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September 2005

September 27, 2005 - Joyride...

Comments: When I left for work this morning, I had to stop and admire those beautiful starry skies. It's been cloudy for so long that it looks unusual to see them back and I am still reveling in Mars and the Plieades and Saturn with the M44. Even that phat slice of Moon doesn't kill this view!

Of course, with Hidden Hollow drawing so near, things have been absolutely crazy. The sheer volume of e.mail has been a full time job in itself not to mention other things that I have going on as well. Around about 9:30 or so, I just called it quits. There's only so much that I can do in one day and it was time to stop and relax.

For a moment, I thought about TV, but that's a tomorrow night thing. Right now, I want nothing more than just to take the old Celestron out for a little rumble and that is just what I did. Despite its years, this is still one of the finest performing telescopes that I own and even though the aperture is only 114mm, it still rocks.

Seriously? I love the M22 and M28. M17 is still kicking and I've abused this mount so much that I don't have any problem cutting it up for the M27, M71, Brocchi's cluster and the M57. (dang, i like that little ring!!) Out of curiousity, I went for the NGC 7331 and was delighted to see its slender scratch of light. The Andromeda Galaxy is beyond compare and the companions are very faint, but still very there in even this small scope.

I know in the days ahead that I will be gone once again. It's time for our big convention and in order to make things work, I will have to forgo my reports until I am home again. Does this bother me? In one way, yes. What I am is here in these pages and I do not feel complete without them. Right now, what I need is just a place where I don't think. Happiness is walking the open clusters of Cassiopeia and not caring what the numbers are. Relaxation is losing yourself in the "Double Cluster" and dreaming about Algol. In short?

This was just what I needed.

"I need serenity... In a place where I can hide. I need serenity... Nothing changes. Days go by.

Where do we go when we just don't know? And how do we relight the flame when it's cold? Why do we dream when our thoughts mean nothing? And when will we learn to control?

I need serenity... I need serenity."

September 23/24, 2005 - The "Sally Ride Science Festival"....

Comments: Not long ago I met a person who it must have been destined that we become good friends. The moment I met her it was like I had known her all my life, so when she invited me to join her at the "Sally Ride Science Festival", I was delighted. This was my chance to represent the Observatory, Night Sky Network and the Astronomy League all at once!

You bet I'll go...

As I've said, we enjoy each other's company and it was only natural that we leave a bit early and have some time to unwind. We both work on monumental schedules and a little laughter will do us both a great deal of good. What finer place to meet than Lake Erie and take in some of the great stuff? So, I packed my bags and headed out early Friday afternoon.

My life is always a comedy of errors. I am not complete without it. Safe drive? Of course. Good time? You know it. Sheer blonde? No doubt. Once there, I found myself with a terrific retreat and a set of keys that didn't work. Well... In order to make time, I didn't make any pit stops and I was dancin' by the time I tried the first lock. Holy moly! I somehow managed to get the first door open, but by the time I made the second and it didn't work? Propriety didn't stop me, brothers... I don't care if anyone saw me.

I had to go!

In my mad dash, I had shut the first door and when I returned I was sick to find it had re-locked itself. Ever resourceful, I considered this no problem until I realized that I had locked both cell phone and keys inside and I was stranded. Cry? Nope. I am not a girl. It might have taken knocking on 30 doors, but I found what I was looking for and within minutes put my skill as a Harley rider to test and was once again inside. First obstacle past, it didn't take very long until the laws of physics presided as I realized there was no way that my size was going to fit where it needed to go. Simple solution?

She's smaller than I am. ;)

Needless to say, a lot of laughter followed as I took a very proper lady and introduced her to the finer art of not breaking and entering. I know I am a bad influence, but at least I am never boring! In a matter of hours, I had her climbing over rocks, tromping through a graveyard, surrounded by military, running stop signs (ooops.), driving through a flock of birds, defying wind and waves on an abandoned pier, and off for some of the best eatin' that either one of us had in awhile. In short? We had a great time and talked long into the evening.

Both of us are accoustomed to early hours and well before dawn we are up and ready to go. Heading out on the highway, we ran nice and close to a nuclear power plant and the off to Michigan. It wasn't long until we made the campus and it was time to set up.

Thanks to all the helpful foks, we had a great spot and two excellent tables for all of our stuff. I brought some of my favourite toys and it wasn't long until books were ready, things were out and she was preparing a scope for solar viewing when and if the clouds should depart. We had this down, now! I had brought my television I use along with the eyepiece camera... But no skies. Still, it was no problem to set the scope on a distant point because half the beauty is knowing that the scope really is looking at something.

Now that everything was ready, all we had to do was wait on the participant's to arrive. Our table looked great and we had about everything that you could ask for giving a quick, on-the-spot astronomy demonstration. One side of our area was loaded with issues of the Astronomy League's "Reflector" magazine, issues of "Astronomy" and "Night Sky". The other table held her excellent astrophotography, my meteor collection, the laptop playing meteor sounds, demonstrations on why we put telescopes into space, and the TV monitor looking through the telescope. We're ready!

The hours passed quickly as the beautiful campus filled with exhibits and guests. At times, as many as a dozen or so folks would be around the table at once and each of us would be talking at the same time. The would move between the two of us and we only had scant minutes to relate astronomy before they were ready to move to the next exhibit. Out of the more than 900 registered guests, we had 780 of them stop by and visit with us for awhile! This was a great experience and I cannot believe how quickly the time went.

