July 31, 2005 - The Sun...
Comments: Thanks to vampyre shift tonight, at best my astronomy practice today was limited to having a look at 792 again. Despite all the activity, it hasn't changed overly much and it is still quite grand.
I wonder what time the CME field will hit Earth?
"So don't delay - act now - supplies are running out. Allow, if you're still alive, six to eight years to arrive. And if you follow - there may be a tomorrow. But if the offer is shun? You might as well be walkin' on the sun.
July 30, 2005 - NGC 5986, NGC 6139, NGC 6144, NGC 6388, NGC 6441, NGC 6453, NGC 6355, NGC 6293, NGC 6316, and NGC 6304... The Capricornid Meteor Shower...
Comments: Started early tonight. Had the big dob outside way before it was dark and it was a night to totally relax. I swam for awhile, watching Venus shine on the horizon and Jupiter heading that way. When the stars came out? It was time to get serious. For the record, during peak sky dark we had 5.5 skies, 7/10 stability. I was using the 12.5 Meade, Meade IV 26mm for field and 12.3mm ED Epic widefield for study. Start time was roughly 10:00 and end time for globular study was 11:00..
And I haven't slept in forever.
NGC 5986 - Bright, large and very well resolved. This globular has a slight condensation toward the core and I would imagine it to be around a class VI.
NGC 6139 - This is is fainter, a bit smaller, but triple the concentration of the last. Only the very edges show a bit of break between stars and it looks like the daggone thing is almost all core. Class guess, III.
NGC 6144 - Very hard to distinguish in the eyepiece at low because of the proximity of Antares. At power this one is faint reasonably large, and is as tight as a drum. The concentration is just magnificent and I'd rate this on a II.
NGC 6388- Yeah! Very bright. Why didn't Messier catch this one? Reasonably large, this one again is just a mass of concentration. Only the edges begin resolution. Class II.
NGC 6441 - Nicely bright. Very intense little pinpoints of light. Relatively large for these small globulars and very concentrated. Class II?
NGC 6453 - On the edge of the M7. Very small and faint, it reminds me of the other little cluster with the M35. It's something you wouldn't notice at low power unless you really took your time. Fairly loosely constructed, I'd say around a V.
NGC 6355 - Very faint and very small. If it weren't for the fact that I have been using the Magellan navigation unit for the studies, I would be unsure if I was even looking at a globular. This one is wasted. Class XIII?
NGC 6293 - Much better! Considerably brighter and slightly larger, this globular has a little condensation toward the nucleus and I'd guess Class V.
NGC 6316 - Very small and relatively faint. This one is indeed a ball of stars with little to no resolution. Very concentrated. Class III.
NGC 6304 - Perhaps a little brighter than the last, but roughly the same size. Very little to no action going on toward the central region. Class guess? VI.
Putting things away, because pizza had now arrived, I was quite ready to take my cut and a couple of cold Coronas out to the old redwood chair. It's very rare that I have take-out pizza and I'm delighted to enjoy the snack and watch for meteors. The first cut down the spine of Cygnus and was totally awesome. We had a good 40 degrees of sky span and a very lingering tail. Activity wasn't very high, but the beer was cold and it sure felt good to just relax. I'm still feeling guilty about using the Magellan unit to do studies, and feeling a tweak because I'm outside and not vegging in front of a television set. Honestly? TV is for cloudy nights. When it's clear?
I'd rather watch the stars.
"It ain't no joke when a mama's handkerchief is soaked... With her tears because her baby's life has been revoked. The bond is broke up - so choke up - and focus on the close up. Mr. Wizard can't perform no godlike hocus-pocus. So don't sit back - kick back - and watch the world get bushwhacked. News at 10:00 your neighborhood is under attack. Put away the crack before the crack puts you away. You need to be there when your baby's old enough to relate."
July 30, 2005 - The Sun...
Comments: Hot dang! Spot 786 has rotated around again and is now named 792. For we solar observers, we've been anxious for the return because this particular area has been really kicking up a fuss on the far side of the Sun.
A few hours before I filmed this, it had blasted off a major X class flare and a resulting CME. As usual, there's a certain difficulty in trying to achieve perfect focus on an area that's so magnetically "hot", but I was really amazed at the plague field on this one. While it really doesn't show in this particular frame, the field probably extended over 1/6 of the visible surface and looked like a "splatter" mark instead of cracks around the spots themselves. Really a beauty and you can see it very clearly as the film runs. Guess that means we better watch for aurora, huh?
Figures. I gotta' work vampyre when it's expected to hit.
"So don't delay - act now supplies are running out. Allow, if you're still alive, six to eight years to arrive. And if you follow - there may be a tomorrow. But if the offer is shun? You might as well be walkin' on the Sun."
July 29, 2005 - NGC 6356, NGC 6342, NGC 6401, NGC 6355, NGC 6316, NGC 6304, NGC 6171, NGC 6273, NGC 6284 and NGC 6287...
Comments: Time to do some work. Sky conditions weren't as transparent as last night, but a servicable 5.5. Stability was excellent - a nice 9/10. Time starts at 10:15 p.m. EST and ends at 11:45 p.m. EST. Scope was the Meade 12.5. Eyepieces were the Meade IV 26mm to locate and the 12.3mm ED Epic widefield to study.
NGC 6356 - Very nice globular cluster, very nice! quite bright, but small. Heavily condensed all the way across. Class II sturucture with some resolution at the edges. Nice field.
NGC 6342 - This one is very faint and very small. A slight amount of resolution is possible and there is no real core area. My guess is this globular is around a class V.
NGC 6401 - This is a globular? It's faint and it is nothing more than a roundish collection of fur with a few resolvable points. Class estimation around XI to XII.
NGC 6355 - This one I had to double check to make sure I wasn't looking a some sort of little round nebula. It's faint and the stars are on the edge of visiblity. Structure is far from perfect, but it's a nice field. Class? XI to XII.
NGC 6316 - This one is also faint, but at least it is recognizable as a globular cluster. Definately round and holds a very nice central condensation with some very fine, dustry resolution at the cluster edges. This small globular should rank around class III.
NGC 6304 - Brighter and larger than than most of the previous studies. Definately reconizable as a very small globular, but it is very even in appearance - like a miniature M4. Class guestimation is V.
