ohio clear skies. I watched the Moon and Jupiter rise together - all too aware that it was far too early for the meteor shower. I dawdled around for a couple of hours and when later evening arrived, I fetched my cushion for the big old redwood chair and curled up with a blanket to do some skywatching.

There are times when I wish I was a photographer - so I could capture the mystery of the night. Perhaps it was not meant to be caputered, eh? Best left a thing of the mind... All I know is that at one point I reached my hand toward the vision of the Moon and Jupiter. Now, mind you, my thoughts were astronomy. Making a fist, I held it up - thinking that they were about 5 degrees apart. And when I opened my fist? The most beautiful thing happened...

I could hold the Cosmos in the palm of my hand.

I know it was foolish. I don't know how long I sat there in the moonlight with my hand raised toward the sky. The silver light of the Moon overhead etched stark shadows on the tendons, veins and scars that seem to have become more prominent from all my years of hard work. And within this care-worn hand, like celestial pearls, was the bright beauty of our own solar system within my grasp... Sprinkling of stars all around the outstretched arm. Such foolish notions...

For a foolish old astronomer.

As the hour grew late, my reward was two swift streaks from the east. I called it off around 11:00 and returned again at 2:00. The skies were still quite beautiful and I promised myself at least an hour. The moonlight seemed much more harsh at this time... The chair a bit more cold. It doesn't matter. What matters to me is catching the quicksilver tear of a meteor. For an hour of watching? 6...

Going back again for some sleep, I returned to find the sky wasted at 4:00, and myself unusually rested since I had napped most of the previous day away. Uncaring about more sleep (since i leave for work anyway), I brought the antenna cable indoors and hooked it to my radio and set the dial on the numbers I know to be the best at picking up forward meteor scatter. The rewards this time were instantaneous. Laughing, I turned the static up full blast - just to watch Cat Z run for cover. I was in the shower when the first wave hit, and I simply stopped the water to listen. Oh, my! One... Two... Three! The static returned and I went to find a PopTart. ZZzzzzzzZZZZTT.... PING! Yeah, baby.... I dressed to the sound of the incoming... And packed my lunch to the weird music of outer space. I checked my e.mail, smiling at a missive I found there... And wishing that I had thought to record them. No matter. My conclusions from loosely watching the clock and listening showed a fall rate of approximately 12 per hour, with most "signals" coming in groups of 2-3, for 90 minutes of "radio" observing between the hours of 08:00 and 09:30 UT.

It's funny... The things you can hear in the night if you listen.

"So can you hear your baby cryin' now?"

April 20, 2005 - Joe's Observatory...

Comments: It's not often that you can get me out of the house. Yeah. I enjoy my astronomy weekends and sometimes take an astronomy vacation, but I am not known for leaving the old "homestead" for just any reason...

Unless a good friend asks.

In the last couple of years, the Warren Rupp Observatory Director and I have become... well... quite close. He's an amazingly steady man and he helps to balance me out. Between the two of us, we've brought about changes at the Observatory that were only dreamed about - and we've made them a reality. There's no one there to thank us. We have each other. And so I have watched over the past year or so through pictures as Joe built his "dream" - his own Observatory.

Running between lightning bolts and rain drops, I arrived to find his home as familiar as the many pictures I have seen. I knew when I turned the corner in the twilight that I had found the right place! And so we go into his "creation" and I find myself deeply impressed. Sturdy would almost be a weak word here, folks. This place was built to withstand the sometimes volatile Ohio weather and it will stand against the test of time. The roll-off roof works like a charm and there is enough "space" here to make any one of us with it were ours! From the custom-made pier to the smell of new wood - this is a keeper. With dark skies and a view that rivals my own, I am so proud of what he's done!

The "Dream" is realized.

"And now the dreams and waking screams... That everlast the night. So build a wall. Behind it crawl. And hide until it's light...."

April 19, 2005 - Under the Moonlight...