As I walk around to have a look at some of the exhibits myself when guests go to listen to the keynote speaker, I round the corner and I see her talking with some folks. Even from 50 yards away I can see her face just shine with the light of loving what's she's doing.

And I know the feeling....

This is Terry Mann. She is perhaps one of the finest true ladies I have ever met. A real person and one whose company I have most thoroughly enjoyed. (pssst! i wanna' grow up to be just like her... ;) She treats everyone with kindness and anybody who is willing to put up with me for two days deserves some respect!

Soon enough we are packed back up and ready to go. We head back out on the highway and I am equally delighted to find that she drives just like me... or maybe I drive just like her... but without the stop sign thing, eh? The miles pass quickly and we stop for a final meal before our roads branch out in different ways. It has been a superb experience, and it is one I will always remember. Terry?

You are awesome.

"I need serenity..."

September 22, 2005 - Mars and the Plieades, Saturn and the M44...

Comments: It's early in the morning. I like this time of day. The skies were clear the night before, but once a week I stop everything that I am doing and watch a television program. Who me? Yep. I like the no-nonsense, skeptical approach to paranormal research and when "Ghost Hunters" are on? I am there.

And here I am now. It's 4:30 a.m. and the coffee tastes good as I pad out in barefeet to have a look at the sky. So many wonderful people have noticed the equinox change and it's amazing to see the Moon so far overhead again. Mars is like a beacon and the Plieades sparkle so brightly that I cannot help but to stand and stare. Towards the east, Saturn's yellow glow is unlike anything else in the sky. Even with the moonlight, you can still see the smudge of the "Beehive" so close that you just ache with the natural beauty and wonders of the dome of the sky.

It's the best part of waking up.

"I need serenity."

September 20, 2005 - Neptune, the "Saturn Nebula", M2 and the Moon...

Comments: Clear skies? Oh, yes. Ohio always gets a little hurricane sweep and for the most part things have been cloudy and/or rainy for some time now. It's been awhile since I have been out and I am anxious to play.

Who let the dob out?

I know I haven't long before the Moon rises, but I'm anxious to just look around and it's been an equally long time since I've looked up the outer planets. I look longingly at what's left of Saggitarius as it dips into a large tree, knowing that if I would just walk another 50 yards out that I would clear... But I'm content here. Setting my sights on Theta Capricornii, it only takes moments until I find my marker star and I drove straight to Neptune just like I had been doing it all my life. It's never been an exciting planet, but it is a decently bright disc and has a blue hue to it. I guess it's not the details that thrill me so much as knowing that it really is out there. It's not just a fact on a page, or a picture on a chart. It's a gigantic planet and I can see it!

Right here in my own backyard...

My next move is for NGC 7009 and it's as easy as Nu. What the heck is going on here? Usually I'd be so rusted that I'd have to struggle... But there it is. At low power it appears as a "pulled" planetary, but sock in the 12.3mm and watch what happens! There is a definate bulge in the center and even more definate extensions. The "Saturn Nebula" is totally awesome and I probably spent 15 minutes just staring at it.

The next? The mighty M2 and I became blonde again. I have no idea of why I find this object so difficult to find, but I was still puttering around with it when I could see the eastern sky begin to light up. No time, Rabbit!! Dropping back to low power remedied the situation (actually, picking up my binoculars and checking north of Beta was the real help. ;) and pow! There it was. Very rich, compact and enough resolution with the 12.3mm to absolutely take my breath away.

Before I head back in, I have to take a look at the Moon now that it has risen. I laugh when I see it, for I have seen this phase many times and I shall have to remember that it is a 17 day wonder! The curvature of Mare Crisium is just so outstanding....

For now? That is enough. I am happy to have clear skies again and some time to enjoy them. The days ahead may bring clouds, but it was good to be back outdoors again...

With you in the dark.

"I need serenity..."

September 19, 2005 - The Moon and Mars...

Comments: Yes. It's "vampyre" time again. When I awoke, the moonlight was so startlingly bright that it looked like the whole outside was blue with light. What happened? The days have been filled with clouds and rain here, and they have been swept away while I slept. Too bad they did not depart on Saturday so I could have seen the Harvest Moon!

I am not overly energetic tonight, yet I need that peaceful contemplation before going to work. My companion was the old Celestron and I sip at my coffee while I trace the brilliant rays and peaks on the lunar surface. I smile as I see so many things that I have written about - and so many more that I need to. Behind the Moon trails Mars, and before I have to leave to ready myself for work, I turn the scope its way as well.

Features? Not enough with this small scope and mid-to-low power. I can clearly see the polar cap and the blue carbon dioxide haze. It's a soft orange color and it is mottled with brown features, but nothing distinct. (i know the feeling. i am not terribly distinct at 1:45 a.m. either.) It doesn't matter.

It's just good to see the sky again.

"I need serenity."

September 14, 2005 - Of Beginnings and Endings...

Comments: It is no secret that I am at work well before dawn. When I saw the first lightening outside a door in passing, I decided I would step out back just to view the rosy clouds of sunrise. When I stepped out the door, I was caught and held by a purple Sun that had just cleared the horizon.

Buried deep in the Fall mists, the muted Sun was a huge disc. What caught my eye immediately was that it was moving... And moving fast. Positioning myself, I put a stationery object in the foregound and a multi-lined power pole was the perfect choice. As the Sun climbed, it became more and more red, but was still so deeply filtered that it was not in the least painful to the eye. Within a matter of just minutes it had climbed three degrees! Such an awesome display of the movement of the Earth. I was both humbled and in awe, because normally it would be so bright that you could not see this. It was one of the most incredible things I've ever witnessed. Sunspot and all!

