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December 2005

December 31, 2005 - January 1 - 2005: The Year Ends...

Comments: And it ends with cold rain. It's been a good long while since I have been totally shut out, but it's not altogether unhappy.

As always, the evening begins with visiting my extensive family at our yearly gathering at "The Farm". It is so good to see my many aunts, uncles and cousins again... And to know that one of them has now become the proud owner of a telescope! I think it's awesome and I am sure that Bill won't be long before putting it to use!

Does that mean it's his fault it's raining? ;)

No matter. Once mass quantities of food have been consumed and rounds of hugs and kisses passed about, that it is time to return again. It's a quiet drive across the countryside and through the flap of the windshield wipers I can see the pods of light across the flat landscape that signify the many small towns that hide amoungst the farmland. Here and there some snow still shines in the fence rows, but it won't be long until the rain makes them as gone as the stars are tonight.

As good as my intentions were, I find myself very sleepy. Perhaps it was my fully belly or the warm fire... Or perhaps it was both. Whatever the case may be, I find I have a very hard time staying awake, but once every so often I do go out to check the skies. Nada. Before midnight I was awake again and the station was turned to watch the celebration in Times Square. Readying the shotgun, I look to see H hiding under the desk as soon as the action is worked. Silly mutt. He knows the mechanical sounds of a gun and the results. As he hides, the year ends and I step outdoors to celebrate it as I always have...

With a single, sharp report.

Now awake, I stayed on for a few hours more... But the clouds never did break. It would have been nice to have seen a galaxy, or at very least a star! But, sometimes that's the way it goes. When I seek out the bed at last, it's not long until I am gone...

Amidst the dreams of starry skies.

"December songs no longer I sing..."

December 27, 2005 - The Sun, Venus and Continuing Studies...

Comments: I don't know where it came from, but I do believe that Ken sent it my way. It was a rare day off and I had been busy cleaning up some text and the cleaning up some... ummm... rather un-astronomer like messes. I sat down for my afternoon cup of coffee and outta' no where the clouds broke and the Sun started shining! I quickly considered taking out the eyepiece camera a doing a little filming, but I am just chicken enough to think twice about melting, dripping snow and electrical cords - even when they aren't close together!

Flash frying is not my idea of a way to spend an afternoon, ok?

But, I certainly have no qualms about setting the scope out on the deck and having a look at the surface of Sol. Radio JOVE had been buzzing with the latest activity and I am very pleased to announce that the Sun most definately has a nice outcropping of freckles. We've got two north of the meridian, one almost central and one well rotated in on the eastern quandrant. Two smaller ones reside directly on the meridian and the faculae field suggests we also have one rotating in on the north. Oddly enough, my guess is that almost all of these sunspots hold the same classification for their structure is fairly identical. The largest and northeastern-most is AR841 and it appears perhaps a little less mature than the others at least in terms of structure. There doesn't seem to be much active contruction going on here, but I also know that we have one massive coronal hole pointed our way!

The clear skies held through early evening at it was a good time to also take the scope out and have a look and the wonderfully slender crescent of Venus. My gosh, you should see this. It looks like a fingernail trimming it is so thin and large! Again, I bemoan myself for not photographing, but what's to be seen except for a slim crescent shape? Ah, well. Let's see it back in garage and get down to some business.

As soon as the skies were fairly dark, it was time to continue onward with some large binocular studies. The first was Trumpler 2, which could be just barely included on the eastern edge of the field of view with Eta Perseii. It looks like it might have a couple of dozen members, but not all of them are well resolved. In a rather "door" shaped asterism, most of the members appear shifted south rather than spread evenly.

The next study is Melotte 20 and it is very easy to locate because it involves Alpha Persii. Now here is one to write home about! Covering pretty much the whole field of view, we have a sparkling array of many stellar magnitudes set like little jewels in the dark brooch of the sky. They just glitter everywhere! Cosmic costume jewelry.... Except for these are the real deal! Of course, I couldn't resist my favourite NGC and Messier objects. Binoculars make it so easy....

Well pleased, I figured I'd head back in for while and give Puppis and Gemini a chance to climb well up. Of course, those clear skies didn't hang around for long. Even though it was only about 90 minutes later, they were gone when I returned. But I am not complaining! It was really nice to be out for while in the dark. And speaking of dark... Where the heck is H? Now that the snow is almost gone he blends into the shadows.

Let's hope he's not digging anything up...

"Don't scream about, don't think aloud. Turn your head now, baby, just spit me out. Don't worry about, don't speak of doubt. Turn your head now, baby, just spit me out.

December promise you gave unto me... December whispers of treachery. December clouds are now covering me..."

December 23, 2005 - In Memory of Ranger 1...