Comments: I told myself I wasn't going to go out tonight. I had firmly believed that what I wanted most was just to watch some mindless television and unwind. I just wanted to sit there and think mindless thoughts and preferrably view a re-run so no brain circuits were involved. I was just going to sit here and not look out the windows. I was going to pretend that silver light shining on my window was coming from somewhere else. I was going to just drink a beer and think no where thoughts...

Until I couldn't ignore the Moon any longer.

Why do I do it? There's a very simple answer. I love it. If you took away the night sky - I would never be happy again. Oh, sure. I would still smile and enjoy life, but a great big piece of me would always be missing. And so as I stand outdoors and see that distant orb shining above, I go to the garage and a 12.5" telescope follows me and the sound of rock and roll out into the night.

Ah, fair Gassendi! What a beauty you are. Your walls are shallow, but your ancient face is what I seek. Somehow you look as though the sands of time have tried to fill you in, but there are deep runnels that cut around your central mountain peaks, like cracks in dried mud. I see small pockmarks alongside them, marks that speak of craters younger than the rimae. There are long dunes that stretch away from you, like stretch marks across the belly of Mare Humorum.

And I wonder if I'm losing my mind.

Funny that. I didn't know I had any to begin with! Needless to say, despite the slight haze to the sky - conditions are incredible stable. Mare Humorum itself tonight looks much like an ancient ruined crater and I'm enjoying what I see on the terminator. The craters on this edge are almost horse-shoe like in appearance, seeming filled in from drifting sands. Of these, Lowey is the smallest and Hippalus is the largest. There is a very outstanding mountain at the edge called Promentorium Kelvin, and the Rupes Kelvin are very oddly straight.

When I have drank my fill, I move on the Jupiter to watch as one of the galieans has just completed a transit... and on to Saturn to smile at the very close apparition of Titan to one of the inner moons at the trailing ring edge. The "troopers" in the lead are so tight that it takes ven more magnification to pull them apart! Last for me is to just have a look at Cor Caroli before I call it a night... The faded blue and orange always pleases me. Smiling, I cover the scope back up and put away my eyepieces. I asked for mindless, did I not? And so I have been. Lost in a mindless journey across space. The sights I have seen are as familiar to me as a comforting old re-run. Yet the comfort I feel from being out in the night...

Is far more real.

"Still the window burns... Time so slowly turns... Someone here is sighing. Keepers of the flame - Do you hear your name? Do you feel you baby cryin'?"

April 17, 2005 - As Beautiful As Fire Against An Evening Sky...

Comments: "You fuel the lost desires... And I no longer want to die. You take me by the hand. Let me see beyond the light. You strip away my senses... Leave me needing. Leave me high."

You know, that's an absolutely incredible accoustic song. Just love it! "Seether" is definately an outstanding group with a very wide range of talents. And so what does that have to do with this evening? Well, a fire against the evening sky was what I had. After the winter's ice storms, I had quite a collection of branches going on (we call them brush piles) and it was time to take care of them before the rabbits or groundhogs decide to move in. Right now, as you can tell from all the clear skies reports, we've been in a pretty dry spell, so the wood was very cured and all it took was a few well-placed accellerants to ignite the pyre. Am I dangerous? No. It's in a open field. When it has cooled, I will rake the ashes into dirt and new life will come from it. There is a certain glory to fire, a beauty that knows no bounds. I watch the Moon overhead as it shimmers in the haze of the heat - proud that my fire is clean. Once in awhile, a hot ash lifts on the columns of super-heated air and looks like a star reaching for heaven.

And the stars answer in kind as they come out one by one...

When all that is left is embers, I carry the old Celestron out to journey to that farway Moon. Things have changed in the fourteen or so hours since I have seen it last. The terminator has passed beyond the range of mountains that make up Eratosthene's "tail" and you can see the very beginning of Copernicus in the distance. Where once the "Straight Wall" was a crest, it is now lost as a bright wash on the edge of Mare Nubium.

