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August 25/26, 2006 - The Black Forest Star Party...

Comments: Did I make it? Darn right I did. I felt horrible about asking work to accomodate me on such short notice, but I really work for a very understanding company who knows that I will not forget their kindness. The only thing I missed was all the anticipation of planning a trip! Hey, to be honest with you, it wasn't any different than any other time I travel. I wait until the last second to pack my stuff and then I go... And 401 miles later?

I was there.

All the members of the RAS had backed out this year because poor weather was in the forecast. It would have been easier for me just to say "Forget it." as well, because I had a very bad night with the pain and no sleep because I'd wake up crying every hour or so. At 4:30 a.m., I simply gave up trying to rest and went for meditation instead of medication. The pain doesn't control me... I control the pain. I really wanted to give up because it was after 8:00 before I could manage, but the one thing I've learned about the Black Forest Star Party is that you go for the people... The incredible skies are simply a bonus. The trip is long from where I live. It's boring not having anyone to talk to, but that's nothing new. I'm happy to have my music, my coffee and my smokes and the scenery is excellent. The Bates Motel awaits me and I didn't make one single wrong turn. The moment I pulled into the parking lot to leave my suitcase told me everything was gonna' be alright... Because there's Tom and I know he's got socks!

Yep. Right there in the parking lot the second I arrived at the motel. It didn't take long before the round of hugging, introductions and shaking of many hands started. While he heads for the Star Party to get set up, I head into my room, change to night time duds and hit up the service desk for my cooler of ice. I was more than a little afraid of repeating last night's performance and it's a different story being so far from home and unable to help yourself. The bottom line is...

There was no need to worry.

When I got to the Star Party, I parked my gear where Tom had set up and started walking around. Everywhere I went was familiar faces and friendly smiles. One from this Club, one from that Club, a whole group of friends... And Vic! He and his daughter had arrived as well and were setting up their scopes. What a great thing it is to see him again and I cannot believe how beautiful his daughter has become. Everywhere I look are friendly faces, and as I leave them to set up their own camp I find myself gravitating towards my chair and although it looks like I'm sitting in any empty field, it doesn't stay empty for long.

The gentlemen come round and introduce themselves and it didn't take long until we hit it off and the laughter and talk flowed freely. By the time darkness had arrived, Tom had returned and I had found Heidi as well. Although it's totally cloudy, here and there are stars and then a rough high pressure point hits and the skies open up in all their glory. All around me people are hustling to enjoy this moment, and I am no different. I have my binoculars with me and it is an incredible pleasure just to kick back and enjoy with the speed and ease they bring. The view won't WOW you like a giant scope does, but while I wait on my turn a the eyepiece in other's scopes, I can dance to 10 things on my own.

After a couple of hours, that hole closed right up and the lightning began to dance. No one is leaving, so neither do I. We take breaks for food and when it is my time to go catch a sandwich, I hear the annoucement that a tornado had been spotted a county away. By now, the lightning had gotten a whole lot closer and although I'd like to stay I don't fancy a half mile walk in pouring rain on a mountaintop with really close encounters with electrocution. Ya' know what? I'll see ya'll in the morning! With a promise to Heidi that she was welcome to come share my room should the weather get nasty, it's time for this kid to take a hike.

Once back, my sandwich and I sat down and watched the roast of William Shatner on the motel room TV. I rooted around in my cooler and found a couple of beers and it wasn't long until I had one of the best night's sleep I've had in a long time. So deep and so peaceful that I didn't even turn the bed down! I woke up when the sunshine came in through the open window and a glance at the clock told me I had plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee, eat my Skippy snack bar and still make the day's lectures.

When I got to the ampitheatre, I saw a waving hand and joined one of the gentlemen I had met yesterday. It was a great talk and I leared some new facts about the myths and folklore associated with the constellations, and some very straight talk about binoviewers. When we took a break, the fellow and I walked back to his camp and he showed me some excellent lunar work he had done and I look forward to using it in future editions of the "Night Sky Companion". By now, Vic had caught up with me as well and I don't remember the last time I smiled so much. Hidden Hollow, wasn't it? ;)

Now for the lecture on Astro Sketching and it truly is a lost art form. Me? It's not lost for me because I can't photograph worth a crap, but I know others don't sketch. The afternoon wears on and it's about time for me to head back down the mountain. It's good to see my favourite park Ranger (hi, Tim!) and others I know and Vic extends the invitation to dinner before Sue French speaks and the drawings begin.

