February 2005

February 27, 2005 - Europa Transit and the Moon...

Comments: Yeah, yeah... "Vampyre" shift again. I both hate and love it, for it almost forces me to enjoy astronomy. When I first got up, I watched the visage of Jupiter and the Moon so close to one another through the window, knowing the whole time it would be bitterly cold outside. I don't know what came over me, but I decided it didn't matter if it was cold or not. When I had finished my cup of coffee, I put snow boots on over my bare feet and a parka on over my pyjamas and went out to grab the old Celestron. At this time of night, who's going to notice?

Besides, no one lives close enough to bother.

First choice? Jupiter. And it was there I froze. At no more magnification than the 25mm provides, I could tell immediately that something wasn't quite kosher and went back to the eyepiece case and dropped in a 10mm. Hola! No wonder something looked a bit "odd"! We have a transit going on!! Needless to say, I didn't much notice the cold as I watched Europa in ingress and the shadow in egress. It's fantastic!

Of couse, I also had to take a brief look at the Moon as well, and as much as I admire terminator features, tonight Posidonius was the true highlight. You could see the faded inlet of Le Monnier and the penninsula where Apollo 17 landed so wonderfully!

For now? I gotta' run. Duty calls, but I can guarantee you that I'll do it with a smile. My mind will see that faraway place and a little tiny orb casting its shadow against a giant...

We were all dancing!

"Dancin' in the moonlight... Everybody's feelin' warm and right. It's such a fine and natural sight! Everybody's dancin' in the moonlight...

We like our fun and we never fight. You can't dance and stay uptight! It's a supernatural delight... Everybody was dancin' in the moonlight!

Dancin' in the moonlight... Everybody's feelin' warm and right! It's such a fine and natural sight. Everybody's dancin' in the moonlight!"

February 24, 2005 - Castor, Wasat, Sigma Orionis, the Plieades, Cor Caroli, Saturn, Comet Machholz and the Moon...

Comments: You can't believe what a long week this has been! Not only have we had the obligatory snow, clouds and cold - but I have spent all of my time doing my civic duty. Before you smile at the thought, remember jury duty is an honor and a privelege of those who vote!! Needless to say, I was feeling like I really needed to get away from things and when I see clear skies?

There's no finer "hide-a-away".

Of course, Murphy's Law rules and the one clear night we'd have would be the fullest possible Moon, eh? I don't care. Not at all! It was wonderful just to go out and split some stars. Castor and Wasat are always nice little tight ones and I really enjoy the muliplicity of Sigma Orionis and the superb colors of Cor Caroli. Out of habit I looked at the cool, blue Plieades and headed towards the "Ring King". Although not a huge amount of detail shows well with the old Celestron, I still marvel at the barely perceptible Cassini and admire those crazy moons! Titan is hugging in real close to the rings tonight...

I can't believe how bright the Moon is tonight! The dusting of snow we just had really is reflecting and I was curious if I could still catch Comet Machholz. It took a bit of poking around, but eventually was no problem. It's good to see it's still out there, still got a little "drag" to the coma and still cutting through! Field? Lota' unrelated stars and no asterisms... Sorry!

About then I decided I'd quit fighting it and have a look at Selene. I know maximum libration hasn't been achieved yet, but you can still see a nice little "toothy" look to the Cordelliera Mountains. It really is a wonderful place just to roam around!

And about ten feet away I heard something move...

Looking at me from behind the birdfeeder pole was a huge black wolf. His head was lower and I could see no expression despite the blue light. When he noticed I was looking his way, his tail twitched ever so slightly and his head lowered even more. His shadow against the ground was tense - waiting. So what did I do? The only thing I could... Laugh! Bounding arcross the frosty ground he made a wild leap past me with teeth snapping and shining it the dark. At that point I knew it was imperative to give chase, so abandoning scope, I turned and simply tackled him. What followed then was a fracas. The sheer joy of an exuberant german shepherd and a master who has the time for play.

If anyone had seen, I am sure they figured I had snapped my cap at last. We ran. We played "hide and go seek", I would look at the stars while I threw what I hope was a frozen stick, but most of all?

We danced in the moonlight...

"We get it on most every night... When that old moon gets so big and bright! It's a supernatural delight.... Everybody was dancin' in the moonlight.

Everybody here is out of sight. They don't bark, and they don't bite! They keep things loose, they keep things light... Everybody was dancin' in the moonlight."

February 18-20, 2005 - The Moon, Michigan and Hillsdale College...