Bless the morning mists...

But the day held some sadness as well. Sometimes particular individual will take my fancy. It is like we have met in a past life, and perhaps this person has meant something to me. At least in this life, this person very much has. We have known each other for several years now, and although there is a disparity in our ages, we have never failed to amuse one another with our conversations. Today is his last day here in Ohio and he is going off to make a new life. Sadness? Of course. I will miss his intellectual banter greatly and this is a goodbye that I do not want to say.

I do believe both of us had a tight throat as we hugged, kissed, and wished each other farewell. I want to run, for I do not deal well with deep emotions even though they are there. Before he leaves, I study his face and etch it into my memory. All will be well with you, my friend. And I wish you the very best.

When I leave, I find a note on my car. When I read it, my throat tightens once again and the words blur. You see... He believes in me just as much as I believe in him. And we will meet again.

God speed, Von...

"I need my serenity."

September 13, 2005 - The "X" Files...

Comments: Did I get my wish? Yes. Despite mostly cloudy skies there was still an opportunity to shoot through the holes to get a look at 798 again. When I went to the eyepiece, I had no real intention of filming, but when I saw it?

I went back for the camera.

798 has changed considerably in just a matter of days. What was once to major umbral fields have now drawn together with a fine light bridge between them. I was stunned as I watched and I kept the image floating over and over again on the screen because I could see a new detail each time. Little did I know, but at the same time I was filming, yet another X class flare was in progress. Have I answered my own questions from the past? I am still not sure. At one moment while watching, the bridge area would disappear and the whole thing would be as black as midnight. Two minutes later, the bridge would be back but red as fire. The distortion I contributed to atmosphere, but it was still a mighty fine experience.

One day when I get rich and famous, I'm gonna' get me an H-alpha set up. Even in white light, watching one of these tremendous spots go through its changes is incredibly exciting... I can't imagine how I would feel if I actually saw the flare itself firsthand.

Probably very humbled...

"Why do we dream when our thoughts mean nothing? And when will we learn to control...."

September 12, 2005 - Pink Skies...

Comments: Again, I'm looking for aurora... And I was not too disappointed. Just as soon as twilight arrived, the entire northern sky was alight with pink. Of course, this drives me crazy because a slight ground fog will also cause the same effect from the lights of the Pillsbury Test Facility, but when I walked to all points in the backyard, I couldn't see any glow dome from Marion, Galion, Mt. Gilead or Bucyrus. Apparently this is genuine, so I settled in the chair just to watch.

After awhile, I simply thought I was going crazy. Everywhere I looked seemed to have pink in it. I had been out for around an hour and I could swear I saw a pink cloud to the east again. Focusing my attention that way, when I turned back to the north again, I watched the pink arch drop just like someone had turned down a rheostat. When it had gone, all that was left was artificial light that barely rose as high as the lower roof on my house.

Now THAT I understand. This is the "normal" mode and one that I have seen so many times I don't even think about it. When the glow is 20 degrees below Polaris? That's normal. Something caused by a dusty night or more steam than usual and it's white.. Not pink or blue.

Satisfied that I had saw what I saw, I tipped that low southward Moon a grin and gave a salute to the very pale Andromeda galaxy. If there are more tomorrow, the Moon will most surely toast whatever can be seen. Let's hope the clouds stay away... Because I'd like to see that wicked sunspot.

Just one more time.

"Where do we go when we just don't know? And how do we re-light the flame when it's cold?"

September 11/12, 2005 - Aurora, the Plieades, and Mars...

Comments: I am the "Vampyre". I had difficulty sleeping since I have been out of the loop. I awoke, oddly enough, when the first proton stream for the recent solar storms hit Earth and went outside to watch the pale green glow. I knew I would be dead if I stayed up, so I forced myself back to sleep and returned again just before midnight.

Taking my essential cup of coffee, my pack of smokes and Dog H with me, I went out on the deck and sat down. Before I even begin for the evening I have something that I have to do. First off, I am the child of a career fireman. My father has long since retired from the service, but it is part of my blood - my heritage. As I sit and say a silent prayer, I count 343 stars in the sky. Today was September 11, and for those brave men who gave their lives, I count stars.

343. Never forget.

When I have completed my vigil, I turn my attention once again to the aurora. The sky is alight with a deep, dark red and the north is a fan of pale, blue light. Just like before, most of the color action seems to be directed to the northeast and it is not intense... Just there. Actually the whole northern half of the sky was involved in this, because I could even see some ruby coloration towards the south as well. Whenever I thought I was going crazy, the skies would confirm it for me. The pale, blue north was fan-like... Ribbed. Much like a huge outstretched hand. This was no brighter than the Milky Way in the ribs and what was between was a soft glow. The reds edged the fan and curls of red smoke kept appearing to the northeast. When the reds would die off, the fan would "radiate"... The spires would become much more noticable and you would see and undulation move quickly between them.

All in all, this lasted about three hours. In the mean time, I just sat and totally admired the Plieades with Mars just to the south. It was a brilliant sky scene and just very relaxing in the wee hours. When I left for work, everything had pretty much stopped, but being totally away from any light source was enough to show me that there was still a slight "glow dome" to the north. I smiled as I drove in, watching it when I dared to look that way. It wasn't spectacular...