NGC 6171 - Much larger this time. Relatively bright, but it's shredded. This is a very loose collection of faint stars in a round pattern. Class guess - IX.
NGC 6273 - Overall, a bright globular. It's fairly large and the stars are very fine a pretty much resolvable. No concentration toward the core, but there's a density behind the resolved stars. Class rating? VII.
NGC 6284 - Very faint and somewhat small. Very little resolution and no concentration. Members are extremely faint. Class estimation, IX.
NGC 6287 - Relatively the same size as the last, but this one looks more like a globular cluster and less like a round patch. A slight gathering of stars toward the core region, but not what you'd call resolved. It's more like the light is just concentrated a bit more at the center. Class guess would be around a VII.
My apologies for not getting this in here sooner or being more descriptive of the observing session. I've just basically typed my notes and there ain't no way I can drop the field sketches in here without a scanner.
"Twenty-five years ago they spoke out and they broke out... Of recession and oppression and together they toked. And they folked out with guitars around a bonfire. Just singin' and clappin'... Man, what the hell happened? Then some were spellbound - some were hellbound. Some they fell down and some got back up and... Fought back 'gainst the melt down. And their kids were hippie chicks - all hypocrites... Because fashion is smashin' the true meaning of it."
July 28, 2005 - Yahoo!
Comments: Can I get an "amen" from the choir? AMEN! Oh, you got it, brother. Not only were the skies clear last night, but they were kind of transparency that you'd kill for on a night that you didn't have to work the next day. Despite the hour, it had been so long since I'd really played with that monster white telescope that there were no forces on heaven, or on earth in the armchair, that were going to stop me from going outside and enjoying them.
When I first opened up the scope, I was feeling guilty because I ought to be paying attention to family, but I didn't feel guilty for long. Let's just say the M51 and all its splendid glory took care of that. Again, I am taken aback by how perfect this aperture is for this galaxy and its attendant NGC. The dustlanes are exceedingly clear and you can see individual points of resolution along the arms. I probably sighed over that thing for 15 minutes it was so beautiful.
Looking up at Cygnus, I started feeling guilty again because I ought to be really studying something to make a significant contribution for being out and not just out goofing off by myself. As I stood there and thought about it, I noticed there were so many more stars in Cygnus than we normally see. It looked like you could reach your hand up there and just scratch them off the sky. By now, I had dark adapted and it was glorious to see the M13 looking like a tiny smudge unaided. That doesn't happen too often.
Why the heck not?
And off I go. With the 12.3mm ED Epic in place, there was much smacking of lips, I'll tell you. Resolution all over the place! On the edge you could see a little dark obstruction and if I remember correctly, that was called the "propellor". A little jiggle this way, a nudge that way, and poof. There was the NGC 6207. Ye haw, maw! And then I started globular hopping. M92, M56, M19, M10, M12, M80, M4, M60, M14, M22, M28... Just as happy as a guilty little clam on a sandbar. While I looked at the glow back in the house, I realized my life is out here. This is what I am. If you really want to be part of me?
Time to drop back to the good 2" eyepieces and slam the Televue home. What I want is in Ophiuchus and you can only see it a few times a year - Barnard 72. "The Snake Nebula" is a true, hard-core observer, type of object. I have seen even good astronomers that just don't get dark nebulae. When you see a crystalline field of stars with a lazy S pattern of nothingness with a star on the curved edge? You are there. I think all astronomers know there is a "grain" to the sky of just off the edge of resolution stars and a dark nebula is the glorious answer to "it's just not there".
While going wide field, I hop to the M8, because it's simply an awesome object - as is the M24 and its own Barnard Darks. Grinning like a fool, I go back for the switch and the M20, "Trifid" is just a wonderful orb cut through with folds and rifts as well as dark dust. I should be eeking out those tough globulars, but I ain't. I'm grinning like a kid and resolving the M11. How about the M71? Love it. Dropping the power in, I am amazed to see the central wink off and on again in the M27. The stars in the lobe are very clear, but that central is a prize. Just out of curiousity, I flip on over to the M57, and whoops - there it is! Unlike the 31" scope, the 12.5" leaves that center fairly dark and albeit averted, the central is there.
I look back at the house and sigh. All the lights are off. I don't know what time it is, but I'm sure it's later than I really need to be out. Sighing, I realized that astronomy is really a rather lonely hobby, isn't it? Funny that. I don't feel alone. There's a thousand tree frogs singing. Here and there a lightning bug still flashes. Every time I glance around one or two of the Aquarid meteors streaks by. And right up there?
The B142 and B143 welcomes me back...
"It ain't no joke... I'd like to buy the world a coke. And teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. And teach the world to snuff the fires and the liars. Hey, I know it's just a song, but it's spice for the recipe. This is a love attack. I know it went out - but it's back. It's just like any fad - it retracts before impact. And just like fashion, it's a passion for the with it and hip. If you got the goods? They'll come and buy it just to stay in the clique.
July 26, 2005 - At the Observatory - Starry Nights...
Comments: It's Ohio. Next year we're renaming the event either "Cloudy Nights" or "Stormy Nights". Of course, either "Hot Nights" or "Muggy Nights" would also fit, but then so would "Starless Nights". Regardless of the teasing, and the fact that we had some very threatening lightning, Joe, John N. and myself all turned up at the Observatory just on the off chance that the kids would show.
Sitting in the ClubHouse, we discussed business in general and I think it's wonderful that John got us a donation of a set of tools for the Observatory. As the hour the young folks normally arrive draws nearer, we starting thinking that perhaps we should set up a program just in case, but the rain came down in buckets before we could make it upstairs. Figuring to one another that we probably wouldn't have the campers tonight, we were just waiting for it to let up and then were were going to lock up and call it a night.
And we heard them singing.
Singing means only one thing - they're outdoors and they are on their way! Hustling up to the dome, three sets of hands speed to set up equipment and get program materials readied. Just seconds into it, they start pouring through the door - hot, tired, but happy to be here. When I make the final preparations, Joe tours them around the dome and John gives them rides on the lift up to the eyepiece of the monster scope. When everyone has settled down, it's time to give them what they came for - A show.