And Plato looks on with its blank and loveless eye...

"So can you hear your baby cryin' now?"

April 16/17, 2005 - The Sun, the Moon and the Meteors...

Comments: Still sunny here in Ohio, and yet another chance to observe, sketch and document recent activity. Right now, the best the solar surface has to offer is 752 and this Eso, beta-gamma classed cutie has undergone a few changes in structure over the last few days. Those followers are shifting! 754 is a simple fellow and is beginning to pick up speed on 752, while 750's tiny form has reached the limb in a nice faculae field. Actually, it all looks pretty quiet, but at least the Sun isn't blank!

Of course, working hours are what they are. I would have far preferred to have joined my friends at Malibar Farms and given an "Astronomy Day" presentation. (i think i'm the only one that remembered...) But, sometimes things have to give and tonight I have to work. When I get back up later on to start in again?

Well, the Moon is with me.

The old Celestron and I went out for a look, and while I enjoy Eratosthenes, to me the "Straight Wall" is just a lot more fascinating. Tonight it is black. The reason? The western half of the wall is lower than the east and this throws the shadow into darkness instead of light. It's not highly prominent - just a mechanical pencil line that stretches away from Thebit - but it's still cool.

I thought perhaps I'd take the 12.5 out and work on some more double stars. At least that was the game plan until I saw a meteor fling out of the southwest. Sometimes it doesn't take a whole heck of a lot to distract me, and I find myself quite content just to curl up on the park bench and sky watch. Chances are good from the very faint, short trails that I am looking at the Sigma Leonids. In 90 minutes of observation, I caught 5, short silver trails whose radiant definately points toward the Leo/Virgo border. I did not use binoculars tonight - because I didn't want to miss any while I was drooling around on the stars!

They have a way of sneaking past, you know...

For now? I am outta' here. I'm tired, but I really treasure the time I spend in study before I go to work. It might sound dumb, but there is something very pleasant about watching the stars while having a couple cups of coffee and my highly-forbidden-but-still-indulged-in Sunday morning cherry danish. (it's hard to go "woo hoo" when you mouth is full - but i still manage. ;) As I head out on the road, I drive right for that setting Moon, relishing its larger dimensions toward the horizon. Yeah. Working nights isn't fun... But, hey!

Isn't that when astronomers are at their best?

"And now the dreams and waking scream - that ever last the night. So build a wall. Behind it crawl. And hide until it's light...."

April 16, 2005 - Chasing Stardust...

Comments: A title like that... And you know I'm working "vampyre". At 1:30 a.m., there is no Moon - only stars. Although the temperatures are down in the 30s, you know I can't resist going out for awhile. Once upon a time, I would have made the old Celestron my companion, but I have learned to duly respect and enjoy binoculars.

So grab a cup of coffee and let's go!

Simple minded? Sure! At this hour, I'm lucky to have a mind. M104 is low, but it sure is pretty. M3 and M5 are a given, as is the M13 and M56. Melotte 111 is the crowning grace of Coma Berenices and I'm lookin' for more. M10? Got it. M12? Yep. Right there. So what about something new? Oh, my... Try IC4665! This is a real beauty in a pair of 16X50s. M107, M9... M6 and M7. Then the M62! And then I found a real sweetheart... It's called the "Scorpius Jewelbox" and it's right in the field with double Zeta. MAN! Their real names are NGC6231 and Collinder 316... Just sweet! Total profusion...

So I'm sitting here, coffee and map on the deck rail, blanket wrapped around me, thinking I've really missed alot over the years by not checking out more Melotte and Collinder clusters, and out of the southwest shoots a FIREBALL! Now, I don't care what anyone says, even if I'm totally alone, when I see one like that? Ah, man... I am giving out my best Scottish war cry! Wooooooo HOOOOoooooo!! It was so s l o w that I felt like I could almost chase it down, and without thinking I set the binoculars right on it! It was so bright that I couldn't even make out what was happening before it just extinguished... But what it left?

