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November 2005

November 24, 2005 - Out Thanksgiving...

Comments: What a beautiful night. After days of snow and grey skies what a wonder it is to behold the stars again. The moment I saw Mars so deep and brilliantly red, I knew that despite temperatures in the low teens that I had to be out there.

Once bundled up, I headed for the garage to take out the dob... But I can feel these little snow crystals on my face and realize that I am taking a chance with the mirror. Does this mean I better head back inside and let it go? No. No one loves me more than that old Celestron telescope and it walks with me where others will not.

Setting up, my first object was Mars and I am still deeply impressed with how well this old battle worn scope can perform. With the 10mm eyepiece, it's not hard to see that it is the fingers of Mare Erythraeum reaching into the lighter Chryse. And when I have been thankful for my view of Mars?

I move on.

On to the Plieades and T Taurii. Off to the M31, M32 and M110. The M33 does very well tonight and I am equally delighted at the M76. M15 just snaps, crackles and pops like the ground beneath my feet and M2 dances. I walk through Cassipeia, and have to stay at low power because my hands are now so cold that I cannot be trusted to turn the set screws that hold the eyepiece into place. Does it matter? There is such perfection in the NGC 457. It always makes me smile.

Have I told you lately just how beautiful the NGC 7789 is in a small scope? Then believe me. It is like just beginning to resolve out a galaxy. There are very few open clusters that can rival it for stardust beauty. While the M103 is small, it is crowned by bright stars to the northwest and southeast. NGC 663 is magnificent. It is shaped like a top... A tiny tornado of stars with brighter ones swirling around the ones you just can't quite resolve. NGC 659 is just a tiny patch to the south and NGC 654 a vague mist to the northwest. I find a "boomerang" of stardust in the NGC 637 and a sprinkle of jewels in the NGC 225. Like a globular cluster that isn't... The M52 is the last for me here and on the south leading edge is a star so bright that it looks supernova compared to the rest.

I am so cold... But I do not want to go. I want to drink in the NGC 869 and 884 before I leave here. I want to see the M1 again and smile at the soft round glow of M77. You know I've gotta' see the Orion Nebula just one last time...

Before I go.

"I'm not a perfect person. There's many things I wish I didn't do. But I continue learning. I never meant to fall in love with you. And so I have to say before I go... That I just want you to know. I've found a reason for me... To change who I used to be. A reason to start over new...

And the reason is you."

November 20/21, 2005 - The Leonids, Vampyre Shift and the Moon...

Comments: Up early after having given a program? Yes. It's no great secret that I work through the weekends and the hours are not the easiest. Those clear skies held through the night and when I went out with my morning cup to let the dog have a run, I ended up standing and watching those unpredictable Leonids. Jupiter is still caught way down on the horizon, but these bright meteors shine just as brightly as Sirius and this morning are much more prolific that what they were at their peak! On a curious note, much like a couple of years ago and the big shower, when they first come out of the radiant they are faint streaks that look as if they are running down the face of the sky... But turn extremely bright just before they extinguish around, oh, say 10 degrees of so of the horizon line.

I watch for as long as I can and watch as I drive into work. It's probably not a good thing during the silly season for deer to be gawking out the car windows, but hey! Thems the Leonids... ;)

And, I'm back in bed even before the Sun sets and back up again for work just as one day changes to the next. Although I am still a little groggy, when I see the Moon casting silver/blue shadows through the open windows, you know that I have to at least set the old Celestron out and have a peek, don't you.

Ah, ya' know me well....

This morning it is the beautiful Altai Scarp that grabs and holds the attention. While I love all lunar features, there are just times when a particular area will hold you there and tonight the Vampyre chooses this one. What a cold and lonely place this Moon... As I look up, there is one last stray Leonid that I have caught, but there will be no watching tonight as I drive. I learned my lesson about deer coming out of no where last year! The drive is quite and the moonlit landscape peaceful. Bambi and company are not playing baseball tonight and I make it in to work in the usual way... At the last second and staring at the sky as I walk across the parking lot. Vampyre shift is a lonely one...

And so is astronomy...

"And I don't feel you here... Anymore."

November 19, 2005 - At the Observatory: Girl Scouts...