Comments: Am I a busy soul? As always... I had been invited to a small campus to give a "talk" about astronomy and you know me - I love to travel and meet new friends! My burning question, though, was what "bent" to take this talk. Astronomy is far more to me than the conceptual realizations of the science behind the cosmos, and yet what you can "observe" is nothing more than a "pretty" without them! Where do you draw the line? In an institute of "higher learning", even the most bored of students already knows and understands the principles and figures - there is nothing "new" I can teach them. But on the same token, this is also open to the public. What do you tell a 9-year old? How do you inspire the Cub Scout leader? The mechanic? The housewife? Where do you draw the line?

Ah, heck. I've never been able to colour in the lines - much less draw them... Why start now?

And so I wrote an outline. It may be one person, it may be fifty. I don't know! It could be one hundred... What I do know is that in all those faces out there, there will be those who know more than I do and those that want reassurance that's it's OK not to know. And so my goal became somewhat more clear... The joy, the learning, and the experience of astronomy came not from knowing everything first, but the process in which natural curiousity leads a very ordinary person to take the most common of things and turn them into tools of learning. And so, with outline in hand, I pack up everything that I am. A packet of colored yarn, a handful of magnets, salt spread on a paper, the travel-worn posters, a paper towel roll with its thirty cent diffraction grating... my handful of "space rocks". I am astronomy with a flashlight and kitchen timer. Not everyone has CCD imaging equipment, but we own cameras. There is a wonderful harmonic balance between a pair of $20 binoculars and a 20" Obsession!

They both can see the "light"...

And so I seek the bit of solace in what I know best - the love of observing. Although the hour is late, the skies are clear. The Moon and the old Celestron call like wonderful old friends - "Come and watch me. Watch with me." And I answer in kind, for there is nothing more that I would rather do! Here is where you find balance. Like hectic days, the Southern Highlands presents itself - Newton, Gruemberger, Moretus, Short, Clavius, Pictet, Proctor, Tycho, Ball and the ruins of Pitatus. (unless you come from ohio, and we call it pit tay tus... ;) The smoothness of Mare Nubium and the pockmark of Wolf... Bonpland, Parry... Frau Mauro! Singular things, like the unmistakable volcanic peak of Gambart and the wonderous impact of Copernicus. Mare Ibrium has a calmness to it... The essences of Pytheas, Lambert and what will eventually become the bright ring of Euler. Who calls the most? The purity of crater Plato and the upsweep of landscape through Fontenelle to Philohaus. Is it possible to tell someone that you are not born reading a lunar map? Does it help to know that you can love it without knowing what these wonderful craters are named?

Peace comes from contemplation... And from contemplation comes knowledge.

When the next days dawns, I am ready. I realize that I can never rehearse, for like the sky everything changes and you must adapt to the moment. Spinning across the countryside, I wish somehow for familiar faces... and I find them in a flock of canadian geese when I stop at a roadside rest. When the roads become unfamiliar, I become hesitant and as I watch the seagulls spin over the highway, I think of my own lessons of "Lately I'm beginning to find that when I drive myself my light is found." The trip? Like I had driven it all my life. And at the end? A face as familiar as all of those I have met over the years. Her name was Judi and she had graciously given me her home for my stay. You cannot be uncomfortable in a place where you share such commonality! Be it with a pet, familiar book titles, a doorknob, or even a poster of Einstein! I can only smile inside as I think that hers shows "Poppa" at his most proper, while mine has his tounge sticking out!

Ah, how we are all the same - yet different.

We lunch at a coffeehouse and again I am taken on a time trip as I enjoy a welcome chai latte. The streets are unfamiliar yet they are the streets of all Smalltown, America. We go to the Academy Library and I set my rather odd looking collection out in readiness. We tour the Campus to meet her friends and colleagues and again the faces are warm and familiar. I am taken to a wonderful dinner with both faculty and students and I love the animated faces around the table as we go from formal to normal. And all too soon it is time for me to go "do my thang".

As people arrive, I am happy to talk with children or to explain how to use the new telescope. These things are here to be touched, the books of maps are dog-eared because they have been read and used... Not for effect. And when I am introduced? I wish to be who I am... Tammy.

With a mouth drier than lunar dust.

It matters not. I stumble because I am human. (dyslexia is a horrible disease, you know. i was the only child on my block to say "trick or trout". the neighbors knew if they gave me a fish i would be fine.) My eyes cannot focus on what I have written and there comes a point where I lay it aside. What does it matter? I wrote it! I watch the faces instead. The smiles from the learned ones when I have remembered a fact... The smiles from someone who just discovered that something made sense because it was put in a way they could understand... The tilt of a curious child's head. I cannot stand still. It is not who I am! I want to take each and every one of you by the hand and let you feel the wonder of what it's like to touch another world. I want you to run the "bases" of the Moon with me and discover that "rainbow bar code" is for real. I want you to understand how BIG things really are and how far away. I want you to feel the power of the Sun and the majesty of the distant stars. Can I hand you Aricebo? No. But you have ears... And when you "hear" and know you can do it yourself?