I'll remember the rest of my life.

It left a trail of glowing stardust behind it... One that I could trace for several degrees. It almost defies explanation - for it was as if someone had taken the "juice" from a lightning bug and finger painted it across the starry skies. Almost crystalline, I could see it moving and shimmering... like it was being scattered by the wind. Just really incredible. Of course, I ended up just watching for more with what was left of my time. Unfortunately, that was the only one I got. But once in a while, somebody gives me something like no one else ever has...

And I'll remember that stardust forever.

"No, I'm not all me. So please excuse me, while I tend to how I feel..."

April 14, 2005 - The Moon's Alright By Me...

Comments: What? Use a twelve and a half inch telescope on the Moon? Are you crazy or what?

Yeah. On both accounts.

I've learned a lot about the Moon over the years. I keep learning more and more craters each time I see it and I dearly love looking at the small details - not just because I can resolve them out - but because they have a story to tell. At the far north tonight, there is a nice little crater called Thales. It's bordered on the east by DeLaRue and on the north by Strabo. Thales itself isn't particularly interesting. it's a young'un... But what is? Is how the background relates to it - for it's on an upslope. An upslope that shows extremely clearly under tonight's lighting. Mare Frigorius is far more extensive that what can be seen, but have a look at it's eastern shore. Methinks we might have evidence that there was a much larger, now ruined crater in this area. DeLaRue's south wall just isn't quite right. It's curving just slightly the wrong way and that curve can be followed as a rille to the southeast toward Keldysh. If you push west of Thales, you'll see that upslope continue towards Schawabe. This reminds me of the concentric impact ridges seen on other areas of the Moon. You can see it through Lacus Mortis and remnants around Grove.

Of course, all this wonder lasts until I get to Posidonis.

Although Posidonis is wonderful in a small scope - try whacking ridiculous amounts of magnification on it with a scope who's Dawe's limits rock. Now we got real detail. Details like an X that resides beside its central crater. Details like there is a partially ruined crater ring inside the ring to the east. Details like a long low wall that cuts across the interior to the west... And 1, 2, 3. 4, 5 repeat impact of craters on the north shore - spaced so perfectly apart that you can't help but wonder if this multiple strike occured at the same time. Or the little piles of "stuff" on the inside that might be lava domes more so than moutain peaks... Yep. You just wonder things like that.

And the Moon's alright by me.

"Don't want your aid.... But the fist I've made... For years can hold or feel."

April 13, 2005 - Clear Skies!

Comments: What a beautiful night for clarity... Not the best stability-wise, but man... those dropping temperatures sure made the stars come out!

Along with the Moon...

As you can see: Cepheus, Franklin, Cleomides, Proclus, Atlas, Hercules... Craters you know. Crater I know! But what really drove my curiousity tonight was a big "bump" right on the terminator. As luck would have it, that "bump" was also right on all the splits in my maps and it took a little bit of doing, but investigative reporting is half the fun! If you can see it, its name is Mons Maraldi and boy howdy does it ever stand out right now!

Of course, I enjoyed the rest of the Moon as well as them incredibly clear skies. Despite the extra light, things like M44 and M67 were easy. M42 even showed pretty good form! I cursorily watch Saturn and Jupiter for awhile and surprised my ownself by finding M81 and M82 and well as M65 and M66. Open clusters? Oh, you know I did. The Moon was so close to Auriga that there were stars everywhere!! Now, as much as I'd like to tell you all about them? Ah, man...

I've gotta' go get some rest.

"Now deservingly this easy chair... Still the rocking stopped by wheels of despair."

April 10/11, 2005 - Stereo Skies...