Comments: Time for another program? You betcha' and I wouldn't miss it for the world. This time it is for a Marion local girl scout troop wanting to earn their astronomy merit badges and trust me...

There's no place finer than Warren Rupp Observatory...

For a change, I beat our guests there - but not by much. As they had a look around, Joe got the dome opened up and I laid out the goodies for the program. Since Ohio weather is often chancey, I figured it would be best if we started off by viewing, because clouds could swoop back in the forty five or so minutes it takes to do a little learning. Of course, right now nothing is finer than Mars and their curiousity about the Pleiades leads us there as well. Needless to say, nothing can ever top just listening as someone views and their comments! This is what this big scope is all about... "Seeing" for the very first time.

So what did we talk about? These are slightly younger than the Eagle scouts, so requirements were just a bit different - but not by much. While the Moon was still below the horizon, we went outside and identified constellations and really took a look at the MIlky Way and what it is. Sky stories soon followed and we talked about legends that go with each of the constellations. When back inside the dome, I make full use of the Night Sky Network "Planet Quest" tool kit and we happily journey from the Earth to the Moon... and all the way out the door for Pluto. I love to hear the laughs as folks discover just how truly BIG our solar system is and how enormous our galaxy is in relation... and just how infinite - yet finite - our universe can be!

As always, Joe blows them away with just that final little bit from the Hubble Deep Field, and as an encore we return to our solar system to listen to visitors from outer space and get the opportunity to handle different types of meteor samples. All in all, it is a very good night. When the time comes to leave, I find myself smiling quite a lot as I put my things away. This is most likely the last program that we will give for 2005 because it won't be long until the weather will keep us away. It has really been a wonderful year and for all the great people who make my astronomy hobby such a pleasure, I hope in some small measure that these public outreach programs give back some of the joy that I have been given. I'm being serious wehn I tell you that I don't know who has a better time when we do this... Them... Or me!

As the last red light is extinguished and the last door locked, I sit in my car and smile up at this place a last time before I leave. Chances are, I won't be back for weeks on end and leaving the Observatory tonight is like knowing you're going to be leaving home for awhile. Nostalgic? Nah. It's been a wonderful year...

And now it's time to plan for the next.

"Yes, you've gone away...."

November 18, 2005 - A Trickle of Leonids...

Comments: Novem brrrrrrrrrr is right. It's before 4:00 a.m. The temperature is definately below zero celsius and the ground is frozen harder than a carp. The once damp grass now "crisps" when you walk through it and my body just has not adjusted to the temperature changes yet. I know that in a matter of weeks that this will actually feel kinda' warm... but right now it feels to cold to even think about sitting on frosted lawn furniture. So why am I out here at this ungodly hour with an old sweatshirt tied around my head and my down-filled parka zipped up tighter than a wetsuit?

Cuz' I would just like to see one Leonid...

The sky is awfully bright and the moonlight looks surreal on the frosted landscape. I try very hard not to shiver and keep sipping at my thermal mug of coffee while stealing looks up at the stars. H has long since abandoned me to go back by the fire, but I get the last laugh. I didn't put any more wood on the coals yet, because I didn't want any smoke! So there... And I keep waiting and waiting... My coffee is gone and still I wait. I'm beginning to worry that perhaps my neck will stay like that for the rest of the day and I'll just have to spend my life...

And then it happens.

Almost as if one of the stars had melted at last and rolled down the face of the sky, a silver meteor made it's way out of Leo and off to the south. I know it's dumb to cry out, because no one can hear me... But I do any way. Suddenly I don't notice the cold anymore and a glance at the clock through the window says I still have time. As I watch, two more slip like tiny trails of solder quietly away into where ever it is that they go. Quite probably off to Jupiter over yonder... Or maybe to Mars in the west. And I realized that I, too, must go west. Duty calls and work awaits.

But what an awesome way to wake up.

"Because I'm broken... Yes, I'm lonesome. And I don't feel right... When you're gone away."

November 12, 2005 - At The Observatory... Scout's Honor!