Comments: This morning I watched the Belt of Venus slide across the sky. Admired the brightness of Mars and watched as the Moon makes its way towards Spica. I guess it was catching a Ursid meteor that has kept me looking up...

Or perhaps knowing the date.

It was three years ago today that my old observing partner died quietly in his sleep. As the Sun went down in a fiery blaze, I took a branch off the Christmas Tree and a handful of cookies out to where his stone lay hidden beneath the snow. H accompanies me, and his memories are still fresh as well. Ranger's food bowl still stands full and respect is given to the treats that are laid upon the ground. As I stand beside this marker that reminds me that nothing is permanent except for the stars, I watch Venus blaze and remember my old friend.

You see him here as he was... Always ready to go observing with me. He knew when I picked up my eyepiece case what I was about and he was the first out the door. We watched the Sun and the Moon together... And it was his pleasure to keep away the raccoons, opossums, and the deer while we were out at night. I think of all the many times he laid beside me on a blanket watching a meteor shower and his endearing love of playing with a five gallon bucket. The sadness has passed, and the good memories remain. Tonight there are too many clouds for me to want to observe.

And perhaps they are only in my eyes...

"Just throw away your basic needs... Ambience and vanity."

December 21, 2005 - Working On My Collinder Objects...

Comments: Not a bad night... Nor is it a particularly good one. There's quite a bit of pinks to the north, but I don't feel the surge of excitement that I do when it is aurora, so it must be some hazy clouds reflecting light. Tonight I chose both the large and small binoculars for a purpose. My aim is to work my way through a new catalog of objects that I had started several months ago.

Although a lot of folks probably don't know it, the entire vacinity of Orion's Belt is a deepsky object known as Collinder 70. It really is a wonderful, vast spray of stars dominated by the three major members, yet there is also a very nice group that curves away from the center to the southeast.

The next is Collinder 69 and it is a group I have looked at many times and had always thought that it needed a designation of some type. I am sure you have also seen it, for Collinder 69 is the proper designation to the little cluster of stars that surrounds the triangle that marks Orion's "head".

Just below Taurus is a wonderful kite shaped asterism of faint stars sprayed over half of the binocular field of view. This is the northern-most corner of Orion and its designation is Collinder 65. The primary stars of this arrangement can be seen as a slight hazy patch unaided.

Heading for Triangulum, my next view is is also an asterism that reminds me of a music note. It's about half a field of view southwest of Alpha and it is known as Collinder 21.

The next is very sweet, and it is more than a field of view south of Capella. Collinder 62 is not as splashy as the Messiers, but it does have one bright star that can just be seen unaided and most definately appears as an open cluster.

Collinder 107 just east of the Rosette, and it is more of an asterism than an open cluster. It is triangle shaped and has a little backglow to it that may mean some unresolved stars.

Collinder 106 is a hop north and it is definately more visible as an open cluster. It spans about one quarter of the field of view and somehow reminds me of the constellation of Pices in miniature.

This is enough for me tonight, for there is a few more I'd like to catch, but the skies need to move a bit more and the hour grows late for working astronomers. I've found that I really do enjoy using the binoculars on some nights and that it presents new challenges and object to learn. Some of these would be quite good in a small telescope at low power! For now?

Seven is a lucky number.

"Why follow me to higher ground? Lost as you think I am..."

December 19, 2005 - Collecting Photons...

Comments: Sometimes the need is strange. I guess you can compare it to a hunger... Or needing a tall glass of water. There's just something about viewing the stars that satisfies a need in me that is so consuming, yet often goes unfilled. What is it? Is it the need to know there is something more out there? Something beyond our everyday life of work? What is it that draws some of us to what's beyond our vision?

It's painfully cold outdoors, but tonight it doesn't seem to matter so much. The 12.5 is my companion and a big, black german shepherd searches through the snow in search of some nugget just as I search the sky. Seeing conditons are not bad and the night is stable. I find great comfort in those far away cold gases in the Orion Nebula... The "Flame" is ignited, yet search as I might, I can only see the thread the signifies the "Horsehead" - there is simply not enough contrast. M78 fares very well and I reach higher into the sky.

How long since I have viewed the "Rosette"? This really is a superb cluster of stars and the wisp of nebula that surrounds it reminds me of a wreath. My next stop is for NGC 2261 - Hubble's Variable Nebula. How wonderfully comet-like it seems tonight! And the blue... Oh, my. I don't think the snowball can quite compare to this one. The Hubble is the color of a gas flame and is very evenly illuminated tonight.

Now I am feeling the cold, but before I go I move the scope around to view the M36, M37 and M38. Perhaps they might seem like such simple targets, but the Moon is already too far risen and my time has passed. But, oh my...

It sure felt good.