As always, Vic and his friends make me feel so welcome in their group and dinner was a great time filled with laughs and good food. We chase each other back up the hill and although I didn't win the Coronado Solar Scope, I did walk away with some very nice things. The invitation goes out to join them in their camp for the evening and as soon as I can change and shower up? I'll be back.

Starry skies? Not tonight. As always, equipment is ready should the opportunity present itself, but it just wasn't to be. We really had a terrific time just sitting around playing cards, listening to music and talking about everything under the sun. The fact is, I really hate to leave since I see them so seldom, but good company is the company that doesn't outstay their welcome, ya' know? I am grateful to Vic for walking me back to the car, because it's true that these are some very dark skies. With no starlight, there's no light at all and I sure feel a lot more comfortable having a companion in the dark.

When I get back, Tom is there as well and here's another fellow who has more books of maps than even I do. We both do things "old school" and with doors and curtains open to let in the cool night breeze, we pour over them as he gives me pointers to new objects and I tell him about a few that he hasn't seen. The last laugh of the night comes when Tom discovers he has locked himself out of his motel room! (and i thought only i could do that... ;) Now, don't tell anyone, but every now and then I can pull a trick out of my sleeve - especially when it comes to old school... and this motel is very old. Our rooms are right next door to one another and with a tiny bit of presdigtation, I have his door unlocked. (sorry, i can only do that with old stuff...) He doesn't believe it, but once he has his keys in hand, we do it again just to see. Astronomers are that way, you know...

We have to prove everything. ;)

And so I settle in for the night. Time to enjoy the Smokehouse Almonds in Joe's memory, ice down my arm and watch "Dragonheart" instead of the stars. The hour to leave will come far too early and it will be a long and sleepy trip ahead. Over 800 miles in two days and a smile on the way as Vic and his daughter pass me honking and laughing on their way back home as well. I have missed having Robert with me... and Mike, Terry and Joe. Yeah, it was cloudy most of the time...

But it sure was fun!

"I'm not the one who's so far away... I'm not the one who's so far away...

I'm not the one who's so far away."

August 21, 22 and 23, 2006 - Chasing 41/P Faye and 71/P Clark...

Comments: Well, it's time to catch the reports back up again before I misplace where I put notes or otherwise simply lose track of what I do. In what little spare time I have, I've been compiling notes and sketches from over the years and one day I hope to put them all in one place so you'll be able to see what it's like to pull together a 12 year study. If I'd been a bit more practical about how I keep notes, it would have been one helluva lot easier. But then...

It wouldn't have been me, would it?

8/22/06 - 4:30 a.m. EST - 12.5 Meade - 12.3mm ED Epic eyepiece - location: Martel - LM 5.0 - Stability and clarity - excellent

41/P Faye is actually an excellent comet which greatly resembles a large, bright planetary nebula. This morning it is incredibly easy to find because it is same low power field with Eta Pices and tracking slightly to its south. It has a relatively bright nucleus and I don't see a tail structure.

8/23/06 - 4:30 a.m. EST - 12.5 Meade - 12.3mm ED Epic eyepiece - location: Martel - LM 5.0 - Stability and clarity - excellent

41/P Faye is definately moving east. It is in a relatively starless field this morning and is roughly the same magnitude as the M74, but considerably smaller. The nucleus structure is not very sharp and precise, but it is slightly brighter towards the center.

8/21/06 - 9:45 p.m. EST - 12.5 Meade - 12.3mm ED Epic eyepiece - location: Martel - LM 5.0 - Stability and clarity - excellent

71/P Clark is tonight's object. Now here's a bigger b'gosh comet! Not as diffuse as chasing Barnard 1, it's almost a dead ringer for NGC 6522 as far as size and brightness go. Located about 4 or 6 degrees north/north west of Iota Saggitarius.