Being at camp means they haven't had any access to a television set and no real news of the world outdoors. (in this day and age? that's to be envied, my friends.) Knowing this, I had spent the afternoon watching the NASA channel and the KSC feeds so we could show them the success launch of the Space Shuttle. Again, it's a real delight since most of them know not only what's going on, but how long it had been since we'd been in space. They were quite aware of why missions had been cancelled and we all got a great laugh as we resolved the landing issue by simply running the tape backward. (ok, that's kinda' child-like on my part, but i grew up in the age where color television was new and the concept of a VCR not even remotely considered.)
Because the weather has been so horribly hot, tonight was a great opportunity to explore our nearest "star" - the Sun. A little rattled because we just weren't prepared for them, I probably didn't progress too logically, but once I start rolling with something I just don't stop. (i'm rollin', i'm rollin', i'm rollin' now...) Because these young folks were a bit older than our last crowd, they snatched concepts extrememly quickly and the fact that everything in our Cosmos goes around in circles was quickly grasped. (cuz' i don't need to walk around in circles, walk around in circles, walk around in...) We explored solar physics and hands were shooting up as some of them already realized the concepts behind sunspots, solar structure and activity. Again, there's nothing like a little "magic" and so they take a journey through solar max through the eyes of SOHO...
I think they would have happily watched the whole 2-hour presentation, but there's more to learn! Cloudy nights give good reason to explain why we put telescopes into space, and because these young people were more advanced, it was easy for them to grasp the concepts of photometry methods and how each distant star is truly a sun. As we step back further and further, we realize just how many suns there are in our own galaxy and Joe demonstrates the magic of the Hubble telescope as he shows how just the tiniest speck of the sky contains as many distant galaxies as our galaxy contains stars. By then, the camp is beginning to wonder where the kids have gotten to, and it's time for them to go. Amid smiles, waves and thanks, we are delighted to have such and enlightened group of young people. As always, I can't get all of them into one picture, but I'm surprised that at least 24 happy hands don't show!
As they chatter, laugh and make their way down the hill, the scene is illuminated with lightning. It's kind of a surrealistic touch, but it fits with all the power theme of the evening. Hopefully the storms will cool things off! As I drive back west, I can see where localized blasts of activity have rocked our little corner of the blue planet and I'm just happy the Observatory didn't get socked as hard as it did 40 miles west. Right now I'm waiting on wicked suspot 786 to reappear and it's been very, very active on the farside. Who knows?
Maybe the skies will clear so I can see it.
"So don't delay. Act now. Suppies are running out. If you relate, you'll only have six to eight years to wait. And if you follow, there may be a tomorrow... But if the offer is shun?
June 24, 2005 - Nada...
Comments: I wait and I wait - but there is nothing. The weather is hot, humid and it is mostly cloudy. I swim at night and I watch for the stars, but there are very few. Once in awhile the sky might clear enough to see Ursa Major or some of the stars in Cygnus, but they are gone again just as quickly. Vampyre shift has left me feeling unreal. I seem to remember stars - seeing Cassiopeia - but I do not know if it was real or a dream.
I do remember seeing the Moon for a moment on Saturday night. I had been in the pool since the skies had turned dark - waiting on the stars. The music was fine and the water very warm, but I miss very much seeing Scorpius and Saggitarius to the south. When I gave up after a few hours, I remember walking back to the house and seeing the orange of the Moon peeking between the clouds. The summer this year is hot and the sky moves on.
I miss the stars.
"Mmmmmmm.... Night moves...."
July 19, 2005 - At the Observatory: Starry Nights...
Comments: Well, all right! We have clear skies and we have visitors coming to the Observatory. What more could we ask for?
I arrived a bit early so I had a chance to talk with Dave. How good it is to see him walking without a cane! He had gotten some books for me and some other goodies that I found absolutely delightful. There is nothing finer than a book - except for maybe an autographed one! And a poster to boot! Laughing, we enjoyed our treasures and I'm sure he'll enjoy the "hot pepper" bounty from this year's garden. ;)
Not long after, Terry and Joe joined as as well. Joe had brought along the very anticipated brochures for this year's Hidden Hollow and I couldn't be prouder of him. They look absolutely fantastic. We all join heads for awhile and make more plans, but as soon as skies start to darken we head up to the dome to prepare for the young folks from Hidden Hollow Camp.
The Moon was out in full force and it's really a beauty. Joe gets the big scope set and ready while I prepare tonight's program on meteors. It's not long until we hear the laughter and happy chatter of the campers on the hill below us and as they sing taps, the group comes up the hill excited and ready for an evening's viewing. The dome fills as they sit on the floor around the scope and the program begins. Joe and I whisk them off into outer space as they learn just a tad about sizes and distances and then away we go towards our topic. They watch a few video clips, learn where meteors come from, listen for themselves, and get an opportunity to handle some rare specimens. As we wind up, Joe takes over and explains just how our Universe really is through the eyes of the Hubble, and then thanks to some "Night Sky Network" magic, we teach them why we put telescopes into space and take them of a "Planet Treasure Hunt".
They were wonderfully attentive and great at answering questions! As each would put up their hands, prizes from JPL/NASA went out... And absolutely no one went home without something in their hands. You can tell they are having a great time and we are all very proud to have them here. But they came here to see something, didn't they? So Joe moves off to take them a quarter of a million miles away to the Moon and Terry guides the way.
Since there are many more than you see in the picture, I took groups outside with me to use binoculars while John B. had set up the Discovery to give further views of the Moon. I was delighted at just how many of these great young folks were able to split Mizar and Alcore optically. What eyes! They happily learned constellations and with just a little guidance were finding Omicron Cygni and the "Coathanger" for themselves.
It's not long before their time is up and as the thanks echo back up the hill, we look at each other and smile. This is really what it's all about. Yes. A very big part of me likes my privacy, but not all of me. I like listening to my music and traveling to distant galaxies. There's something nice about the quiet ride back west with the Moon over my left shoulder and Jupiter ahead on the road. I love my own studies and reflections on the stars.
But there's nothing like seeing them in someone else's eyes...
"Night moves... Mmmmmmm.... Night moves..."
July 18, 2005 - Of Lightning Bolts and Moon Beams...