"Don't worry about, don't speak of doubt. Turn your head now, baby, just spit me out."

December 17, 2005 - The AFY Christmas Party...

Comments: Working day? Yep. I came home and promptly fell asleep in my chair and woke up just in time to grab a fast shower and head east to visit with my friends from Astronomy For Youth. Thankfully, this year's party was just a little bit closer to home and I found it with no problem.

All the way over, I watch brilliant Venus and a deep orange, phat Moon rising. How I laughed when I found the house to have Greg ask me what the significance of Mars in Aries might mean... For astrology is not particularly my strong suit. Guess it means there's a party going on tonight!

How terrific it is to see all my friends again! It has been quite awhile since I had the opportunity due to work and tonight I just didn't let the fact that I had been working stop me. It was terrific to see Robert, his girlfriend, Curt, Trish, Greg, Tina, Kamin, Stuart and Al and his wife. We had a good time consuming groceries and talking... And I even learned to play a video game! (although young kamin quite ran circles around me... ;)

Around about 10:00 it was time for me to bid everyone a good night. As much as I hate to leave while there's still things going on, I still have to get up very early the next morning for work and back that up with a vampyre shift. I watched the Moon on the way home, knowing that the edge of Crisium would just be splendid, but there's no energy left to even sneak a peak before heading off to bed.

Perhaps soon...

"Don't scream about, don't think aloud. Turn your head now, baby, just spit me out..."

December 12/13, 2005 - A Taste of Sunshine, A Sliver of Venus, A Distant Mars, A Lotta' Moon and A Few Geminids...

Comments: Clear? Well, kinda' sorta'. It's one of those odd times when you can look outside and there will be no clouds at all to find they are all back an hour later. Does it matter? Not at all. No work tomorrow means I have all the time in the world...

Vampyre shift is over for another week, the doctor's appointments for a couple of days and the bright, promising Sun means I've got to take a few moments to at least look. I've been following all the Radio JOVE excitement over what's going on, and I'd like to see for myself! We had some nice activity, along with a 68% confidence level hit of protons from ShockSpot. While there's nothing gargantuan to be seen, I'm putting my bet that AR835 north of the meridian is the inward rotating "bad boy". We've got a mature, but irregular umbra and a matching penumbra... But some very large followers.

Now my headache and I are going to take a nap! After so many cloudy days I feel like the little fuzzy dude in the movie "Gremlins"... Can you say light bright? }-)

The evening starts with a view of Venus. Right now it's really pretty incredible. While most folks don't ordinarily look because it's so bright and reveals so little detail, I suggest you do because it's rapidly slimming to a thin crescent. It's phasic quality is what really makes it!

Mars? Mars is still grand, but you can see where it's really starting to distance itself right now. Running right ahead of the Moon in the sky tonight, not a whole lot can be seen in terms of detail with the old Celestron 4.5. Even at higher power, you can see the dark markings, but nothing incredibly distinguishable.

Much later, the Moon fares far better with a superior view of Sinus Iridium, Kepler and the fascinating Scroter's Valley, an overlit Copernicus and a truly outstanding Gassendi. What a great crater this is! It stands on the shore of Mare Humorum like a castle, don't you think? I just love the way the rilles look like waves washing up to the shores... And now I better go rest again, eh?

Guess I'm getting old.

But not too old to get up at my usual time and wander out in pyjamas, snow boots and a parka, holding a thermal cup of coffee and trying not to pour it down my chin while looking for Geminids. It just feels so weird to see Arcturus and Spica back again! I'm about half tempted to set the scope out and have a look a Jupiter, but a quick flash overhead convinces me that I'd rather just watch, eh? A wonderful fellow from down under had sent me a clip of a bolide and really got me going again. It was pretty incredible!

While the show was somewhat hampered by occassional gauzy clouds, it still wasn't too bad. Between 4:30 and 6:00 (when i wasn't slipping back in to warm up with my nose pressed against the window) I caught 14 meteors... Several even through the glass! (highly recommended for us old farts - lay on the floor with a blanket and a big dog and watch out the sliding glass door.) While this isn't an outstanding fall rate, it was still awesome to know that I had seen some of the remnants of Phaeton burning up in our atmosphere. Somewhere around dawn, I tired out and went back to bed again - Sans parka and snowboots.

Winter... Don't ya' just love it?

"Why drink the water from my hand... Contagious as you think I am? Just tilt my Sun toward your domain... And the cup runneth over again."

December 7, 2005 - The Moon...

Comments: And what have we tonight but clear skies! Of course, this is the calm before the big snowstorm and I can tell you now that it is also unreasonably cold out there.

Do I hide inside or do what I love to do? When I see Venus I realize that it has been so very long since I've looked at it that I cannot see what harm it will do to set the old Celestron out for a peek. I don't really know (of course i do) why Venus always appears so much brighter when it reaches the crescent phase, but it most surely is beautiful.