But it sure was there.

"I need serenity. Nothing changes... Days go by."

September 10, 2005 - Waiting on Aurora and Taking Pegasus for a Ride...

Comments: So, where's it at? As much activity as we've had on the solar surface for the last few days, the skies should be simply humming.

Apparently, they don't know the tune.

It was around 10:00 before I saw anything that could even be remotely considered an aurora. The Moon hangs low in the southwest and the skies are brilliantly clear here tonight. Even through lunacy you can see the stars of the "Little Dipper" with ease. But, I'm patient, right? Darn right I am, but instead of a beer I enjoyed a steaming cup of chai. As I sat dreaming on the Milky Way, I was watching where it ran across the roof and down into the Perseus Arm, when I noticed that Andromeda simply disappeared. Huh? Rubbing my eyes, I looked again and sure enough, there was a pinkish purple cloud obstructing it that faded away in minutes.

Here a little pink... There a little pink. But absolutely nothing worth being excited about.

As the hours wore on, it fully sank into my little blonde brain that this was the last night of my vacation and that "vampyre" would be my companion. Tonight the clarity is so excellent that I abandoned my aurora watch and took out the big dob. Snatching some of my favourite eyepieces and the map, I headed out before it had even stabilized to have a look at a few of Summer's Best before they went west. M13 is very low right now, but the dazzling resolution is entirely worth the time it took for me to find it. M27 is equally spectacular and I can't tell you how much M11 pleases me.

I puttered around with the clusters in Cassiopeia for awhile and after having viewed M31, 32 and 110, took on the M33 in the big, wide field and just loved it. My aim was Pegasus, and this was not going to be easy because it's better to burn out...

Than it is to rust.

Heading off towards Gamma, I move back inside the square in seach of the 7th magnitude star in the finderscope that will help me located NGC 7814. This one is marked on my field maps with an ! so I know that I've found it good at sometime. About 20 minutes later when I've located the scratch with the star a low power, I magnify and realize anew "why" I liked this one!

It really is a splendid edge-on galaxy and I would almost bet that this was the one that Mike A. was looking at during the Black Forest Star Party. Thumbing through my old handwritten notes, I also find that I have sketched it as well, and I am so thankful that my friend Jeff has hung on to this all these years later.

My next stop was NGC 7331. At lower power, this fantastic galaxy looks like a miniature edition of the Andromeda. It is smooth, has a wonderfu bright core and unmistakeable spiral structure.... But this is just a stepping stone for something a wee bit more...

By upping the magnification to the widefield 12.3mm, I am taken aback once again by Stephen's Quintets. I will not lie to you and tell you these are easy, for they are averted galaxies that look like the ghosts of grains of rice scattered on the sky. The largest and easiest on to see is the face-on spiral, NGC 7320 - whose nucleus is concentrated enough to hold direct. The ellipticals, NGC 7317 and NGC 7318A, are incredibly indistinct and are mere globs of contrast change. The two round fuzzies are NGC 7318B and NGC 7319, and are also quite faint, but really leap from the eyepiece upon aversion. I guess the best way to describe it is to know that while you are trying to pick structure out of one, you notice a little form to another. The Quints are tricky... But the are so cool! Again, I thank Jeff for holding on to what I have carelessly folded and stuff into a book of maps.

When I am finished, I realize just how long this little hop has taken me and I am almost ashamed. I have devoted much more than an hour to finding two galaxies and one cluster! Although I would like to look on into Perseus at the Abell, I can see that Algol is not a minima and that is not a good thing. But what they hey...

The "Double Cluster" in a 2", 40mm eyepiece is a sight to behold...

"I need my serenity... In a place where I can hide."

September 9, 2005 - Chasing 798 and Soft Aurora...

Comments: It's really getting HOT! Not only has 798 produced an X-class flare, but it's rattled off six of them in the last 48 hours. Of course, although it's a bit cloudy, you know I have to look...

It's no wonder this demonic looking sunspot has been responsible for so many incidents. Now that it has rotated inwards a bit, you can see the complexity. Just look at the pair of major umbra regions that pack that wholloping magnetic charge. Look at how irregular the penumbra is and how there is a series of followers that are also producing their own negative charge. Inside and between all of this is swirling a field of positive energy and the whole thing is just so immense. We are currently undergoing an S2 class radiation storm and aurora is just imminent.

I was out there at night, too. Waiting on the sky to light up. Here again, we have a slight contradiction. The first of the proton streams hit Earth this morning around 9:30. What's left is so pale that it would almost need to be photographed to be varified. This reminds me of the aurora that we experienced at Black Forest... So faint that you have to look twice.

Fortunately, Vic was taking a star trails shot at the time and his film image fully captures the truth. There was aurora. Tonight, the skies are so similar that I hope he is photographing again. In the early evening hours there was no significant northern activity, but a faded pink coloration through Cassiopeia and Andromeda. Checking every so otten, at one point it looked like the whole sky was faded pink. There are some fine clouds, so it's really a tough call.

A couple of hours later, the pale blue/white dome came up. This is not spectacular, and is precisely what we saw at Black Forest. This extended below Polaris by about 10 degrees and arched off the the northeast through Perseus. Just above it was an equally faded band of pink... But again, it's a very tough call. I want to see those grand spires and glowing green clouds before I start calling everyone I know, OK?

My last sky check was a little after 4:00 a.m. and there was still no significant activity. The proton meter has not triggered since this morning, but after so much solar activity it is a given that this is going to happen.