Comments: Sometimes my job can be demanding, to say the least. The demands are not so much outside the realm of what I can perform both physically and mentally as much as the hours that sometimes challenge me. The next couple of days will be immersed in an even earlier than normal "vampyre" shift, and so I quit this world not long after I made my solar observance.

On the solar surface, sunspot 749 is very simple and small. Differential rotation rules and 751 has beat it to the limb! It's only a speck, but there is some nice faculae around it. A little more complex and just northeast of solar center is 750. One large mature umbra, small and asymmetrical penumbra. One mature follower with a small penumbra and a few broken followers.

And now? Off to bed....

I was up by midnight - only to discover when I checked my e.mail that my hours had changed yet again. (hey, thank you.) Rested to the point of not needing sleep, I decided since I had plenty of time just to fix myself a very nice breakfast and go out with the big binoculars for awhile. Between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., the skies are simply superb. I am in a wonderful position to hunt down the M3, M5, M13 and M92. It is no problem to collect the M10 and M12. Scorpius looks terrific and M4, M6 and M7 are very easy. M80 happens, but like the M19 - you've got to be super steady because they are so small. It is truly a pleasure to sweep Cygnus once again... M27, M29 and M39 have been far too long since I have seen them last.

I journey on to Brochhi's Cluster and then the M11 and M29. As the hour nears 3:00, Saggitarius is gaining a foothold in position and I am very pleased with the larger aperture binoculars as I collect M9 and head toward the "spout" for M8. Trailing up the Milky Way "steam" it is with great pleasure I view the M20 as a small, fuzzy blob. M21 is a much nicer heart-shaped collection and the M25 is not as rich as the M24, but far better resolved. M18 comes next and when I reach the Nike swoosh of the M17, I head back to Kaus Borealis and the M28 and M22 are so easy that I smile.

By now, my arms are quite tired, but my mind is happy. My belly is full of pancakes and I have journeyed to the center of our galaxy! I pour the last of the coffee from my thermos and just enjoy looking around. I am ready to take on the "Ring" again, and I really should have been doing some double stars diagrams, but enjoying some rock and roll in the headphones and filling my eyes with stars seems more worthwhile. A little "stereo" to start the morning! Filling out report forms for my doubles certification too closely resembles work this morning... And speaking of which?

Ah, I better go do it.

"Excuse me while I tend to how I feel... These things return to me that still seem real."

April 9, 2005 - At the Observatory...

Comments: Ah, yes... It snowed rather mightily last week - did it not? And so the decision was made to move the monthly meeting forward until today. For a change, many of us are very anxious about getting back together again. We've exciting news and things to share with one another!

Changes and excitement at the Observatory? Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus. In just a few short months things have started to "happen" again. Gone is the negative attitude. Banished is the apathy that has so plauged things. Now things are not about one or two people - it is about us all and what we can do and achieve as a group. Ideas are not merely listened to and discarded... They are approved on the spot. Where once ways to improve public relations and bring people back were shunned because it might mean someone had to work have been replaced with "If you can do it? Bravo!"
And where once stood an observing area bereft of telescopes - is a "space" crowded with equipment and life once again.

And in that equipment stands one slender, long black tube. It's old - the design long ago replaced by shorter means and lighter mounts. It has a minute eyepiece in its focuser and not one single wire runs to a power source. The finder is appropriate for a BB gun and its only 73,000,000,000 light years off...

But it's mine.

I had been approached by a gentleman who had a telescope he no longer used and he wished to sell it. My first interest is that it would serve the Club, but no one really wanted such a small scope. No one but me. So I bought it. A member of our group lived in the same town as this gentleman, and he purchased it for me. When I walk up the steps, I see before me my "teacher"... The Celestron 114. It is as in a perfect condition as a 15 year old scope can be. The mirror is spotless, but it can use a shade of grease on the gears. When our "meeting" is done, my hands itch to use it. Its "twin" is still in use in my home, for the old Celestron is still my primary solar and lunar observing scope. When I have turned the tube around to where it belongs, I aim in the finder and just enjoy the resurrection of a scene from five years ago...