Comments: What a terrific treat it was to have one of our local scout troops visit at the Observatory. I had been given a list of the requirements needed for them to complete their work for their merit badges, and while I can't do the "homework", we can sure take care of 85% of what's needed to fulfill it.

Life has been very strange here for about the last week or more. What's that phrase? When it rains, it pours. Needless to say, it's been pouring and despite still not feeling well and a lot of personal issues, (dad is doing fine again, thanks!) I really needed to get away for awhile and spending two hours with these fellows really made my night.

Although we were greatly structured in the type of program given, it was still a wonderful time. Hopefully, Heidi will join us as a new member and continue to enjoy programs and Joe got the honors of taking them up in the lift as I explained to them a little bit about how to make a lunar sketch to compare to a map. It was a lot of fun when they had finished to show them just where they were looking and just how small an area that they were really looking at!

Discussions? You name it. We went from everything from identifying constellations and sky movement to looking at particular star types. We discussed solar physics, sizes, distances, how to use maps, how a scope works, why we put telescopes into space, how photometry works and spectography... In other words, they had a very full evening and a very well rounded program. Thankfully the sky stayed clear enough for them to at least get a look at Mars as well. The weather is a little volatile and the view not particularly steady, but there's a big difference in seeing a planet the size of a dinner plate instead of seeing a planet the size of a dime, eh?

It was really a great two hours and I almost hated when I had to leave, but duty calls and work starts early in the morning. I hope we have given them the basics they need to complete their merit badges and they always remember their time here at the Observatory. It doesn't matter if I feel like ten miles of bad road is still ahead, because...

I'll darn sure remember them.

"Because I'm broken... Yes, I'm open. And I don't feel like... I am strong enough."

November 11, 2005 - The Moon and Mars...

Comments: Still a bit under the weather here, but with clear skies, it's a shame not to at least go out for a short time. I sneaked out just before sunset and took a picture of Venus caught in the treetops with this great sunset shining below it... But I got cold very quickly. Later, I didn't wander far, just set the old Celestron out for a look at the Moon and Mars.

My favourite area is there, and I shall always remember the "Bay of Rainbows", I remember talking with Cor once, when he also had a rotten cold. We ran a long-standing science fiction story back and forth between us about a traveller in the Sinus Iridum... What a smile that brings! Copernicus is also outstanding as is Plato.

And a quick look at Mars is all I take tonight. It's the chocolate brown smears over and under along with a long expanse of not much of anything in the middle. After I am done, I cap things up quickly and head the old beast back to the garage before it is tempted to go to double stars and me to follow it. There will be another time, old friend...

And I'll feel much better then.

"There's so much left to learn... And no one left to fight."

November 10, 2005 - Still Kickin'...

Comments: I am feeling very much better, thank you. It's been a rough three days, but most of the bad stuff has passed and with it came some clear skies. Although I still ain't feeling like taking the big scope out, I bundled up and walked out with the big binos while H made an evening run. It's wonderful to see the Double Cluster, M34, Copernicus emerging, Andromeda so bright even with the Moon and I still marvel and the Pleiades and Mars...

And thereby a smile is born.

Several days ago I made a sighting on Mars that totally blew my mind. This is one part of astronomy I firmly believe in - so often times people are in so much of a hurry that they can't see the forest for the trees. Those who know me, know I go about my astronomy with no expectations. I don't observe distant galaxies because I want to do something that others can't and I don't plan to observe Mars because I need to tell you how much detail I can pick out on the surface with "my optically perfect scope". I observe because I love it, if my scope has dust on it it has dust... and when I look at something?

I look at all of it.

When Mars rocked my world, it was because I had seen a wink that didn't belong. My thought was that it had occulted, or was about to occult a field star... Nothing more. I had been told so many times, by so many people, that observing a martian moon was an impossibility that I just believed it. But... My eyes saw something my brain refused to believe. I had written my friend Derek, who is a master at occultation information and got a negative. No stars down to a certain magnitude and we just let it go at that. Of course, it was too late by then because I had already posted my report and if nothing else I am stupidly honest. Right or wrong, I'll tell you what I saw.