Ah, the dreams you can realize!!

Unfortunately, a glance at the clock made me realize that I had rambled on for some 90 minutes. No one was looking at their watch and no one was yawning... But there are telescopes to be explored and questions to be answered. When the people come? I am there. Not as a specialist, but as a friend. Tell me your stories! What you have seen and now how you understand it. If you want quantuum physics? I'll tell you what I know and you teach me what you have learned. Come! Look at these things... Touch them. How rich the laughter when someone who did not see the spectra the first time and tries again to discover! If I cannot give you all there is, at least perhaps I have given you a little part of what it takes.

Live. Love. Look at it with wonder.

Afterwards we re-adjourn at Judi's home. Such wonderful friends... How I wish that such people were around to ask questions - to give answers! The conversation takes many twists and turns and the time moves so fast. When the hour grows late? It is time to rest and with it comes a blissful, pure, deep sleep. When the morning arrives, it brings with it snow. Who cares? I am used to it. We take a brief trip to the home of some folks I met last night and I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to see this great relaxation. Carmen? What a wonderful lady you are! I would have given anything to have been so "at ease". Mama? You charmed me. A smile and a wink from two kindred souls, eh? Ken? You have this spark, for there is a love in what you do! Judi? I wish you love and success. This is real...

And as much as I would like to stay, I must travel on. I will be fine despite the snow and ice. I will wriggle between roadstops and I will smile as the miles go by. This has been another one of life's "adventures" and what you have given me is worth far more than something finite. It has made the world just a little bit smaller and the cosmos just a little bit closer. If it is the power of ten? Then look at your hands. We have ten fingers.

And these ten fingers will remember you all forever.

"I am not your rolling wheels.... I am the highway. I am not your carpet ride... I am the sky. I am not your blowing wind... I am the lightning. I am not your autumn moon... I am the night."

February 17, 2005 - Summer Stars, Machholz and the Moon...

Comments: Hey. I'm always up early. What can I say? When I was ready to leave for work well before dawn, I happened to notice Jupiter shining right through the sliding glass door. A brief check of the clock told me there wasn't time to do any scoping, but I had a minute or two just to go out and look.

I can't tell you how it feels to see Saggitarius again. My hands itched to go into the garage and at least set the 4.5 out for a few moments. Mars shines away, calling my name and the Milky Way simply sings. It is quite a lift to the spirits to see these stars and know that it won't be long until all this snow is over.

I'll be able to swim again...

Many hours and many miles later with promises kept and sleep nearing, I was just going to call it off and get some rest. Like seeing the Summer Stars, there is a certain sense of rejuveination - a joy, if you will - that comes with even the most simple of observance... and so I put on my coat and head out for a few stolen moments.

I recognize the lunar features and am spellbound by a single wall. Tonight Rupes Recta is unlike anything else. For some reason, I usually visit this area when the Moon is waning and the "Wall" is white. Tonight it looks as if someone had taken a mechanical pencil and drawn a line across the beginning edge of Mare Nubium and Thebit is like a sign lighting the way. Totally fascinating...

I watched for a very long time and then took a shot at Machholz despite the Moon. Well... Let's just say it looks a whole lot like a dustball with a short smear of a tail and lots of unrelated and similar magnitude stars in the field directly around it. I really hate to see this comet go. I am sure that it will be visible for quite some time yet, but the presence of the Moon let's me know in no uncertain terms that its time of being "easy" to observe is drawing to a close.

And so is mine...

"I was in your reach. You held me in your hands..."

February 15, 2005 - The Sun, Comet Machholz and the Moon...

Comments: At last another break in the weather! It was good to see some sunshine today and have an opportunity to view the latest sunspots. Although the winds are howling right now, the much warmer temperatures were quite nice even though the "view" was prone to a bit of shuddering. At least this time it was the scope and not me!

Almost dead on the solar equator are a series of three nice sunspots - 733, 734 and 735. 733 has eroded greatly since my last observance and 734 is really a minor area. What steals the show right now is 735! Although it's one of the "quiet types", it is really a handsome fellow with a huge, dark mature umbra and a soft-spoken penumbral region. Around it like sattelites are a few "followers", but the whole region is very quiet magnetically, even though it's giving some great radio data!