As I hop to a few things, and they are minor - such as the M36, M37, M38, M35, M50, M44, M67, M65 and M66, I move between our two new Club dobs to aim at a few things and enjoy having Greg nearby once again. Also on hand is Keith with his magnificent binoculars and super steady mount. Tonight old friend Ted has come round with his 16" homebrew and Jerry (how i have missed you!) is once again back and is using the renovated 10" Meade equatorial with some fantastic self-constructed eyepieces. (down right amazing is a good way to put it!) Terry is here as well as Joe... And it is a shame that both John and Dave are not feeling like some time under the stars. Bruce and Joe are in the Dome making some adjustments to the 31" and experimenting with the Argo Navis. Skies are not the most wonderful that any one of us has seen, but it's the "being there" that counts.

For me? The last thing I set the "little 'un" on is the M3. As much as I hate to admit it, by midnight I am horribly tired and hungry - doing well just to stay on my feet, eh? Most everyone has departed and it is time for me to say "Adios" as well. I smile up at the new sign when I start my car. How things have changed! Once I was afraid to even speak up and now I am the President. My ideas were swept under the rug and now they have become a "magic carpet ride". I've watched people shy away because they felt unwelcome... Now we hand them the keys. I was told we do not do "programs" and now they are a mainstay for cloudy nights and embraced by others who feel the calling. Where there was once no money, nor hope of gaining any - there is a future filled with promise and checks and cash at every meeting. Once upon a time, each and every meeting held "bad things" - and now they are a flurry of ideas and acceptance. No more abusive e.mails or haunting threats - we've pulled together a winning team. I had once intended to leave and never come back...

Instead I just came back stronger.

"Momma they tried to break me... Still they try to break me."

April 8, 2005 - The Solar Eclipse and a Canopy of Stars....

Comments: To say that this had been a very long and demanding week would be an understatement. Life sometimes moves at warp speed and ya' gotta' go with the flow or be left behind! I knew what was going to happen today at a little bit after 6:00 and had tried to get a few close friends and fellow observers to pack up and head south with me - but no one was really interested in a drive that would net such a small reward.

But I considered what was about to happen to be a reward beyond compare...

Today a substantial portion of the western world had an opportunity to witness a hybrid solar eclipse. How I wish I could afford to travel to see the "ring of fire"! I had tossed around taking the day off completely and just getting in my very fast, gas efficient automobile and being in South Carolina like I've done before, but right now I'm happy with what I can get. It's been four years since I've seen a good partial and three years since I've viewed one that they said couldn't even be seen in Ohio! Anyhow, a few well place phone calls during the day gave me the opportunity to set up on the roof of one of the southern divisions of the company I work for. Very much like the Venus transit - it happened too fast! No time for fancy imaging equipment... And I had to share the view. But, dang... Chasing is fun!

Eating my dinner out of a paper bag on the way back home, I knew the skies were going to be premium tonight and again I had a decision to make. If I wanted to drive another hour to the east, I could be at the Observatory and viewing some pretty remarkable things through a 31" telescope, but I've had enough travelling for today, thanks. I'd rather make myself a pot of coffee, get the next article cranked out and just putter around in my own backyard with a very fine Meade 12.5 dobsonian. Let's just say there's a comet I'd like to catch again as well. ;)

Around 9:30 the skies were perfect. The "Magnificent Machholz" was happily lodged almost directly between Dubhe and Polaris! Near a relatively bright star, it has become diffuse and difficult to judge accurately the magnitude. Trying to keep my head in the game, I decided at that point to drop back down to M81 and M82 and here we are very near to the same brightness. Grinning at the sky, I know full well I should be "working" - but I just wanna' explore! Do you know how long it's been since I've seen "Coddington's Nebula" or the "Blackeye Galaxy"? I want the "Sunflower" and the "Whirlpool"... I just wanna' stare at the "Somebrero" until it feels like my heart is gonna' break right in two. I just want to enjoy what I do no matter how long it takes me to find them - or how late it gets when I should be sleeping. I just want to journey every where from the M3 to the little galaxy that accompanies the M13...