Comments: Rain? Oh, yeah. Right now our weather has been a combination of two things - either sweltering humidity with a touch of scorching Sun - or sweltering humidity with a touch of a thunderstorm. When I left for work in the wee hours, there were patches of stars here and there... Just enough to let me know that Cygnus is straight overhead and that Cassiopeia is still hanging around. By the time daylight arrived, the skies were still grey, but by late afternoon patches of sunshine had began to appear.
Beat the heat inside? Fine when I want to nap, but this kid lives to smell chlorinated water and Coppertone. There's no place I'd rather be than in that 20 foot circle of blue water and that's where I stay until the thunder rumbles and chases me out. Not too long after the supper hour, things got really ugly and the first few snaps of lightning put H on my lap. Whoa, there boy! I feel sorry for your fear of storms, but you're just too darn big to be sitting on me! Scooting the the edge of my easy chair in my office, I let him climb behind me and did my best to concentrate on working while vibrating. The big chicken...
The lightning was so close that sound, light and loss of electricity were simultaneous. Now, mind you, my office is a well furnished attic room... But eight inches of wood, insulation and shingles are not enough to stop that fear that you're just too darn close to the action. We both beat feet down the stairs so fast you could still see our shadows on the north wall like a crazy fun house...
Feeling a bit more safe a little lower to the ground, we sat and waited for the power to come back on while the wind lashed and the rain poured. I watched the clouds from the windows, but began relaxing when the lights came back on and the expected hail didn't arrive. There's an easy solution here - simply let work go for now, bake a loaf of bread, and watch a comedy. So, as wave after wave of storms swept by, we calmly made our way through a crusty loaf with garlic olive dipping oil and watched "Fierce Creatures". By now the lightning has gone distant and I noticed this really weird light in the trees...
Padding barefoot out onto the wet deck, the whole world was still dripping. To the southeast, the storms still raged and the lightning was quite picturesque even though H did not agree. Glued to my legs, he refused to let either one of us go off the deck, and so we stood and watched the Moon hide behind the racing black clouds. Where are you tonight, my friend? My mind says somewhere beyond Gassendi and I know that in the telescope it would look like a scene from a B movie with the dark clouds scooting across it. The air holds the pungent aroma of wet tomato plants and the grass whispers of hundreds of earthworms coming out to enjoy the moonlight. For a moment, the kid in me thinks about taking out a flashlight and gathering a few to go fishing with, but I can somehow see H eating them, so we go back inside.
Sleep comes for me soon enough, but the lightning fills the night. Somewhere along the line I remember looking out the window and seeing Mars. I laugh as I remember all those years ago being chased away by the lightning each time I'd go after the Red Planet. Where did all that time and innocence go?
Guess I'm not as brave as I used to be.
"Ain't it strange how the night moves? With autumn closing in...."
July 14, 2005 - The Moon...
Comments: Isn't it funny how things can sometimes change when you least expect them to? I have been very, very busy... Assuming a workload that would frighten most people - yet I enjoy being occupied. Around 9:30 or so, it was just time to knock it off and relax. A cold beer... A little mindless television... You know the routine.
Then the Moon came out.
It has been horribly hot and humid. Hurricane Dennis has left us with on again and off again storms that rumble and dump a bit of rain here and there, but bring no real relief from the heat. When I saw Selene shining through the window, I knew it was pointless to take a scope out because of the humidity, but I also knew I had a pair of binos in the trunk of my car that wouldn't fog up if I took them out. So why don't we just carry this cold Corona with the twist of lime wedged in its neck out to the deck and dry as spot off on the parkbench? The night soothes..
The view? Not fantastic. But it was still wonderful to roam around the lunar alps. I love their delicate chains and how they begin to resolve with even the slightest optical aid. It's fun to see where Jupiter has dropped low and beyond it. Where does the time go? I go back to scan again and smile at the empty telephone dial of Tycho, knowing that in days all the small craters will be lost. There are a few stars here and there, but like the surf, the sky is washing in clouds from another direction yet again. It's ok, though. I like the smell of all the flowers in bloom...
And the scent of rain.
"I woke last night to the sound of thunder... How far off, I sat and wondered. I started humming a song from 1982... Ain't it funny how the night moves? When you don't seem to have as much to lose?"
July 12, 2005 - At the Observatory: Starry Nights...
Comments: You knew it was about time, didn't you? In case you didn't know, every summer Warren Rupp Observatory hosts a "Starry Nights" program for the Hidden Hollow camp youth and once upon a time this was a weather dependent program.
Not any more.
For the last two years, Joe and I have been making sure these wonderful young folks have an opportunity to visit the Observatory and to learn about astronomy - as well as view the stars. From time to time, other members will help as well and tonight we very much welcome John N., Terry, and later on John B. We were there just a bit before it got dark to get things set up, but the long arm of hurricane Dennis had left the skies trashed.
Opening the dome just enough to let in a little air, we set a scope just inside the door in case the Moon should peek out. While Terry readied the "Lucky Stars", Joe and I put together our props for our presentation and we would once again like to thank Night Sky Network for all the wonderful things they provide us with. John N. preps the scope and is ready to give rides on the lift. Video ready, props ready, people ready!
When the young folks pour over the Hill, they are ready as well. Unfortunately, those clouds are still there but that doesn't mean we won't have a good time. Just check out these smiling faces...
Twenty-eight of them, plus counsellors, poured through the door and filled the dome. They were wonderfully attentive and asked such intelligent questions! We toured the size of our solar system and swept them away to the most distant parts of our universe. They watched the Apollo 11 moon landing, and if they were bored, they didn't show it. It's only 8 days shy of the 36th anniversay of that event, and tonight we should have been able to see craters Armstong, Aldrin and Collins on the surface with the big scope. What a shame that skies did not cooperate!
The time just flew as we gave our program and no night is complete without their laughter and the general excitement they bring. With many thanks to NASA's "Space Place", no one left empty-handed or empty headed. I thought one young man was just going to go crazy unless he got one of the NASA postcards to send home! You see? These kids appreciate these things more than you know. And just about the time for things to end?
Them skies cleared.
Terry and John N. hustled the 8" Discovery out and the kids got to at least see Jupiter. As they would take turns viewing, we'd point out stars and continue our question and answer sessions. When the time comes for them to leave, they are all smiles and waves, hands full of prizes and heads full of stars.