Just as soon as the skies started to get dark, I had the scope out in search of Machholz. Talk about a magnificent stellar field! It still has a nice broad fan, even though tracing the length of the tail is hampered by the moonlight. The core area definately seems to be dissipating as well. Although Machholz is fading, that field really made this jaunt totally worthwhile. Towards the south was an outstanding grouping of four stars that I can't believe don't have some special type of designation! Just a really, really nice area to have visited.

The wind is really strong tonight, so my lunar viewing was also limited. It was just nice to trace along the terminator and not think too much - just enjoy! (ok... i know sabine and ritter when i see them, but you've heard me talk about apollo 11 so much, i'm afraid to speak! ooops... ;) Just climb around on the Cau... (cough) mountains, and look at the triple ring of The... the craters. Why, even Maur... (ahem) more of them show to the south! And all the way to the north you could see Ari.. Au... more craters! You know, sometimes it would be really nice just once in awhile to have...

Someone to share them with.

"You got much closer than I thought you did...

February 12 and 13, 2005 - Jupiter, M3, M5, the Sun and Jupiter Re-Visited...

Comments: Weird? Yep. Vampyre shift is weird. After five years you'd think I would have gotten used to it, but it could be another ten and I don't think I ever will. I guess if it had a perk it would be that I'm around to skywatch at some very unusual hours!

The morning of the 12th wasn't very clean. I thought about not bothering, but it really does relax and refresh my mind to be outside for awhile. The old Celestron got the honors and Jupiter was the choice. Nothing exciting to report except to watch the galieans spin out in pairs on either side. The return of Arcturus at this hour is really a lovely sight, and it is with some aniticipation that I practice an old starhop and have a peek at the M3 and M5 again!

The day of the 12th brought with it sunshine and I wanted to see the "newcomer" on the solar surface. 735 is every bit as massive as its well rotated partner-in-crime 733. Both a very well formed and mature - not to mention large! I tried to run some data on them, but ended up falling asleep after I had checked out their magnetic class. I know they are "hot" in radio emission terms, but still pretty quiet magnetically.

The morning of the 13th was no better, if not worse than the night before. Scope? Sure. I set the Celestron right outside the garage door and had a look at Jupiter's shifting moons while H had a run. Not pretty and not clean! It's really too bad that Ohio skies don't always cooperate. It seems like every time I get a chance to have a look a Jupiter that it clouds over soon after! I know that Comet Machholz has now gone circumpolar, and as luck would have it? So have the clouds. I'm not complaining, though. It's just good to be outside and feel things beginning to thaw around the edges and to see the stars shift for the change in seasons.

I'm ready for winter to be over.

"Look at me... My depth perception must be off again."

February 10, 2005 - The Sun, the Crescent Moon, Comet Machholz and Abell 426...

Comments: Hello, sunshine! After days of continual clouds, rain and snow it seems pretty incredible to see the Sun again. Although skies were the greatest when I got off work, it has been so long that I have got to at least peek! I know everyone is anxious for the last solar "hotspot" to rotate around again - and I wanna' see what's there!

Right now there are only two real points of interest. 720 is a small and very well dispersed group... Gone to seed would be a good way to describe it. Nearer the solar equator and east is a nice giant whose name is 733. Here we have a very decent sunspot, but it's not complex. On the incoming limb we have some super distortion, though! Lots of faculae and the Wilson Effect is very clear. Is this the one we're looking for??


And the Sun went down in a blaze of glory. I kept waiting for a pillar, but Rayleigh scattering was actually fairly minimal. Looks like a clear night ahead! As I sat in my chair having after dinner coffee, I couldn't help but spy the very tender crescent Moon. While this is by no means a record, the slender crescent is only around 48 hours old and quite beautiful. The "earthshine" gives it such wonderful dimensionality that it is truly just a pleasure to sit here and look at it.

And wait on dark!

Just as soon as the skies went as dark as I like, I was out there hunting comet Machholz with the 16X50 binoculars. What a super stellar field! I can trace a stubby tail that it still present and despite the words magnitude 5.3, it somehow looks much brighter to me It has cruised on past RZ and SU Cassiopeia, and although it is getting quite far north, it still has admirable sky position from my observing area. As I stand and watch the skies, I can see the little dude. I can see it! What have we here, eh? It looks like a 6.0 night in the making and when even my north skies have good stablity (thanks to looking over heat haze) and this kind of clarity? Oh, you know it... I'm going to study!