8/22/06 - 10:00 p.m. EST - 12.5 Meade - 12.3mm ED Epic eyepiece - location: Martel - LM 5.0 - Stability and clarity - excellent

71/P Clark confirmation night. Again, no nucleus structure and looks very much like a small, unresolved and un-cored globular cluster. We are in a very stellar field tonight with many small sparkles of low-wattage stars. Direction is moving northeast. Rough guess at magnitude 11 and no apparent tail structure.

And that's it for now. I wanted to catch both of these before the Moon interfered or the clouds came back. Either way?

I'm still out there chasing...

"I'm comin' back again..."

August 21, 2006 - Binocular Deep Sky...

Comments: Hey... What's a "vampyre shift" if I can't go out and play, huh? This is one exceedinly fine night and a good time to work on a few studies before I go into work.

Binoculars: 16X50
Sky: 6 LM Stabilty: 9/10
Location: back field
Time: 12:30 a.m.

Collinder 463 - A bright, loose open collection of stars in a long, looping chain. Perhaps three dozen or more easily resolved members with a grainy hint behind it.

Markarian 6 - Quite a surprising little cluster! Set in an otherwise vague field, it is large enough to be easily apparent and looks like a crescent of stars superimposed on a grainy background. Fairly well compressed.

Melotte 15 - Very bright, very open and widely scattered cluster. The brighter stars tend to group together in small fields of 3 and 4. One star has a noticeably yellow color. Poor compression, but still quite sparkly.

Trumpler 3 - A large, loose association of stars. The brightest of these form a sort of geometrical pattern, like a pagoda roof with a haze of fainter stars in the middle. Compression is poor and this one is difficult to make out from surrounding star fields.

Stock 23 - It's faint, it's loose, but this cluster is actually quite nice. Although it does require averted vision to begin to resolve individual stars, this one is "swirled" in texture. Actually, quite a pretty cluster if given time and patience.

Trumpler 2 - Very nice! While this is a loose collection of faint stars, it does have a rough asterism that looks like a Lucky Charms horse shoe shape. It is slightly elongated from the east to west and has a grainy texture of unresolved stars.

And now the happy little alarm on my cell phone goes off reminding me that I need to do a few other things along with getting myself ready for work. It is absolutely wonderful to see the Plieades again and I dearly hate to leave such clear skies...

But duty calls.

"I'm not the one who's so far away... I'm not the one who's so far away..."

August 19, 2006 - At Malibar Farms...

Comments: Yep! It's been a very, very long time. Although I might be absent for awhile, I never forget my friends and tonight was a good one to go and visit with the AFY.

Although it was a rotten night astro-wise, it was still wonderful to see Curt, Trish, Greg and a new member. As we sat around and talked about things in general, the sky began to clear somewhat and we got a vanload of visitors. I had a couple of pairs of binoculars handy and one of the great things about these is that it takes no time nor effort to point things out and set inquiring minds and hands their way. Sloppy skies or no, there are still many things that the binoculars can draw out.

Of course, I poked around with them, too. But I just didn't get up the gumption to go to my car and get out the maps to work on my bino deep sky studies. It's just nice to be in the company I am in and when everyone gave up early, I took Greg's advice. Although there were a whole lot less stars showing from the pool without my glasses...

It felt mighty good.

"I'm not the one who's so far away... When I feel the snakebite enter my veins. Never did I want to be here again. And I don't remember why I came."

August 16, 2006 - Binocular Deep Sky...

Comments: OK. So I would rather telescope. But, things are the way they are and you know if you aren't seeing me write that my paws aren't happy customers. I had taken Robert's advice and when I'm not up to making notes, I record them. Tonight carrying out the scope is out of the question, but I am more than happy to spray on some Off, grab the redwood chair and kick back. Tonight I opt for some Seether tunes, because I really do feel broken.

Maybe in body - but not in spirit.

Location: Martel
Binos: 16X50
Sky: 6.0 LM Stability 8/10
Very transparent - stars at horizon
Time in: 10:00 pm EST

IC 4665 - This is one very large and outstanding open cluster. It is scattered and covers at least half the field of view with a three notably bright stars in what seems to be the center. Perhaps 40 or so members?