Let's just hope the clouds stay away!

"And every night I hold you.... I hold you with my inner child."

September 8, 2005 - The Sun... At the Observatory...

Comments: 798 is back and it is HOT! Not only did we experience that fantastic X class flare yesterday, but this bad boy has also ripped off three more in the meantime. RadioJOVE has just been saturated and I've watching and listened in fascination for the last two days.

Was I out there? Oh, yeah. I knew from that inward rotating faculae field that something wicked this way comes and first sight of returning 798 blew me away. I know I sat for a good half-hour just watching this thing coast by on the TV screen through the little CCD camera, because the details are so intense. Single frames absolutely do not do it justice since television is a poor medium when asked to stand still. (try this... pause your vcr once while you are watching a tape. this is how i get a single shot.) On screen the solar surface looks liquid. Having 32" of viewing area is certainly more conducive than an "peep hole" eyepiece! The granualtion is simply fascinating, and watching this spot just hum with power is a unique experience.

Although we are experiencing off and on total cloud cover, it was wonderful to be able to see the sunspot and I'm anxious that things clear se we might catch the resultant aurora. While I would much rather be here this evening, duty calls and there's a big chunk of glass about to arrive.

When I called on the status of the 31" mirror this morning, I was told we had to get it today or we were out of luck until the 19th. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate Bruce dropping everything and hopping a flight to Chicago to rent a vehicle and drive it back. How many of us out there would be willing to be on a flight in less than an hour? Much less drive another 600 miles!! I guess the only way I can adquately express my appreciation is just to make sure there are bodies at this end to reinstall the mirror. So the call goes up...

And we head out.

Was it late? Yeah. Those kind of hours hurt working people, but our active club members are very dedicated. With many, many thanks to Joe, John N., Carl, Greg, John B, Jerry and Bruce, we had the necessary hands and manpower to get the mirror reinstalled the night it returned. Not only is the weight and logistics an issue, but you can well imagine that we were all sweating bullets just knowing that mirror was exposed. In less than 2 hours it went from crate to scope and all of us were giving out a sigh of relief when the major bolts went into place. One slip? Would have ended it.

When I am able, I go outside and look for aurora, but the "Mansfield Nebula" is a tough call directly to the north. What I see might look pink, and it might be an after effect from the white lights of installation. Regardless, this is where I want to be and where I belong. By the time I leave for home, those skies have gone cloudy again. No matter. The mirror is safe and back where it belongs.

We can breathe now.

"I'm the one who loves you... No matter wrong or right."

September 7, 2005 - The Sun... The Moon, Venus and Jupiter...

Comments: What a day! I was busy working (as usual) when the alert went up... A major solar flare was taking place a right NOW was the time. Just check out Jason's Shinn's radio information:

This one came spiking in excess of an X17 category, putting it up there with one of the largest solar events ever recorded! Of course, there's not a whole lot that I can do with white light, but I wanted to see the area despite the Sun's relatively blank face, so out I went.

Although there is not a whole lot to see in one single frame, as the video ran, you could see an awesome area of faculae on the limb where the spot is about to rotate in. I suppose I could have tweaked it to make it brighter, but that's not how it appeared in the eyepiece. Visually the event was nothing more than a pale ring at the limb edge. But what an event!! This saturated everything and will hopefully cause some smokin' auroras in the days ahead.

As the day settled down a bit, the clouds would come and go, but I was looking forward to seeing if I couldn't capture the Moon, Venus and Jupiter together tonight. My videocamera is far from the best at taking single still frames, but at least it does convey some of the beauty as caught across the sunset Ohio farmground. I was really surprised that they were so well spaced out across the sky and hoping that some other folks I know were out looking at them.

As the Sun dropped further west and the sky darkened even more, the beautiful trio began sinking towards the tops of the corn. As twilight deepened, I was trying very hard not to think about the movie "Signs" each time I would hear a rustle. Ordinarily I am not jumpy, but once you see that movie, you'll forever hear things in the corn, my friends. In my case? It was nothing more than a good natured raccoon, but he sounded like he weighed 200 pounds coming through the rows. Despite the heebie jeebies, I stood at the edge of the field and watch them tilt off towards that distant western windmill and even Don Quixote would have appreciated the view.

After my favourite television program, I stepped back out to check skies for observing, but found them rather opaque. I though for a few moments about perhaps doing some double studies, but it really isn't nice enough out to do it justice. Let's just hope the skies stay clear in the days ahead!

Cuz' aurora is gonna' come dancing down...

"Tragic visions... Slowly stole my life. Tore away everything... Cheating me out of my time."

September 6, 2005 - A Binocular Walk...

Comments: After putting in a pretty full day of lots of details, I had a sort of late start but was more than happy to plunk down in the old redwood chair, lay it back and just tour the heavens for awhile with the big binoculars.

As always, I am amazed that Albireo splits so easily. This is truly a very fine star and I admire it's soft orange and lilac colors. I have been watching both R Cygni and its russet tones as well as Chi Cygni. Both are variables and it is a line of study that I need to further educate myself in.

Open clusters? Ah, you know it. Perhaps one of the most beautiful is the NGC 6871 with its double handful of easily resolved stars and backshine of many more. Roslund 5 is actually quite cool, but has no real asterism to it. Just somewhat less than 2 dozen well resolved stars. M29 is always a treat, even though it is not a whole lot to look at. At least it does look like a cluster!