The drive back home was beautiful. The clouds were coming back just as quickly as they left, but part of the drive looked like I was driving straight to the Moon. It sat on the horizon looking all for the world like a big slice of colby cheese with bright Jupiter hung like a talisman to its upper left. So huge... Unfortunately, the illusion did not last long.
But the memories will.
"And oh, the wonder... We felt the lightning. And waited on the thunder...
July 9/10, 2005 - At the Observatory...
Comments: What a night! It has been a very long time indeed since we've had awesome transparency, no dew point and totally clear skies. It had been a rather long day on my part, since I had avoided anything - like work - on my vacation. I had to take a pass at the AFY picnic, but I just could not resist taking a telescope out to play - even if it means starting quite late.
It was starting to get dark when I arrived. John N. was already there and had things opened up and his own fine scope out and ready to observe. I had brought the little Celestron NexStar 102 with me to put it through its paces and only minutes after I had it assembled, Bruce and a friend came along and Joe followed as well. Are we all crazy or what? This is summertime and everyone knows it doesn't even start to get dark until 10:00. Most of us old farts are actually thinking about going to bed then!
As quick as I hit alignment at 10:15, we had 5.5 skies and 8/10 stability. Joe had come armed for bear and both he and John are working their way through their respective observing programs. Me? Ah, heck. I'll get around to filling out the right paperwork one of these days. I keep 'em all in these old handwritten notebooks and it would probably just scare people if ya' knew what all I did. But, you're still here, aren't you? Dang.
Ain't scared you away yet...
So let's put the little guy through it's paces and see how it performs. After having went through a plethora of eyepieces, I quickly discovered I prefer 2 in this one. The old Celestron 25mm SMA and the Orion 12.3mm ED Epic. I brought the 2" eyepieces with me, because it accepts them, and they are far finer than my 1.25s, but they also weigh alot and tonight "power" will become a key role in observing with this type of equipment. First off? M5. No joking around. At power it begins to show resolution even under not quite dark skies and the core area just smacks.
About that time, John called out that he had 9/P Tempel 1 in the eyepiece. Want to see it? Yeah! In this case, this is the clearest night we've had almost a month prior to Deep Impact and I'd like nothing more than to just study it. After a cursory look, I waited until everyone else had a turn and then parked my old carcass on the stool to really look. Even with poor position, bright skies and moderate aperture, it's still making a very fine showing. Eye movement will produce a quick wink of a stellar nucleus and there is a noticable tail extension. Considering this is not an awesome comet to begin with, I must say that I am very proud of John and his scope. This is as nice as what I've been seeing in a 12.5!
And back to studies.
NGC 5897 - At 8.6 magnitude, it still looks very good in this small scope. No nucleus and very open.
M12 - Bright and deeply concentrated core region with beginnings of resolution even at 25mm!
M10 - A bit more open and dispersed. Evenly concentrated and offers some resolution.
M107 - Very loose and bright. It actually looks pretty large in this scope, but kinda' irregular with some resolution.
M19 - Small, compact, and definately spindle shaped (thanks, mr. shapely!). Now, here's a kicker. In a reflector, this one is strikingly blue, but a great deal of that color is lost in the refractor. Hmmm... Curious.
M11 - Always a treat. This one looks especially nice in the wide field, low power range. While power does totally resolve it, the field really adds dimension.
M17 - Wonderfully bright in this scope! Again, I like the lower power field with this nebula.
M18 - Very crisp, sweet and perfectly resolved at all magnification levels.
M21 - Small, bright and has an almost "heart shaped" quality at low power. Well resolved.
M20 - Not overly impressive in this scope. Small, and faint, it's nothing more than a round nebulosity.
And about that time the first set of batteries puked. I had noticed it slewing slower and slower, but I was really having a terrific time looking at Joe and John's finds in between my own objects. While I'm ready to make a change, we also head in to check out the M57 in the 31". WOW! is a weak word. Absolutely stunning is getting there. The central is as crisp as a button and the braids in the ring are very clear. While we're up there, Bruce also points out a 15th magnitude galactic companion. A rare treat!
Back down on the ground, I switch out the batteries for some bargain akalines. Vvvvvt! Off we go.
M29 - Bright, perfectly well resolved and looks good wide field.
M27 - Bright and definately bow-tie shape in the small scope. Also looks best at low power.
M71 - Totally indistinct, but reasonably bright. No resolution...
And then those batteries gave out. Ever resourceful Joe says to hang on and a bit of rummaging later brings up enough to fire it up again. Off we go!
M57 - Very small, but exceptionally clean in this scope. Power shows a very perfect ring structure.
M56 - Bright, small, and a definate concentration. Small globular with no resolution even at high power.
NGC 6842 - An almost stellar sized planetary nebula at low power. Magnification reveals its nature, but it very small and slightly blue.
NGC 6871 - Nice open cluster at low power. Mixed magnitudes.
And then? That's simply it. The NexStar 102 makes a soft groan and barely moves. It's definately a little "power hungry" monster and I will take Joe's suggestion of lithium batteries to heart. (and i will also research a daggone AC adapter!) Does this mean the end of the night for me? Oh, yeah. Rite. While I break down the 102 into its compact bags, I also set out the 8" Discovery and a couple of yards away is a 10" Meade pier mount.
In the 8", the M4 totally resolves and is a real beauty. The M80 is compact and very bright. Skipping over to the 10" while others view, I set it on the M6 and enjoy far, far many more stars than just the "Butterfly" asterism and loop around to pick out the M7 before it goes into the trees.
While others look at that, I go back to the 8" and do the M8 and all the beauty of the "Lagoon" and the sparkling cluster NGC 6538. In the 10" the M20 "Trifid" nebula, becomes what it's supposed to be... A round nebula with a brighter lobe and dissecting dark dustlanes on aversion. The M21 sparkles like a jewel in this one! The M24 is simply too much for this large of aperture, and I enjoy the knotty little NGC on its edge. The M17 is so bright that it fills the entire field and you can see the embedded stars!
Back to the 8" while others look and off to the M28 to find a superior bright and well resolving little globular cluster. The M22 is simply superior. Even a minimal magnification in an 8" scope, we have resolution walking out all over the place. Back to the 10" for the M11 again, and to find that the "Coathanger" actually looks better in just the finderscope. Back to the 8" and the really cool Omicron Cygnii... Just because.