So what do you want to do? I think about going into Monoceros and hunting down the "Cone" and "Hubble Variable", but a condition exists right now that is conducive to one, and only one, study - Abell 426. In order to do this, I am going to have to wait for Perseus to wester just a bit more and hope that Algol will hold that minima for just a bit longer. It's time for me to retrieve my old field notes and sketches, hit the maps..

And dance amoungst the stars.

When time comes, I pulled the dob out and readied my study grade eyepieces. The wind is coming from the north and visibility is outstanding. The temperatures might be raw, but who cares? When the 26mm Meade takes me to where I want to go, and 12.5" of aperture lights the field, cold is the last thing you think about. Aligning everything and hitting my marker consumes my mind. When I find the first star I need, it is time to power up, close my eyes, and do my "zen" frame of mind. It's time...

The first study lays right in the field with a star - NGC1224 requires wide aversion. It is faint, round, and shows some concentration toward the nucleus . Held indirect, this small galaxy is pretty impressive. Next stop on the hop is the NGC1250. Very diffuse and small, and also requiring wide aversion. It has a slight "draw" north/south and a pinpoint nucleus can be detected. The next are a group of three, starting with the NGC1259. It is very, very diffuse and faint. It can only be caught by focusing attention on the tiny star in the westward drift. The NGC1260 only requires slight aversion, and is small, oval and somewhat diffuse The third is a real challenge, for the NGC1264 requires very wide aversion to see a round, faint and diffuse signature.

A tiny star at the northeast end of NGC1257 is what makes this ephemeral small galaxy visible. It is round and very faint. Wide aversion shows some elongation northeast/southwest. At the edge of the grouping is NGC1271, which gives me fits. This one is just barely there! The NGC1267, NGC1268 and NGC1269 are three incredibly tiny, very diffuse round "contrast changes" that are on the edge of indistinguishable. Referring to my notes, sketches and maps, the NGC1273 is faint, but the brighter core region holds up to indirect vision. The NGC1272 looks like a small planetary nebula! Much easier seen than the NGC1270, with its diffuse structure and near stellar nucleus. NGC1279 is equally faint, diffuse, and stretches slightly and very evenly to the north/south . The NGC1274 is very faint and very diffuse and is best seen while concentrating on the NGC1279. The NGC1275 is very bright compared to the rest with an apparent nucleus.

And then I lost it...

A tiny thread of cloud was all it took to totally blow my concentration and when it had passed and I had re-positioned? I was toast. I am not mad, though... The wonderful Abell 426 is back again in the eyepiece and like so many studies I have done in Virgo, the small galaxies dance everywhere! I close up my maps and lay down my notes. This is what is truly fun! Just standing here looking at all of them and knowing what's out there...

I can feel the cold and reluctantly begin to put things away. I smile when I see Leo and how much it has risen! How I have missed the galaxy hunt and I know many fine ones that are in both Ursa Major and Leo. It is in my heart to stay longer, but I also know that I have been out here far too long as it is.

Heck, I've been around here far too long, haven't I?

"Would you find it in your heart to make this go away? And let me rest in pieces..."

February 5, 2005 - The RAS Meeting, A Few Moments With The 31" and In The Backyard...

Comments: Looks like clear skies ahead, but first things first as it is time for our monthly meeting of the Richland Astronomical Society. Dinner? Sure. I can handle that. We've plenty of things to discuss for the upcoming year and the time passes quite pleasantly between good food and good friends.

When finished, I head towards the Observatory, not so much because I want to use the scope but because I need a few things over there to assist in an upcoming program. Bruce and a guest had declined dinner and the meeting and already had the dome open and doing some sky surfing. I had brought along my binoculars because there is still too much snow on the ground to try and wrestle equipment up and down the steep stairs, so as soon as I see the table I have them out and looking for Comet Machholz! I am delighted to say that Machholz is still visible to the unaided eye and is perched just above Iota Cassiopeia. With the assistance of the binoculars, it is in a very stellar field tonight including Iota and RZ and SU. The tail is pretty faded because we have some stringy clouds - but it's not bad.

Before even going into the Dome, I had to take a moment to scan around. Simple things, like the Plieades, M1, M42, M41, M46, M47, M93, M35, M36, M37, M38, M34, M81, M82, and even the faintest hint of M97. The binoculars really are a spectacular venue and I enjoy them immensely. Heading indoors I see the scope in sort of an awkward position and I am curious. The pair comes down to pick me up and it is Saturn that they are looking at.