Lynds 906 is a smile. It's the dark rift in the Milky Way! Ruprecht 173 is very bright. It looks kite-like, with a tail of fainter stars and takes up perhaps one third of the field of view. I tried for the "Veil", but it just didn't show... However, a small portion of the North American Nebula did. A dark named "Harrington 10" shows easily without binoculars and is nicer in view. A glorious absence of stars in a very populated part of the sky. NGC 7039 is a lot bigger than I thought it would be. Covering around half the field of view, it contains many resolvable, but many more unresolved stars. Last for me tonight is M39. I like this sparkling cluster!

Time now to lay down the glasses and rest. I've had a lot going on over the last few days and tonight was more about inspiration than perspiration. Before I leave, I take a quick sweep over the M27 and the Double Cluster, because I just like them... And then force myself to put the binos away. There's lotsa' sky out there...

And a long time to conquer it.

"Why do we dream when our thoughts mean nothing? And when will we learn to control?"

September 5, 2005 - At the "Heart" of the 31" Scope...

Comments: Well, this is it. Tonight is the night that we pull the mirror from the Warren Rupp Observatory telescope and wish it aloha for a re-coating. Jerry and I arrived at the same time to find John, Joe and Dan already at work. This is truly a major undertaking and even though I'm not much more than moral support, I feel nervous. I'm trying not to be, but this mirror really is the "heart" of this telescope and cannot be replaced.

I can think of no one else that I would rather see have their hands on this project. It is no secret than John, Joe and Dan all love this scope just as much as I do. If coatings would last forever, there would never be a reason to take it out! There is no point in laboring this report with how each screw came out, but let it suffice to say the entire cell was removed from the end and it is not lightweight. With the cell carefully balanced, the next step was the nervous moment -- lowering the cell to expose the mirror. Sweaty palms? Yeah. They asked me to position the blocks, but at three points I could only see a milkstool in my mind and the fear of the mirror sliding off. Once stabilized, the guys positioned everything correctly and when the cell dropped?

There it was.

They then very carefully laid the huge mirror into its original packing crate for safe shipping. It really is a beauty and the sigh of relief was audible amoungst us all when it had nestled in. We can't help but admire it there, but the view only lasts for moments as it is quickly packed the rest of the way up for shipping. The very first scary part is done and when Bruce arrives with the truck it is loaded and ready for its trip to Illinois. When it returns? It will be better than ever before.

Heading back home with relatively clear skies, there was no real thought about practicing astronomy tonight. I guess being witness to a little "open heart" surgery was enough for me.

I think it was enough for us all.

"Where do we go when we just don't know? And how do we relight the flame when it's cold?"

September 1- 4, 2005 - The "Black Forest Star Party"...

Comments: It's September 1 and I'm excited. I know a lot of my friends have already left for Pennsylvania and the "Black Forest Star Party", but I have to work that day. Actually, I've worked the last 12 days straight and between my formal occupation and the many other things I do, I haven't even had time to think about packing a bag, much less wash the clothes that go in them. So, when I get home from work, I finish doing what I have to do to keep business running while I am gone and try my best to concentrate on what I might need for the next few days.

By early evening, I'm checking things off my "stupid list" and arranging nice, neat little bags in the trunk of my car. I stand there watching Venus and Jupiter on the horizon with an idiot grin on my face and simply praying that I can make it through the next couple of days without being blonde...

S'yeah. Riiiiiiite.

Although I had a hard time sleeping, I was up at 3:00 a.m. on September 2 and ready to roll. I remembered all too well the stress of driving last year and figured and early start was my best bet. Do you remember last year? I sure do. There was fog so thick that you couldn't see 20 feet ahead of you and when I walked out the door the same met my eye. Rather than a repeat performance, I simply curled up in my chair with a cup of coffee and decided to wait it out. Around 5:00 a.m., I figured if nothing else I would head out on roads that I was familiar with, so filling my thermal mug, I headed towards the Observatory to pick up 71 north. Of course, the roads were incredibly foggy, but at least I know when and where to turn on them. At one point I got to the top of a hill and down low on the eastern horizon was the most heartbreakingly slim crescent of orange Moon that I have ever seen. Hanging like a promise and loaded with earthshine, it looked like the day was going to be alright!

Grabbing another cup of coffee before I hit the expressway, I readied three sets of driving instructions on the seat beside me along with a road atlas. Each one talkes a slightly different route and although I have driven it before, I always have these doubts that I can do it.

"Sometimes I feel the fear of uncertainty... Stinging clear. And I can't help but ask myself how much I let the fear - take the wheel and steer. It's driven me before and it seems to be the way, that everyone else gets around. And lately I'm beginning to find that when I drive myself my light is found."

Stressed? No. I know that I will make a wrong turn here and there. That's just who I am. I usually know the second that I make the wrong decision that it is wrong, but at least I'm not the type to cut back across 3 lanes of traffic to correct it. All in all, I only lost about 20 minutes due to stupidity and oddly enough, found myself in the right place at the right time.

First order of business? Check into the motel. Now, please... I mean no disrespect for everything was admirably clean... but the sign should have read "Bate's Motel". Again, an error on my part for not having booked sooner, but I knew the second I walked in the door that this was a new experience. Paranoid? No. Thankfully this is not a problem with me, because I've learned if I stay in the light so people can see me that I've nothing to fear. But, hey! "Mom and Pop" is the backbone of American business, right? Right. I've got a bed. I've got a shower. And I've got a room.