With complete joy.

"Keepers of the flame... Do you hear your name? Can you feel your babies cryin'?"

April 5, 2005 - The Sun...

Comments: Wow... Sunshine, again? Yes! And temperatures in the 70s as well. Hard to believe we got so much snow just days ago!

Of course, I dutifully set up for solar observing as soon as I got home from work. Full disc drawing made, information entered, sir. At this point, I have made enough observations to qualify for my study. Am I ready to stop? Nah. I've got a few extra observing forms I copied and I will play it out until I have documented (properly, in some folks opinion) two full solar rotations.

747 is still shifting shape and has grown slightly. Now entering the northwestern quadrant, it's been a lot of fun to watch this little baby go through its changes. It still sports two very mature umbra regions and a great series of followers. The penumbra is irregular, but who cares, eh? I like them irregulars. ;) Companion series 748 and 749 are also progressing across the visble surface, but have changed very little in the last 72 hours. Solar minimum is coming, folks...

And so are the clouds.

"Still the window burns... Time so slowly turns... And someone here is sighing."

April 4, 2005 - At The Observatory...

Comments: Another very fine day. Exceedly clear skies and a quick opportunity to check the progress of 747 and make my full solar disc drawing and properly note everything for the record. (hey! it's fun... 747 is definately a "shape shifter", though it doesn't look like any major.) Right now my schedule is exceeding full - But I like it that way. Time to pack the SVD8 in the trunk of LYT SPD...

And head toward the Observatory.

Joy ride? Not tonight. My early work hours have definately curtailed any type of weeknight study unless it is here in the backyard. Tonight I am going over to meet with some very special friends of Warren Rupp Observatory - Ellen, Diane and Kathryn. We have wonderfully clear skies for their visit and both Joe and I are looking forward to it.

I arrived plenty early and no sooner had started to assemble the SVD8 when Joe arrived. It has been a very long time since I have broken it down for travel - and even longer since I have used it. As Joe and I stand talking, the unthinkable happens. One of the legs of the tripod decided to "let go"! You talk about two old farts moving fast... I scooped the optical tube about knee height and Joe grabbed the mount at the same time. For those of you who read these reports? I mean no disrespect toward Orion, but their mounts are tripods are junk. I treat my equipment like equipment, and I will tell you now that after a few seasons of use - you've reached your maximum road miles. The same holds true for my Orion ShorTube 4.5... The polar axis is no longer trustworthy. In short? If you want a telescope that you will use every now and again, Orion is fine. If you want a telescope to work with? Get a Celestron or Meade.

Catastrophe diverted, we get things open and the Dome ready to go. John joins us thereafter and not too long after the ladies arrive, so does Bruce. With beautiful clear skies, we are able to show them all the wonders of the Universe - from planets to galaxies. They show this wonderful excitement, and once again it is the true privelege of the amateur astronomer to hear someone go to the eyepiece for the very first time. As they enjoy the 31" with Bruce, the rest of us take off with our ground based scopes and just dig on warmer temperatures and clear skies.

Menu? Oh, come on. The SVD8 fights with me as it always has. I want it to go there... It wants to go here. But, it doesn't matter. We all do our thing. Mine was the M45, M1, M42, M76, Sigma Orionis, M41, M96, M46, M47, M44, M67, M35, Gamma Leonis, M105, M95, M96, M65 and M66. By then, the ladies were exhausted from both travel and moving between scopes. No sooner than Ms. "Rulebreaker" here had turned the scope (mount and all thank you.) around to start through Ursa Major and Virgo, they were ready to go. Last call for me tonight? Cor Caroli...