My "simple" astrophotography done with a single untweaked video frame can never quite match the clarity at the eyepiece, but it at least gives you an idea of how truly large Saturn appears in the eyepiece. Within seconds, my eyes are taking in all the fine details, such as the dark ribbon around the polar area, the shadow of planet against the rings as well as the shadow of the rings against the planet. The Cassini division is a monster highway and you can clearly see the planet through it. Again, I am not good a "ring terminology" but you can see a faint outer ring as well as a faint inner ring. The Encke gap is clear cut. The moons? Well, daggone it... They look like planets of their own, ok? You can percieve limb darkening on Titan, and although their positions have not changed overly much since last night, they are not "little winks of light"... They are orbs.

By now, Joe has arrived as well and I give up my position to him to go back out and look at the comet some more. When he joins me outside to view as well, it's not long until others do. Learning to hold binoculars steady is an art, but once you figure out how to use them astronomically - it's a tool that you won't be without. When things are shifted again, it's time to go have a look at the M42.

As luck would have it, Bruce chose to power up on the "Trapezium" area. My hands itched for my 12.3mm eyepiece!! The skies are a little bit unstable and it takes a bit of waiting for the finer stars to appear...

This is an old sketch of the area, but it doesn't matter... This is what you see! The only thing that it does not convey is the color. To me, this is one of the "holy grails" of astronomy. We're walking right inside an area that is only around 30,000 years old and some of these "lights" are actually proto-stars... Still in formation! Again, I could never get enough of looking, but I do share. Others might not feel or think or see the same things that I do, but the additional light gathering ability of the 31" makes these studies so much easier!! They are big and they are bright...

By then, I'm feeling tired and shakey. I know it sounds dumb, but I'm still having a bit of a problem with breathing cold air for very long. I begin to gather up the things I need and get ready to head back west. Before we go, Joe and I get called back to look at a "surprise" and again the scope is in a very akward position. It is the M82 and I can only handle the most brief of glances, because I simply do not have the strength built back up to lean so far over the edge of the lift and stay safe. Trust me... An 18 foot drop to the floor would very much damage an old woman.

Things stored away, it is time for me to wish everyone a civil adieu. I enjoy the starlit ride back and surprisingly enough find myself setting out the little Celestron in the backyard. I know that sounds dumb, but I'm as fast with that thing at times as I am with binoculars. Going only with the 25mm eyepiece that is in it, it's just a pleasure to hop to the M81 and M82 by myself. No leaning! I enjoy a fast look at the M44 and M67... But there is three more things I want to see. The M65 and M66 come next! What ho, little galaxies! It has been a very long time...

And longer still? Jupiter.

"Would you find it in your heart... To make this go away? And let me rest in pieces..."

February 4, 2005 - Comet Machholz and the "Happy Hour"...

Comments: What gives? Another clear night in Ohio! Tonight it has been so long since I have taken the 12.5 out that it's what I really want to do. I know the "players" are going to the Observatory, but I find my own peace and happiness in being able to practice on my own.

First order of business? Why, a comet, of course! At low power Machholz is irrepressable in this big scope. It lights up the sky! More aperture doesn't bring more form - it just reveals all the beauty around it. The 40mm is eyepiece of choice and the field is outstanding. With a tiny star both over an under, Machholz is in a pretty solitary position at the moment - but look at what's near! Running ahead of the comet is the great Iota Cassiopeia, and so I power down to have a look. The sky is slightly unstable, but the "bump" to the southwest is unmistakable. Far more cleanly separated is the companion to the east... But as I watch a moment of steadiness comes along and the primary and close secondary show separation. Also nearby is RZ and SU, both just dandy little variables. Do you know how cool it is to see study objects so close to a moving target?

Very cool.

Heading off towards Pices, I make the drop from Delta Cetii for an object the "hard core" astronomers would sneer at... But they don't know what they're missing. The M77 at 26mm is outstanding - bright nucleus and some signs of structure... But you should see it in the 12.3mm! Light me up. The structure here is a wide spiral galaxy with just enough dark dustlane hints to really point out those spiral arms. Another such beauty is an easy hop east of Eta Pices for the M74. Again, it's a smashing spiral. Unlike the M77 whose arms are a bit more open, the M74 pulls those arms in a bit more tightly. A rich, deeply bright nucleus and mottling in the spiral arms is enough to take your breath away!

Feeling rather happy with myself, I dropped the magnification back to the 2" eyepieces and went for the 32mm. You can't imagine the utter resolution this scope provides on simple things like the M34, M36, M37 and M38. This is why I love it so! The M42 becomes a fantasy...

Covering things up, I go inside to rest for awhile and warm back up. It doesn't feel particularly cold, but I don't want to be sick again. When I return it is to smash apart the M41 and revel in all those stars! The color in this scope is beyond compare. You can't imagine all the tiny reds that are within this splendid open cluster!