So... Along comes today and another friend, John, had sent me a link to a great picture of Mars and it's moons. Low and behold, as I watched there was my "wink" in precisely the same position and the same distance I had called it days and days ago. Shall I share? And thank John Boudreau profusely for the image:

I can't tell you how much it means to see something confirmed when you've thought you've lost your mind.

"I guess the worst is past... And we can breathe again. I want to hold you high and steal your pain... Away."

November 7, 2005 - The "Vampyre" and the Moon...

Comments: What a beautiful morning before I left for work! I was kinda' tired feeling, but not so tired that I didn't take binoculars out and enjoy Mars at opposition so close to the Pleiades, or the M42, or the M41, or the M35, M36, M37, M38, M47, M46, M93, NGC 2362, Cr140, M44, the Double Cluster and M34. Big binoculars are wonderful... You can cram a whole lot of astronomy into your eyes in a very short time.

By mid-morning I was even more tired and starting to have a sore throat. I didn't think much of it until the sneezing started and by the time the evening rolled around, I knew this ol' Vampyre wasn't going back out again. It feels like someone is driving a stake through my heart... And when I refuse my weekly "steak", I'm not feeling too good. Instead, I stood at the window and watched the Moon while shivering inside a blanket. Despite the flu shot, a virus of some kind has found me and it's not a happy one. It's one I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, ok? But, don't you worry. I'll get plenty of rest and if beer counts as a fluid, then I'm happy. There's plenty of wood inside to keep the fire going...

And those stars will be there when I get back.

"Cuz' I'm broken.... Yes, I'm lonesome. And I don't feel right... When you're gone away."

November 5, 2005 - At the Observatory... Back at Home...

Comments: Crappy night? You bet. Tis' the season here in Ohio for rains and wind and today was no exception. Once in awhile the skies would clear for a few brief moments, but it doesn't take long before it's gone.

Tonight is also RAS meeting night and the last public night of the year for Warren Rupp Observatory. I had really hoped we could do a big Mars event, but the weather will either be totally awesome or totally toast and tonight all we need is a little welsh rarebit or some beluga to go with the skies. Despite having hit a pocket of rain near Lexington, by the time I was climbing the hills the Moon and Venus appeared. Talk about whoa! Right down on the horizon and just as beautiful as could be... a beautiful crescent and a dazzling point of light side by side. Maybe?

Nah. It's Ohio.

It was really nice to see everyone again and fill them in on the latest happenings and plans for the future. I had framed a copy of the article in "Astronomy" which had featured us and Phil Harrington was nice enough to autograph for me. We're getting a nice collection going and it's just super to really look at all the progress the last year has brought. We were about half expecting some students tonight and a few of the more adventurous ones actually came!

Joe took them up for a tour of the Dome and one of those freak clear spells happened. John N. was right on it and it was just fantastic that we were able to give them a view of Mars and the Saturn Nebula. During the aiming process, they would come outside and we would discuss astronomy in general. At first I thought I was talking with some OSU students, but they straightened me out. They were from Mt. Vernon high school and these terrific young folks volunteer their time once a week in the evenings to get astronomy classes! Now that's some dedication...

So, I talked about all the things that make me happy... Like variables, eclipsing binaries, spectral types, planetary nebula, emission and reflection nebula, solar physics, light years, galaxy structures, carbon stars, super novae, comets, meteors, photometry and radio stuff. We handled my meteor collection and played around with some of the other things in the magic briefcase. In the meantime? More guests had come along and what would have at one time been a "no show" at the Observatory was a successfully, albeit toasty, night!

Heading back home, I hit many more clear pockets but I've been burning the candle at both ends for so long that I didn't hold out much hope for clear skies here. And... They weren't. It has also been a very long time since I just relaxed and watched television, so I made myself a frozen pizza, stayed on alert and watched "The Day The Earth Stood Still". Around 12:30 I went out for a sky check and pow...

The calm before the storm.

Pulling the 12.5" out, Mars was my objective and boy, Mars does not disappoint. One day before opposition and we've got Mare Sirenum and Amazonia with a big ol' white spot. And my little wink? It's not there and I'm not thinking about it.