About that time, it wasn't my batteries that gave out - but my feet. I realized at that point that it had been more than 4 hours since I had sat down, so that's just what I did. Just a nice time to watch the Aquarid meteors really crank up, enjoy the billows of the Milky Way and reflect on all the really cool things we'd seen tonight. Be it the ISS or a Palomar cluster in Joe's scope, we looked at a wonderful array of things. "Bug Nebula", "Cat's Eye Nebula"... Just so many that it's hard to remember them all. Even sitting down you can see the Andromeda Galaxy rising over the Observatory and Mars sparkling in the treetops. Joe hones in on the "Red Planet" and we enjoy the little bright football and a distinctive polar cap. By now, pretty much all of us are beginning to feel the hours. John's breaking down and even Bruce and his friend are slowing. Joe has pretty much covered half of his list for his globular certification and I am so proud of him for doing the work! Funny thing, though...
Nobody really wants to leave.
As we ooooh and aaaah over the shooting stars, this scope and that gets turned different ways. This has been a textbook Ohio night and by now we've long ago achieved that deep sky 6 status. It's not hard to imagine that years ago (before the Mansfield Nebula) that the skies probably achieved an easy 7 for sharp eyed observers. Warren Rupp Observatory is a fine old place and I am proud to be part of it and the people there. Some 15 miles or so away, I know my friends at Malabar (thanks, bruce!) had a picnic early today and I hope they are also enjoying these incredible skies and feeling just as privileged as we do. Now I best head on west. In 24 hours I'll be at work and daydreaming about this. It's a rare thing when skies are this dark and this beautiful...
And even rarer to have the time to enjoy them.
"We were just old and tired and bored... But still living by the sword. And we'd steal away every chance we could... To the Observatory, our own fields, or the edge of the woods. I use them. They use me. And neither one cares...
July 9, 2005 - The Sun...
Comments: Holy Guacamole! Have you seen the Sun?? I got an aurora alert and a head's up that a CME had occurred while I was loafing around the Lake and when I took a look at the solar surface today, I was amazed. We've got some almighty sunspot activity!
The monster you see is the very handsome Dkc classed 786. Not only is it a wonderful confusion of immature penumbral fields and widely scattered followers, but it's got a very twisted magnetic field that bears out its beta-gamma-delta classification. Below it is 788, whose just a nice alpha, and up in the corner are two little but complicated partners called 789 that are beta-gamma. No wonder we had a CME! Although most reports still indicate 787 on the limb, there is nothing there now except for a remarkable plague field that extends along a good sixth of the limb. It must have been a honker to part the granulation like that.
Anyhow, we've got that low humidity situation we've all been waiting for. Right now the skies are still partly cloudy but the back blue is that wonderfully purply color that says this night could go deep if the clouds back off. In the mean time? I've got chores to finish since I've been away for a few days.
See ya' under the stars.
"We weren't in love... Oh, no. Far from it. We were just lookin' for that pie in the sky summit."
July 5, 2005 - Comet 9/P Tempel 1 and Too Many Other Things To List...
Comments: OK. For what it's worth, I had booked Observatory time for tonight because I really, really wanted to look at the comet after Deep Impact. Early in the day, I sent word out that I was cancelling the evening because rain was in the forecast and rain it did. By sunset the skies were clearing and Joe had mentioned it. But if you know astronomy, you know there are clear skies and there are "clear skies". What we have on our hands here is a haze situation that will soon be complicated by ground fog. As much as I'd like to drop everything and go, I also know in my heart what the big scope can do and what it can't. As bad as our view was the other night from low level light sources, it's going to be even worse when dew point hits.
And so as the skies darken, I go outside to play on my own right here.
First off I took binoculars to go look at Venus and Mercury. A friend of mine, John Cudworth, had sent me this photo of Venus and Mercury from the Hudson River Valley on July 2, and the view is as every bit as lovely as here. (of course, i get a power pole and a television tower if i don't drive. ;) Like the photo, you have to really look for Mercury. In the binos it shows clearly and once you see it? You can't "unsee" it.
By now the mists are starting to rise above the fields and both Polaris and Spica are easily visible. Pulling the dob out on the driveway to keep it as much out of the moisture as possible, as soon as I can see the "Ring" nebula with ease, I am off to find the comet. It is hazy here as well, but with no towns to light it up from below, I at least stand a chance. Surprisingly, the comet was a little bit higher than I had anticipated, but I'm here to tell you it doesn't look any different. Perhaps cleaner skies would have helped, but the dob still only sees it as a small, fuzzy ball with a more concentrated core. If you want to picture in you mind, image looking at the M80 in my 4.5 with bright skies and low power. Now you're getting the picture, huh? Who knows? I don't, but I'm sure looking forward to the weekend and high pressure and no moisture. I can feel the exterior of the dob beginning to sweat beneath my hands and it's time to take it back in. Call me a coward, but I don't risk its optics or my good eyepieces.
After I put it away, I decided I'd take that new little NexStar 102 out for a run. I felt pretty confident because it has a nice dewshield and it had been in a non-airconditioned location. Dew point is here and even my hair is beginning to get wet. Again, I avoided going into the grass and set up directly on my deck. Vibration? Oh, get real. Of course the image would quiver if you moved, but I'm not doing astrophotography here... I'm just having fun! Surprisingly, my second run with the NexStar 102 was textbook - even though I had left the Mansfield location. One by one, I started picking things out that I knew and remembered... And then went back in for some charts to hunt down some more! Dang... This little thing even has an SAO catalog...
Hop all over the place? You're darn right I did. If it was in a tree? I'd move on to something else that wasn't and come back. If the house or garage was in the way? Wait! It'll come back. And it wasn't very hard to wait, my friends. Libra was as clear as a bell and it was a real pleasure to watch the ISS take a slow and leisurely route across the southern skies. I am also astounded at the many meteors I am seeing again tonight. I know that we are in for the Aquarid stream, but it's awfully early to be seeing so many! It really is a beautiful night, even though it's steamy. It feels very good to just sit on the parkbench, know that scope is safe and sip a cold beer while I watch the stars.
It lasted until around midnight...