Heading towards Gemini, I leave the 2", 32mm in long enough to tour the M35 and then go back to the 1.25" eyepieces and cut it apart to view NGC2158 and IC2157. Grinning at Saturn, I prefer to go for the NGC2392. It's the "Eskimo"! Under the scrutiny of the 12.3mm, this is one gorgeous planetary. The stunning central star is unlike anything else and the color is extraordinary. While averting from the central star, you can see differing levels of condensation that are within the brighter, inner, bluish/green portion of the nebula. Wide aversion draws out an additional "shell" around the whole structure, making it appear "framed". This is just really a beauty!

I think for awhile about cruising around some more, but it has been a very long time since I have looked at Saturn proper. The scope has long since stabilized and I am ready. As always, the beauty of the "Ring King" causes me to hold my breath while I watch it. Is there any planet out there that can ignite one's fancy like this one? It is a beautiful creamy yellow, swept with variations in the eyepiece and the shadow play brings out its dimensionality in a very poignant fashion. The Cassini is a bold stroke and although I have not mastered everything there is to know about the rings, there are many fine "grooves" that also appear. The moons dance.. Titan is well out into the lead, and two tiny ones along the ring lead with it. Following behind are two more... Just incredible.

I think about going back in a getting a cup of coffee and continuing, but I have had enough for now. It was a spectacular journey! I have seen an awesome comet, a favourite double star, two incredible galaxies, enough photons in open clusters to make anyone sigh, an outrageous planetary nebula and the allure of Saturn. It is time now to put away my prized old scope and go get some rest proper. The skies were beautiful tonight...

And I wish you the same.

"They looked so beautiful tonight... Reminding me of a time you laid us down... And gently smiled before you changed my life.

Would you find it in your heart... To make this go away? And let me rest in pieces..."

February 3, 2005 - Comet Machholz and Trumpler 3...

Comments: Back to work again and back to feeling much better. With relatively clear skies (4.0) after sunset, I knew that I had to go out in search of Comet Machholz again. Tonight the old Celestron took the honors and it only took moments to locate and enjoy Machholz.

Under power, this is a splendid comet. The nucleus is still bright, sharp and well defined. To me, the coma is fantastic. As you view the comet, you can almost feel the cold sizzle of what makes it appear as it does. Of course, there are always things that make it a bonus, and tonight it was both a tiny star caught at the southern edge of the coma as well as probably a 9th magnitude one caught right in the the V of its tail.

I know a lot of people have trouble distinguishing Machholz tail... But I don't see how you can't "see" it! Use low power - it's like galaxy stuff. It has a sparkle all of it's own and when you trace it?

You sometimes find cool stuff along the way!

Tonight's charmed "find" is a very beautiful class of open clusters that has truly inspired me to take a new turn toward my observing. According to Uranometria, the name of this beauty is Trumpler 3. Just a truly outstanding galactic cluster! At low power it is a just a cloud of stars that seem related - roughly the same age. There are a few brighter ones to the east and south that really set it off. I did some reading on Trumpler clusters and I think it will make for some magnificent observations in the future. What could be cooler than looking at new stuff?!

And I really wanted to look at some "old stuff" as well. I left the scope out to allow the skies to change by a couple of hours, but this is Ohio. A couple of hours could mean the difference between a passingly fair sky and none at all. And none at all was what I got when I returned. I guess the one of the greatest parts about astronomy is knowing that you don't have to go out and kill the sky every night. I've been working on it now for some fifteen years and never wanted to conquer every object out there. After all, if I did? What would there be to do? This is why I get so much enjoyment out of things like comets, asteroids and meteor showers. They are always changing... Always different.

And always fascinating.

"Not everything heals with time... They just stiffen up my spine."

February 1, 2005 - Comet Machholz, Kemble's Cascade, NGC1502, M31, M32, M110, M42, the "Trapezium", M43, NGC1973, NGC1975, NGC1977, M41, M93, M46, M47, M36, M37, M38, M35, M50 and the Hubble Variable Nebula...

Comments: I am still mending, but I cannot go forever on so little activity. When I saw 5.5 skies and temperatures that feel warm with no wind, I knew that I needed to be outdoors for awhile - even if I had to limit myself to short jaunts. Right after sunset, I manuerved the SVD8 out to a thin spot in the snow around where I like to observe best and went on a hunt for Comet Machholz.

Still easily capturable in just the finderscope, I realized when I went to the eyepiece why I will never be happy without a telescope. The field around C/2004 Q2 is alight with stars! With a small, but bright star caught on the edge of the coma, Comet Machholz truly resides in a stellar field tonight. Just look at all of them! Moving around the field, there is no doubt in my mind that Machholz is still moving close to a degree a day. The nucleus area is bright and well defined, and I would say holding a magnitude 4 at best. The coma is concentrated and far less diffuse that it once was.