NGC 6633 - A very bright cluster. Although not exactly compressed, it is still rich and very well resolved. Perhaps 30 or so members and it has a haziness to it.

NGC 6716 - A difficult object because it merges with Collinder 394. The Cl cluster is vague, but 6716 is slightly more compressed, though not rich. Four stars are brighter than the rest in the compressed area.

NGC 6520 - Much more compressed and less vague. Bright star on the northern edge and no stars on the western edge. Very nice!

NGC 6709 - This one is a true challenge. Very vague and totally unresolved. A few stellar points sparkle over a haze of compression. Tough, but work the map work!

IC 4765 - Now this is more like it! Very bright and well resolved. At least a dozen "stand out" members to this very nice open cluster!

As much as I hate it, my arms are tiring rapidly and it's become very difficult to steady myself. I honestly don't mind, except for that it's so daggone clear out tonight!! Ah, well...

There's always another night.

"I'm comin' back again."

April 15, 2006 - Working on Binocular Deep Sky...

Comments: What started out as a patchy, cloudy kind of night began to clear rapidly as the evening progress and really become outstanding. I've been pushing again and I'm finding it hard to use my right hand, but I've noticed if I don't do a lot of twisting motions with it, I do alright. While I'd like to continue on my Urban List, I guess tonight I'd be better off just holding down the old redwood chair and using the binos. Headphones on. Rock loud. Wanna' dance with me?

Location: Martel
Binos: 16X50
Skies: 5.5 LM Stability 8/10
Very transparent
Time In: 10:30 pm EST

NGC 129 - One much brighter star to the south in a very loose collection of stars. Maybe I'm feeling fanciful, but there's a asterism in there shaped like a chili pepper!

NGC 457 - I'm impressed. The E.T. cluster looks almost as good in binoculars as it does in a small telescope! Very noticable asterism.

NGC 663 - WOW! A very dense, tornado-shape that won't resolve. There perhaps a dozen or so yellowish stars sprinkled all around it.

Stock 2 - Right above the Double Cluster. I know this one because I've written about it so many times. This is a very, very fine object for binoculars and it is even visible as a hazy patch to the unaided eye!

NGC 869 and NGC 884 - And speak of "Double Cluster", again this is one very fine object for binoculars. It just fills the field with stellar points!

Kemble 1 - Also known as "Kemble's Cascade". This is a gorgeous chain of stars that totally resolves and looks like a string of diamonds it is so perfect aligned and spaced.

Collinder 339 - Hello, Cap'n Hook! The "Coat Hanger" is a wonderful asterism and always worth a look!

NGC 7789 - If I didn't know better, I would almost swear I was looking at something galactic. Although I have long been familiar with this cluster, I had forgotten how grainy it looks in small apeture. Very, very nice!

NGC 6940 - Last for me tonight, and although it is in Vulpecula, I shall always think of it as on the wingtip of the Swan. This is a very rich cluster and very similar to NGC 7789. A wonderful cloud of stars that is just on the edge of resolution with binoculars.

Now... Just try and keep me from Sagittarius.

"Breath in... Breath in..."

August 14, 2006 - Working on the Urban List...

Comments: It's not too bad out. There's patchy clouds here and there and conditions are extremely steady, but I've got awhile before my conference call. Wanna' SkyWalk?

Location: Martel
Scope: 4.5 Celestron
Eyepiece: 17mm Meade
Sky: 4.5 LM Stability: 5/10
Time In: 9:35 pm EST

Beta Scorpii - Graffias! Very bright and easily separated. The A component appears white and the dim secondary has a slight blue tint.

Epsilon Lyrae - The "Double Double". As always, very cool. Even thought I had to wait on a moment of stability, they separate by a thin line at this minimum power.

Beta Cygni - Also a longstanding favourite. Who doesn't know Albireo? Very easy at low power and a wonderful double dip of pale orange and pale blue.

Gamma Delphinus - Also a very easy split. Both are near the same magnitude and appear slightly yellow.