Now the clouds are coming back and it looks like the show is over for the evening. I really don't mind and I didn't turn on the first light while I "reverse engineered" the 102. Step by neat step, each piece goes in its proper place and within just a few minutes I am back to two small bags and everything is secure. I put a couple of silca gel packets in to help keep any stray moisture out, and I am just delighted that it performed so very well despite the conditions. Now, I'm outta' here for a couple of days. There's an oubliette awaiting me on the sunny shores of Lake Erie...
And I'm ready to go.
"Working on my night moves... Trying to find that front-page astronomy news... Working on my night moves. In the summertime...
July 3/4, 2005 - Waiting On Deep Impact....
Comments: There's no way we can watch Deep Impact from here in Ohio in a telescope, but that doesn't mean that we're numb to what's going on. This is another page in astronomy history and I'm darn sure gonna' be there in any way, shape, or form that I can.
Fremont Peak would've been nice... ;)
So, while I wait for the hours to pass I attend a local tractor pull. Who me? Yeah. I might surprise you with my diversity of interests. I genuinely like tractor pulls and my favourite class is the Super Modifieds. I just have a thing about listening to those turbines wind and watching the belch black smoke up in a tall column in the sky. It excites me to watch as the weight transfer slams to the front and you can darn sure call a "full pull" in the making. As for the rest? Well, I like them, too. If you don't get a charge out of listening to a turbo-charged engine, or hearing a blower sneeze, then you are brain dead. And when one of the semi-trucks carries that sled out the end like it's heading for Chicago before it slows down? Whoo boy!! Blown that air horn for the crowd, cuz' that's some real "hometown" excitement!
And all the while I'm knowing that Deep Impact is just this much >< closer...
When I get back, there's still time to spare and I start by checking out the sky. It's fuzzy and hazy and although the Summer Triangle rocks out, I'm not going to miss the real "fireworks" by setting up a scope. Instead, I turn on the computer and hook up virtually to images that update every 15 minutes from Kitt Peak. Dropping the screen, I also open a window to watch what's going on through a different set of eyes while Terry Mann monitors another station. Ten feet away, I've got the VCR ready and the station set on the NASA channel.
Houston? We're a go in Ohio.
It seemed like it took forever before the time got here. I don't know about the rest of the world, but I wasn't leaving my monitoring station. Everything I'm listening to and watching says that we are right on target and that everything is going with the best possible scenario. The only thing we need now are some images from the impactor itself.
When the first images start coming in, I am stunned. We are watching that impactor draw closer and closer to the comet's surface in an unprecedented view. Just look at it! It looks almost like an asteroid. You can see craters and ridges... White spots and dark. I am fascintated. And I watch as it gets closer and closer and closer...
And the impactor hits right on target.
Mission Control explodes in a frenzy, and you didn't have to tell me to get out of my chair - I already was. As they jump and raise their fist triumphantly in the air, I find myself doing the same!! This moment in time is just incredible. They've done it, folks.. They've hit the mark. And immediately they go back to the screens as we wait for those few short seconds for the data to start pouring in.
(&(#^%&^%&!!! Was I yelling expletives? You're darn right I was. Just look at that!! Isn't that the most freaking awesome thing you have ever seen?? As each image comes back in, the debris field widens and on the monitor you can see the effect the impact has had on the comet. This is not only been a success, but it has been a huge success. There was no marshmallow effect here... This was not a bug on a windshield... This was everything the mission promised to be - and far, far more.
Of course, I was totally wound. I watched on until they simply stopped feeding information and then I just dropped like a stone. It is truly a privelege to live in a country where I am free to share in such a wonderous adventure. I am nobody - yet I am participating just like I was somebody. I guess it's a good thing that I'm here where I am, or perhaps I would have missed this great moment. Like watching the Moon landing, Voyager, Galieo, the landing on Mars, and Cassini... It certainly is mankind's finest hour.
Now I am off to rest and curse the clouds. The day of the 4th is already here and chances for viewing the comet firsthand are looking very slim indeed. Even if just Spica shows tonight, I will be out there in the backfield.
And wishing you were here.
"Out in the grassy fields before the woods get tall... We'd set up and wait for the night to fall. Working on mysteries without any clues...
July 2, 2005 - At the Observatory...
Comments: A nice day, but a hazy cloudy evening for our Public Night. I was running a bit late, but not to worry for most of our members are this evening as well. After discussing business, I did a presentation of our "Night Sky Network" materials and although the skies don't look promising, I head on down to my car to bring up the NexStar 102 for first light.
Setting up well before skies were truly dark enough, let's just say I kinda' botched the alignment just a little bit and it didn't perform quite the way I thought it would. It's ok, though... Because as soon as the skies got dark enough, we were off to set the 31" on comet 9/P Tempel 1 despite the thin clouds and resulting sky bright. It has been so easy to find that I did not print off a chart, nor did I take coordinates. It's between 9th and 10th magnitude and it should walk right out in the big scope, right?
At this point in time, either Tempel 1 has taken a very drastic drop in magnitude or else the combination of thin cloud and reflection of light is really killing it. Using the 50mm in the big scope, I put it on Spica and headed off to exactly where I knew it should be. There's my two orange stars - but no comet. What the?? Calling Joe in, Robert and I moved over to let him successfully hook up the Argo Navis and then Joe called his son to get the absolute coordinates. When the scope was trained to the coordinates, there was an extremely faint fuzzy in the eyepiece and when he called me I brought back in the 12.3mm ED eyepiece. Even with this type of magnfication we could just barely make out the comet. A single, almost stellar point of light and a very, very diffuse coma with no tail.
What happened to our beauty??
Joe and I worked with a little photography after that, and we can only hope it captured something. My guess is the clouds and the reflection of the Mansfield nebula has put a hurting on the Observatory for viewing Tempel 1 and my hopes of seeing it after Deep Impact have quickly faded. At this point, I will be far better off right here in my own backyard with much darker southern skyline. But even then it looks like our weather is not going to cooperate.
Afterward, we set it on the M5 so the public had something really gorgeous to look at. Here and there I had been sneaking out the door wanting to play with the Celestron and not having much luck. Robert's son was with him tonight and they were slewing the little guy around and working with one of the club dobs. Terry had the Greer scope and Greg had the SVD8, so I was pretty stuck. About 20 minutes or so later, the haze came back big time and most folks just called it a night. 20 minutes after that? The skies came out to play, big time...