And so I began tracing the tail...

As I began following the mind-boggling stretch, I had to keep double checking for fear I was somehow following a faded contrail or something. As I continued to move across the field, I stumbled onto something that I had not seen nor thought about in many years - Kemble's Cascade. What a glorious chain of stars this is! Located in Camelopardis, this is nothing more than a named asterism that is not marked on charts. It is a wonderful string of colorful stars set against an equally starry field and at its end is open cluster, NGC1502. This is truly a beautiful bit of stellar mastery... A long chain of stars with a small cluster hung on it's end... Like a jewel braclet with a fob of stars waiting to be fastened.

In short? It's spectacular.

Before going back inside for awhile, I needed a galaxy fix. What better place to receive one than with Andromeda? By powering up slightly, it was such a pleasure to see the huge stretch of the M31 and its attendants. The M32 looks like a wonderful little egg at its edge, while the M110 stretches out lazily on the other side. It feels just wonderful to see them again. But for now? I best cover things up, go back inside for awhile and warm myself with a cup of hot, sweet Earl Grey.

When I return, I am still exercising great caution. I am warmly dressed and being most careful. What I wish is awhile to look into the Orion region and marvel at its makings. I trace the rifts, folds and ribbons of the M42, always aware to me that it looks like it is caught undersea. I suppose it is fanciful on my part, but it reminds me of a bed of soft seaweed and algae... Pulled by the tides and frozen into place. The embedded stars are like tiny airbubbles caught in its folds. Powering up, I am pleased to see such steady skies and I hold my breath in anticipation of the "Trapezium". The glorious little reds snap out beside their blue/white companions, and although I can see a soft "haze" of nebula, I cannot make out its signature structure nor the G and H stars.

Employing the Orion SkyGlow filter, I head towards the M43 and just smile. Bond's star, eh? I like this! Going north, I drop back to mid-magnification, still using the filter, and move on to study NGC1973, NGC1975 and NGC1977. Smeared, I think, is the best way to describe it. It reminds me somehow of the Merope nebula. I cannot help but grin as I see "the Running Man". How many times in the past have I looked at this - and like the "Cone" - simply not seen pattern in darker areas? I think the best part of this triple nebula is alongside the area with three ensheathed stars - there is a notch-like intrustion in the brighter band of nebula.

Returning indoors again, I wait for awhile and rest. When I go back out it is to walk the south again and take on the incomparable M41. As I stand a survey the south after drinking in the many stars (i love the tiny red ones!) I look at the horizon. Can someone please tell me what those stars are? Is this Columba? Laughing at my own rust, I stay at low power and go on my happy search for the M93, M46 and M47. I am so out of practice! But how fine they are when I find them...

I rest again, and come back to a well-traveled sky and much easier to find clusters, M36, M37, M38 and M35. I know this sounds like penny-ante stuff coming from the "great galaxy hunter ~T", but I am a galaxy hunter that has been brought to my knees by a severe case of the flu and I want nothing more than to just see some stars again!

Rust has been my companion since we have lacked in skies for some time now. After having toured the easy stuff, I dig in my parka pocket for a field guide and my flashlight. M50 - where are you? Sirius, Theta... Ah! There you are! Oh, my... I had forgotten what a beauty you are! And just look at the red star to the south...

Climbing up towards Gemini, I see the edge of the Rosette drift by, but that will be another night. There is something I would like to see in this telescope that will be "first light" for it. When I locate the NGC2261, I find that I am slightly disappointed. As well as the 8" performs, it simply does not do the same things the 12.5" does. The Hubble Variable nebula is no doubt there, but it is not the little blue badmitton birdie that I have observed so often in the big scope. In this one, even employing the 12.3mm wide field, the best I can see is what looks like a pale blue comet. It's alright though... I am quite tired now. It could be that the nebula itself is at a minimum right now, or it could be that all the pills I am taking have effected my eyesight, eh?

It is time for me to put the scope away now. Leo is rising and it won't be too long until the Moon follows it. It was a superb night and far more worthy of galaxy hunting than chasing down some bright open clusters. I will not be too hard on myself though... For I am just happy to be feeling well enough to be back outdoors again. I am dog tired now, even though I have done very little. It is time to rest. As I walk back to the house, I take a last look at the stars I love so much...

It's good to be back.

"Look at me. My depth perception must be off again... Cuz' this hurts deeper than I thought it did..."