Leaving my suitcase, I head off in familiarity towards the Star Party to set up the equipment tent and leave scopes and such there. I don't know if Mike and Terry have esp or not, but they are right there just as soon as I walk in the gate and pick up my weekend package. Mike leads me to the site (i dunno'. what do you think? were the clues to who we were too subtle? ;) and within minutes the car is there and even though I haven't set up a tent in years everything went just fine. Robert and Carl have also set up and it looks to be a fine weekend when Joe and Scott arrive. Equipment stowed and ready for the weekend, I head back towards my room to catch a much needed nap and a meal.

When I awoke a couple of hours later, I was ready for a shower and to dress a bit more appropriately for chilly temperatures. Happily digging through my clothes, I laid out heavy jeans, long sleeved shirts and a hoody. Ready, I cleaned up and dressed. Grabbing my heavy workboots, I realized to my horror that I had forgotten one very important article of clothing -- socks! While my sandals were fine for the warm afternoons, going barefoot at night is a different story. If I wear them without? I know my feet will be in such bad shape after walking all night that I won't make it through the weekend.

Yeah. It sounds simple enough to drive to town to buy another pair, but you've got to realize there isn't a "town" here. There are no malls, no stores, and I am not familiar enough with the countryside to find one. I had left me door open and I could see a gentleman just outside also readying himself for the evening. Well, if anything, I am not shy... So I walked out barefoot and probably made the strangest request that anyone had ever asked him. "Can I buy a pair of socks from you?". The moment he spoke, I realized that we had met before the previous year. Omicron Cygnii 2! And name that Messier... His name was Thom Beamis and Victor had introduced us. I called him Tim and he called me Marsha, eh? Grinning at the recollection of our previous banter, Thom laid out a variety to chose from and I was incredibly thankful. He saved my feet! While I'm sure I could have gotten a pair back at camp, the walk up the Hill would have toasted me. Thom? These will forever be considered my "lucky socks"...

When I return, Joe catches me coming up the Hill carrying my gear and makes sure to tell me that some guy named "Victor" had stopped by to tell me that he was here. Now, I'm definately smiling, because it's no secret that Vic is one of my favourite people in the whole wide world. Setting up the Celestron NexStar 102, I get out my notes, my chair, and everything is a go for dark. While, waiting, I look up where Vic and friends are camped and it is so good to see him again. We might be another year older, but at least we're still playing around in the dark! Heading back for my scope, I can't help but notice something pretty wonderful through the trees and stop to take a picture.

Venus and Jupiter are simply blazing and while other scopes are turned their direction, I am just happy to see them in such a lovely setting. Cherry Springs, Pennsylvania is a very beautiful State Park located in the heart of the Susquehannock Forest. The drive and view here are just stupendous and everything has a magical quality to it. Who cannot see those planets through the trees and not believe? Even though there has been some fear of clouds, everything looks like it's going to be just fine and I sit and relax while I watch the stars come out.

When darkness arrives, I call Terry over to play with this cool, little scope. While I am far from saavy with GoTo systems, I have at least practiced enough to align it with a fair amount of ease and I hand the keypad over to him and tell him to drive. And so the "tour" begains... M4, M80, M6, M7, M19, M14, M8, M17, M22, M24, M17... It's all there at the push of a button. We stopped to watch a magnificent pass of the ISS and everyone was talking about the pale blue aurora. When Terry went back to the keypad, the NexStar 102 turned into the "Exorcist Scope". Pulling its plugs, I looked up to see Terry running. Dude! Don't worry. We'll just set it up again. I don't know why it went nutz, but I know that you didn't do anything to it.

When he came back, I pointed out that we were good to go again and we both yelled out loud as a brilliant meteor split Cygus. Let the games begin, and we headed off towards M16, M11, M10, M12, M13, M92... Stopping to walk back to Mike, we had an awesome view of the "Double Dark" nebula in Aquila and then back to the little one for more... M59, M70, M69, M75 and M18. The Aurigid meteor shower was doing itself proud and as Cygnus came off the zenith, I happily enjoyed the NGC catalog.

For awhile, I could do nothing more than just sit and enjoy the skies. GoTo makes everything so fast that you have plenty of time to do this. Terry kicks back in the chair beside me and we just talk and enjoy the night. When we get back up, it's time to fly to many other wonderful things. He goes off to use Mike's 15" Obsession and I head on towards M2, the "Saturn Nebula", the "Helix" nebula, the "Crab", the Plieades, and all the beauty in Cassiopeia. By now, I'm realizing the slew controls are slowing way down. The Celestron PowerPlant has performed wonderfully and I have gotten at least a full 6 hours of juice to play with. Now? Now I'm just happy to sit again with Terry as we discuss the complexity and distribution of galaxy clusters. Terry is a cartographer and we enjoy the night as he points out Draco to me, and we speak of Camelopardalis and how George Abell's studies fit into the grand scheme.

Around 3:30 or so, I find myself beginning to very much tire. Beside me, Terry has long since gone to sleep and it is time for me to head back down that mountain as well. I walk around for a bit, and realize that most folks have also tuckered out, so I take my leave to head back to my room. Besides... I'm hungry and there's pre-packaged food there!

September 3 begins cool and cloudy. I was in no great hurry, so I sat for a long time and had coffee while I folded brochures for Hidden Hollow. There's really no place for breakfast, and I'm glad I brought some cookies along to fill the void. I happily munched and when my hands had tired, I packed up realizing that I might not make it back until very late this evening. Heading out, it's time to rejoin the "Star Party" and be with my friends.