What I'm thinking about is the splendid apparation of Orion and how much I really enjoy taking high powered shots through the M42. The Trapezium area always blows me away because it looks dark at low power, but it's not. When those little red and blue stars pop out, you'll see that the whole area is full of mackeral scale nebula that's not anything like the long, fanned portions with their embedded stars. Inside the Trapezium is where I am talking about. It looks like scallops, yet the major portion of the rest of the M42 is filamented.

Knowing that it's really late doesn't seem to much matter, but I'm feeling it. I head off to study the M1 for awhile because it's just been so long since I've seen it and then pack it in. In a matter of hours, electrical storms will rage across the countryside and the winds will gust so hard that branches will be pulled from the trees. Had I known then, I would have stayed out a bit longer and secured some things down so I didn't have to locate my pool cover 2 miles away or find my deck chairs at the other end of the field.

Ah, well. So it goes.

"Because I'm broken. Yes, I'm open. And I don't feel like... I am strong enough."

November 2, 2005 - Galaxy Hunting...

Comments: I'm not touching Mars tonight, because I'm still freaked out by what I saw. Stuff that close in to a bright planet doesn't happen unless it's a galiean about to transit or...

Nah. Non Phobos.

Tonight's walk starts on the late side, but the skies are awesome and I'm not turning down a galaxy hop. Let's begin at triple Psi Aquarii and hop north.

First off was a real nice one - NGC 7606. At whatever magnification the 12.5mm widefield provides, it's wonderfully bright and of a decent enough size to tell instantly that it's a barred spiral. Very nice presentation. North of it was a real little bear... NGC 7600. I passed over this one twice and had to come back. We are talking about small and very faint. The designation says elliptical, but it's got to be a very even one, because there is no sense of a nucleus region at all. Just a very tiny little oval.

NGC 7585 northeast of Phi wasn't much better. Roughly the same size and only slightly brighter. NGC 7221 took me quite some time to find, but at least we've got a little structure on a small, faint galaxy! This one brightens towards the core. Last hop was Omega one two and north for NGC7723. Much better. Easy direct, fairly large, a little bit brighter in the center and definately elongated. Now for NGC 7727. Yeah, baby! This one is a galaxy! Direct, and just as round as round can be and a very nice condensation towards the nucleus. If you stop and wide avert on this one, you can see that it has a very faint outer arm structure that's more of a soft halo than a genuine separation by a dark dustlane. This one?

Was worth the time.

"I keep your photograph. I know it serves me well... I want to hold you high and steal my pain."

November 1, 2005 - At the Observatory... and How Mars Rocked My World...

Comments: First off, I would like to wish my Dad a very happy birthday! We look very forward to having you around for many, many years...

It was also my great privelege to give a tour of the Warren Rupp Observatory to a wonderful family visiting from Louisiana. You'll ever know how very much I enjoy taking visitors through this great place! It's awesome to watch people's faces as they see this magnificent scope for the very first time...

And then the skies went clear.

So what's an astronomer to do, eh? Well, what I really wanted was just a long and loving look at Mars. Pulling the 12.5" around to my favourite spot, I waited until it was heading into the upper third of the sky, then really socked the magnification to it. Bikini Mars! I always get a big charge out of the Syrtis Major region. Hellas Basin is very bright and almost white. This is probably a contrast thing against the chocolate brown look of the surface features, but who cares? And I was looking... really looking. Watching those clarity spots and then all at once...

I saw something that didn't belong.

How do I describe this so you don't think I'm going crazy? Mars is overpoweringly bright. At lower powers you can see a few field stars outside of its influence and it's in a very populated area. But... But... I was watching the disc edge. Hoping to see some inward rotating features... And then I caught this glint. What the?? I went both in and outside of focus because I know I'm not crazy and it's still there. Pushing Mars outside the field of view, there's still a pink wash... But still the speck persists. We're talking southeast and no further than one third the size of the disc away from the edge.

Confused, I went to go fetch the old Celestron. It won't gather as much light and I want to see. Prognosis? Very stellar field. But what's the wink? Back to the big 'un and we've still got a persistant glint. Magnitude? Sir? I just can't judge. My guess would be around 12.0... But Mars' influence would probably hammer a star that dim that close.

So what was it??

"I wanted you to know... I love the way you laugh. I want to hold you high and steal your pain... Away."