My heartfelt thank you to Family Philanthropy Assoicates and the Fran and Warren Rupp Foundation. Your on-going support means so much more than mere words of appreciation.

As we bid them adieu, it is also time for me to head west. Bruce is off to study and as much as I would like to - I cannot. While putting equipment away, he calls out to come and look at Abell 20. It is an astronomy "coup" and I am glad to come and observe. Surrounding a triangle of perhaps 19th magnitude stars is a faint area. Planetary viewing is tough, but if you understand what to look for you can see structure. My guess is that it is around magnitude 16.5. While planetaries are circular in nature, Abell 20 looks a great deal like the letter G. I definately see a hole in the structure. Bruce moves it off to NGC2392 before I go and the "Eskimo" comes to life with a nebular filter. Bright? Too bright! The central star is a hint, but aversion shows a very strong inner ring duality, like a telrad finder in green. Without the filter, this is the Eskimo I know. Perfect central star, pockets in the condensation and a faint outer halo.

I appreciate his help this evening. When it comes to astronomy "rules" - I am not a role model. My outlaw style suits me just fine, and when I know the SVD8 is safely tucked away in the dome (sans mount, thank you.) it is time for me to go. I watched the stars all the way home and had the hardest time unwinding once I got there.

Cuz' sometimes sleep doesn't come easy.

"Now they're off to find the hero of the day... But what if they should fall by someone's wicked ways?"

April 3, 2005 - The Sun and the "Field of Dreams"...

Comments: We are all deeply saddened to hear about the death of Pope John Paul II. Although it was a natural one and was expected, the world still feels the loss. And then Ohio got hammered. After what has felt like the Spring season coming? It snowed and it snowed with a vengence. In a matter of just a few hours, the second day of April got anywhere from 4 to 6" in some areas of the state. And that my friends?

Puts observing to a halt.

But, we have very strange weather - a whole lot like Colorado flattened out. By today the Sun was back out and shining, and by mid afternoon most of the snow was gone. Delighted so I could continue with my solar observing, I set the 4.5 out and had a look at the surface. Well, hello there little guy! We have a newly forming sunspot just slightly north of solar center and I do believe this is the same little 747 I observed last. Grown a little haven't you? Not terribly complex, but still nice to see a little activity and a couple of smaller ones (748 and 749) rotating in on the limb.

Of course, the night was absolutely wonderful. I don't appreciate the change that daylight savings time brings about - but I'm sure I'm not the only astronomer. I was out and pacing before it was truly dark enough and although it wasn't high enough for a really great view - enjoyed Jupiter for awhile. I like to watch the galieans shuttle around and find it exceptionally impressive when they are either close to transit or eclipse. Saturn also looked very well with Titan following along behind and the tiny twinkle of the inner moons along the leading edge. I puttered around for a bit, just enjoying have the 12.5 out again. I think the whole world should have a dobsonian, for there is nothing more wonderful than freedom from an equatorial mount. Why... It's almost as easy as binoculars! It is no problem to head off to M44 and M67 one minute, then over to the M35 and back across for the M50. As easy as you can say "Cheese, please" you can scout down the M81 and M82 as well as the M65 and M66. No fighting with knobs or levers...

Total freedom.

And when the skies are right? Ah, man... I am off to that wonderful land between Denobola and Vindemiatrix. How many do I recognize? I know the bright ellipticals and equally bright spirals can only be Messiers... But I also know one particular field when it falls into the 32mm eyepiece - this is one of my favourites. As always, I laugh and clap my hands like a child when I find it. The M84/86 area just dances with galaxies.

Do I know all of them? Of course I do. NGC4435, NGC4438, NGC4402, M86, M84, NGC4387, NGC4388, NGC4413 and NGC4425. They have been friends for a very long time.

They live in the "Field of Dreams"...

"The window burns to light the way back home... A light that warms no matter where they've gone."