Yep. They are also up and moving about. Taking a bundle of brochures, I caught a little good natured teasing and we had quite a few laughs as we readied ourselves to head amoungst the other campers and spread the word about Hidden Hollow. So many terrific people to meet and talk to! Many of the folks I had met before and the real beauty of Black Forest sunk home again... It's the people and the place that make this all so great. Familiar faces and familiar spaces. We're all here to have a good time. As Joe, Terry and I split up the campgrounds, I am also delighted to trip across Vic. He's one of those people I simply can't miss. We get our raffle tickets and as the afternoon goes late, stop to listen to the guest speakers and sit on the edge of our seats hoping to be the one to win, eh? It's all great fun...

Of course, everyone here is tired from the night before, but who needs sleep? Joe had caught "Mike The Tireless One" in a rather candid moment, and all I can say is I envy him. I know the night is going to go quite late and what we all wouldn't give to be catching a few zzzz's! Of course, this probably constitutes some type of blackmail scenario, but Mike would just flash me that big PR grin and I know exactly the words behind it... And I'm still laughing!

As we head back for camp, I also had an opportunity to visit with Tim Morey again. He's a great young man and we really share a lot in common. I admire him greatly, and he also introduces me to others who reach towards the same goal... Let's take it to the people. Getting my marker for this evening's public viewing, I head back to camp to join the others in heading out for a big meal. After a little Surf and Turf and a cold, draft Ylingling, it's time to head back up because those skies have gone very dark.

While others head their own way, I set the NexStar 102 up in front of our tents for the public to view. Others like to take their astronomy a little more privately, and the space by the path is fine with me. A handful of people come along and enjoy the M17, but the riches a Saggitarius are quickly hiding behind the tent, so I make the ultimate mistake... I moved it. A bit more out in the open and capable of tracking a single object for a longer time was my goal... But folks? I screwed something up. As soon as I hit alignment and asked it to go? It started spinning on it's little mount and as I watched in horror the OTA moved up and jammed against it. Pull the plugs! That's all I could think of before it stripped the gears and pull them I did. Moving my marker back to the front of the tent, I laid my binoculars out for public and immediately disassembled the daggone thing. One lesson I have definately learned is not to work on a scope in the dark.

Joe came along and offered his scope for the public, but it's not a good idea to have folks walking through camp in the dark, my friend. As I finished breaking down, he pointed out there was a crimp in one line and that's what probably caused it to act the way it did. Yeah. I do get spooked too easily, but this weekend was all about leaving stress way over west, and when that feeling came around? Eliminate it. Folks are happy with a look through the binos and when they have trickled down, I head off to visit with other friends and have a look at what they are viewing.

Cup of coffee in hand, Terry and I draw chairs together again and simply enjoy. I have looked through many, many scopes tonight and I am happiest right here with Terry -- talking and enjoying these incredible skies. The binoculars are right here, and as something takes my fancy? I enjoy it. The Aurigid meteors are still flying and Mars looks like a beacon. What can I say? The Andromeda Galaxy hummed it was so glowing and huge in the night. Terry took us there in the Obsession and we traced it and its clusters all the way out. And lookey there! Here's more to explore...

Sitting once again, I found my blanket. A cold, wet dew had fallen and we laughed at the sound of the "communist" hairdryers - wishing for one to dry our clothes. Cold and wet doesn't seem to matter too awfully much when you can see the M33 with just your eyes. It's all so beautiful... The evening is growing later and I find myself beginning to get sleepy, yet the talk is stimulating and I have no desire to leave. We munch for awhile and watch as Orion rises, talking of the many things there and how the galaxies are distributed. As I feel my eyes beginning to get heavy again, Robert takes his leave and I do as well. I've got to navigate "deer alley" yet.

Back at "Bates", a party was going on. Guess what? No place to park. Praying that I wouldn't get a ticket, I kept it within line of site, but had to stay up to wait it out. You don't leave an out-of-state car abandoned, folks... No matter how tired you are. When a space opened up in the motel lot, my pyjamas and I ran out to make the switch, lock the door and cut the lights. There's a long drive ahead tomorrow and I gotta' get some rest.

It's September 4, and cloudy and cold. After I checked out, I headed back up to camp to re-load my gear and break down the tent. It didn't take long to stow everything in its place and I had the opportunity to visit with Vic for awhile again. It's almost sad to leave, and many folks are staying on. Me? Well, Mike and Terry are heading back the same general direction and they can count on a "trailer" at least part of the way. It's much more relaxing to know that I only have to keep them in site until we hit the major highway. Sleepy? Yeah. By the time we made Jamestown, New York, I had the windows down and the tunes loud, but it wasn't long until it had passed. Once we made the Ohio border, I lost them, but I am sure they are safe. I think I'm the only one who gets a wee bit confused from time to time, but at least I always find my way back home.

And by sunset, I was there. Back on familiar ground and ready to enjoy my own cooking again. Surprisingly enough, the skies were beautiful here as well. The Milky Way did not shine quite as brightly, but I am content to sit on the deck with H and my feet and unwind. It's been a wonderful weekend...

But there's no place like home.

"As I sit here and slowly close my eyes... I take another deep breath... And feel the wind pass through my body. I'm the one in your soul... Reflecting inner light. Protect the ones who hold you... Cradling your inner child.

I need serenity... In a place where I can hide. I need serenity.... Nothing changes, days go by."