Unplugging the little beast, I reset everything and ran through the alignment proceedure again. Hitting my first object, I was sure it had gone crazy because the M13 is up there!! Laughing at my own stupidity, I looked at the keypad and noticed I had typed in M19... Duh! One look in the eyepiece and I can indeed confirm the M19! Robert came round about that time and zzzzzzt! here ya' go... One, two, three... Whatever you want is right in the eyepiece in miniature. It's got some very fine light grasp, but like all rich field refractors the objects are small. (but they are a very "clean" small... you might joke about how little jupiter looked - but that changed and you could split those moons in a heartbeat with another eyepiece. call me a fuddy-duddy, but i don't take out the good ones for general public.)
After running through 10 objects in a matter of minutes, I was pleased that the scope really does work the way it's supposed to. Although the skies are fantastic right now, everyone is breaking down to go home. Summertime just isn't fair. At best we get an hour or two or three to view and then all of us old farts have had enough. Before Greg leaves, I make him an offer he's been waiting to hear and when it is just Joe, Terry and I, we all stand open mouthed an watch the meteors fly out of the east.
Right now, Saggitarius is almost prime and the Milky Way spills out of the teapot's spout in great billows. I look at the dark rift and remember a night on almost the same date that I could do nothing more than stare into this incredilbe beauty. Years have passed since that time, but that image of that time and place are still burned into my heart. I hope that you are on top of that distant rock tonight, my friend...
And your eyes are filled with stars.
"He was a dark-haired demon with stars in his eyes... And a scope all of his own pointed up to the sky. Way up high in the sky..."
July 1, 2005 - The Sun... Mercury and Venus... Achieving New Studies...
Comments: What's this? A little bit of clear sky during the day and I'm off work by noon to start vacation. When I originally set this date, I was gonna' travel, but things didn't pan out so I was more than pleased to just set up for some solar observing and relaxation.
And you should see the Sun!
SOHO - MDI image
782 is the centermost, and it's wonderfully complex and full of small details. (wasn't the Sun blank a couple of days ago??) Well in from the limb, spot 783 is also a really good one, but there's too many others there to even count! Thinking for a few moments that I might film them, I also remember that it's a great time of the day to catch a burn as well as some film footage, so I put the scope away and find some sunscreen. It feels good to know that I'm not working for a few days and the next thing you know? A couple of hours pass and I'm feeling downright crispy.
Early evening means more than our fair share of stray clouds and wouldn't you know it... They're right over where Tempel 1 is located. Taking out the binoculars, I at least got to see Venus and Mercury again, and was astounded at how quickly Mercury has moved to Venus' left. Walking out to the back field, (yep! walking!) I started scanning the skies, but only Jupiter kept itself above cloud level.
I kept peeking back out, but Virgo had declined by the time the skies cleared. Disappointed? Heck, no! You should see the skies now! We've got Milky Way just singing and dancing and I am so ready to take out the old Meade and do some work on new studies. Galaxies? Not this time. Over the years I have pretty much studied every galaxy that's within the reach of my 12.5 and now I am ready to move on to another catalog.
Starting with Ras Algethi, I enjoy this red/green double even at lowest power. Most people think you need to magnify the heck out of a double star to split it, but that's not always the case. About 1 degree to the northwest is a very star-studded open cluster - DoDz 7. It's not screaming bright like a Messier, but it is very sweet. Next I go for the M13 and enjoy it almost as much in a small scope as I do a big one! About 3 degrees northwest is a loose open collection of stars known as Dolidze/Dzimselejsvili (DoDz) 5 - and it looks much like a miniature of the constellation of Hercules! By moving just slightly more than 4 degrees to its east and just about a degree south of Eta Hercules is DoDz 6. Now this one is sweet. It contains a perfect diamond pattern and an asterism of brighter stars which resembles the constellation of Saggitta.
Heading across Hercules towards Lyra, just east of the "keystone" you can easily see a tight configuration of three stars - Omicron, Nu and Xi. About the same distance that separates these stars to the northeast you will find DoDz 9. With no more magnification than a 40mm provides, it's a pretty open cluster of around two dozen mixed magnitude stars that are quite attractive. Heading south across the "keystone" towards Lambda and Delta about midway between them and slightly to the southeast is the stellar field of DoDz 8. No real asterism here, just a nice collection of stars.
Next stop? Around 3 degrees southeast of Beta Cygni for Stock 1. This is definately a stellar swarm and contains around 50 or so members of varying magnitudes. Of course, everyone knows the asterism known as the "Coat Hanger", but it is also known as Brocchi's Cluster, or Collinder 399. You never have to twist my arm to get me to look at Albeiro or enjoy the red stars of Co 399!
Now, I've got to fly Cygnus. How many years have I looked at these open clusters and just never took the time to identify them? Let's start tonight. Starting with Gamma, I identify loose open involving Gamma named Dolidze (Do) 43. After, that, it's time to move two degrees southwest and pick up Do 42. Now this is a real smile, for I remember Dave Qua very well, and can tell you now this was the open cluster he was looking at and thinking it was the M29! Cruising another half degree to the southwest along the body of Cygnus brings on Do 40 and Do 41. This pretty pair of open clusters can be placed in the same lower power field, and look like a very distant view of the "Double Cluster". Moving another half degree due west, brings up highly populated Do 39 and it is a double treat as well - the brighter clump of stars in the same low power field is IC 4996.
Now, I'm getting tired, but I still head towards Ruprecht 173 is about a degree northwest of Epsilon Cygnii. Very nice! It's a heavily populated star cluster that could darn near have been a Messier. Having a quick go at Epsilon Lyra, a brush over the "Ring", I then move off towards Delta 1 and 2 - the easternmost of the top two stars in the lyre. They aren't a true double, but the this bright pair is part of an open cluster known as Stephenson 1. One more before I go? It's not a stranger to me... But hey. Who can resist the M11?
Smiling at the skies, I could probably hang out all night just looking through Saggitarius again, but I can feel where my legs definately caught a little too much Sun today and I'd best get off my feet. I really hope the skies are clear where you are, and I will definately miss spending the weekend at Glacier Point. With a bit of luck, the skies will be clear for tomorrow night and we'll get to have another look at the comet through the 31".
Or maybe not.
"I'm a little too tall... Could use a few less pounds. My mensa points are hardly reknown..."