Ducking back inside for awhile to warm up, I return a bit later to have a look at Mars and then the Moon. So peaceful and wonderful! Aristillus, Autolycus, the Caucasus Mountains, Theophilus, Cyrillus, Catherina, Dorsa Beaumont, Fracastorius, Julius Caesar... I really just love the place - but I did mention it was very, very cold, didn't I? As in single digits. As I stand there shivering, I can't help but recall a line from Edgar Allen...

"The Moon in the Heavens...
Midst Planets Her slaves.
I gaze for awhile.
On Her cold smile.
Cold. Too cold for me."

And so I politely duck out. In a few weeks time the old body will have become accoustomed to being out in such extremes, but right now it is difficult to keep from frosting the eyepiece and freezing my hands.

Until the next time...

"I've found a reason to show... A side of me you didn't know. A reason for all that I do...

And the reason is you."

December 4, 2005 - The RAS Christmas Party...

Comments: What? Christmas so soon?! It seems that way, doesn't it. No matter. It's that time of year again and what better way to start the holidays by getting together all of our friends at the Observatory and doing what we do best...


When the time comes for the meeting, I am delighted to report what an entirely stress free and productive year we've had. I hand round a beautiful certificate that we've received from NASA for our public outreach efforts. I am delighted when we vote for officers and board members to continue to be of the same service that I have been in the past - and look forward to an even more successful year!

It is so great to see old friends and talk once again. Sometimes there are fewer of us, and sometimes there are more, but many remain a constant. There are good things to discuss - as well as bad - but it makes us what we are.

And I'm proud to be part of it.

"I'm not a perfect person... I never meant to fall for you. And so I have to say before I go... That I just want you to know. I've found a reason for me.... To change who I used to be. A reason to start over new...

And the reason is you."

December 2, 2005 - Collecting Cold Photons...

Comments: Have I been lazy? No way, brother. At very best for the last week or so - and only if you've been very observant - at best you might see a fuzzy Venus just after sunset... Or a few stars in the morning and Jupiter rising. The honest truth is that there has been no skies. It is Ohio, after all...

And sometimes it's clear.

So despite it being so daggone cold, at least the wind has died down for awhile and the stars are out and shining. I don't know where the rouge clear spot came from - but I know I'm gonna' use it! Weapon of choice tonight, sir? None other than that great old 12.5" and my favourite 26mm eyepiece. Wanna' dance?

Starting with Polaris, my aim is for one of the oldest things visible here from our Earth - NGC 188. Yes, it's nothing more than a powder fine open cluster that's not particularly impressive, but holy guacamole... It's 14 billion years old!! And just becaue I love old things, and red stars, Mu Cephii comes next.

Now I'm off to dance through Auriga with the very splendid M38 and its small attendant open cluster, NGC 1907. M36 and M37 soon follow and then I find myself absolutely lost in the "Crab". As always, I am at a loss to explain what it is that I see when I view it. There is simply no other way but to tell you that it "moves". No, it doesn't physically change positions, but there is a quality to it that defies the known laws of sight. As you are tracing a filament, it will see as if an area brightens and dims almost too quickly to follow... Yet it is there. One of the Cosmos' truly wonderful mysteries!!

And why aren't we yakking about open cluster NGC 1746, huh? What I want to know is how Mr. Messier missed it. This is really a very nice open cluster of stars that's irregular in shape, but far from dim. Or how about NGC 1647, huh? It's even brighter!! There's lots of mixed magnitudes in this one. Now here's one that you can't miss. It's a pair of open clusters - NGC 1807 and NGC 1817. The first is less populous, but the stars themselves are far brighter. The companion stars are dimmer - but there's one heck of a lot more of them, ok?

So let's go galaxy hunting!!

Where was I when they passed out the NGC 1507, huh? It's an edge-on! It's a small, faint scratch of light... But it certainly is good to see galaxies again. Ones like NGC 1417, huh? Definately a barred spiral, but more round than cut through... One with a bright core. NGC 1376 was a real mother to find. It's larger than the 1417, but this one is a low surface brightness baby, and not much can be seen except for a mist around the core region. NGC 1637 was definately worth poking around for, however. It's... It's a weird one. My guess is spiral and it's fairly large, but its light is all lumpy looking and not distributed evenly.

And now? I'm cold.... ;)

"I'm sorry that I miss you. It's something I deal with everyday. And all the crap that we've been through... I wish that I could take all that away. And be the one who mends your fear... Thats why I need you to hear. I've found a reason for me... To change who I used to be. A reason to start over new... And the reason is you.
And the reason is you. And the reason is you. And the reason is you."

next year