Delta Cephi - Also a familiar star and a very cool variable that I've follow over the years. Tonight I would judge it near maximum and it appears very white in the eyepiece.

And now it's time for me to cover the eyepiece and go confer with my conferes!

Time Back: 11:10 pm EST Switch to 25mm

NGC 6205 - Also known as the M13. Always a beauty and in a very easy position.

NGC 6341 - Also known as M93. This is truly a spectacular globular cluster in a small telescope and I often wonder why people don't photograph it more often. It's rich, concentrated and very bright!

NGC 6405 - A.K.A? M6. The "Butterfly" is a real treat and a little bit of sky haze really adds to its beauty by making the primary asterism stars more apparent.

NGC 6475 - OK, who hasn't looked at M7? This one is so bright you can do it with the finderscope and be happy! A rich, bright, and slightly open cluster full of mixed magnitudes.

NGC 6523 - Ah, yes... The "Lagoon"! I love it at low power in a small telescope. The central cluster is still fairly well resolved and the nebulosity and dark areas really rock!

And although I am tempted to stay out and do more, the Vampyre shift is definately getting to me. I'm sleepy, for once! Covering the old Celestron back up, I carry it to the garage and put it to bed for the night. It's really been wonderful and we'll get the rest...

Some day.

"Demons dreamin'...."

August 12, 2006 - Venus and Mercury... The Perseid Meteor Shower!

Comments: Ah, lord... Remind me one of these days that I was built for comfort, not for speed, will you? Until the day that I become fabulously wealthy and am able to tell the working world to kiss my grits, I still have to get up too darn early and answer to a time clock. It seemed like I had just went to sleep when the time came to get back up. Of course, if I'd just be more like "normal" people and not out all night watching the skies and back up before dawn, I'd have an easier go of it... But then...

I wouldn't get to see things like this, would I?

Although I was grumpy, I still had to stop and stare into the east as I walked out to my car. Venus and Mercury were simply beautiful against the backdrop of a rapidly brightening sky and it's not often that you get to see the two inner planets so very well with just the unaided eye. It's almost hard to believe but Orion is there as well... Where has the summer gone? It won't be long until Saturn joins them as well and once again the skies will have come full circle. I guess it's not so bad getting up early after all.

Later that day, I returned with plans to nap happily away the afternoon hours. Or, at least that was what I thought. I have quite finished off my work for my silver and gold Comet Hunter awards and I've been trying (in my spare time) to compile all of my observing notes and sketches into one place. I worked on that for a bit and the next thing you know it was darn near dinner time. Sofa or food? Sofa. As so I stop for awhile to rest the brain cells, get some much needed Zzzzzz's and get ready for tonight's Perseids.

Dragging the redwood chair out the the south field probably looks a little odd... But then I don't much care. I doubt anyone will even notice me out there in the middle of an acre of grass planning on getting a moon burn With the mosquito lantern behind me, it's time to kick back and simply SkyWatch for just as long as I can still stay awake. It's around 9:30 and the skies aren't quite as transparent as last night, but they are a good 4.5 LM anyhow. Are you ready to count?

Here, there, everywhere. While this isn't a hugely prolific shower and it is a bit early, there is no shortage of meteors. Bright ones, splashy ones, quick ones, slow ones, thin scratches and long streaks... For the next 90 minutes I didn't get bored and sleepy. By the time my count had reached 29, I had already watched the Moon rise and looked at the sky with despair as I could see very plainly the line dividing darkness from light. Why now?! There's only the most minor of clouds out there... Thin and fairly transparent... And... And... I simply can't stop watching with an odd number, can I? After all, how would I make an estimate of the hourly fall rate, hmmmmm?

Determined to stick it out until I had caught 30, the sky played the ultimate joke. 1.... 2! As number 30 creased the sky, I laughed and grabbed my blanket and cooler. That's it! Time to head in! Then number 31 dropped through Lyra and eclipsed Vega with a shimmering trail. Well, then... It's kinda' hard to top that act, isn't it? Baskin-Robbins tried, but they couldn't do it. And that last one was definately a double dip!

For approximately 90 minutes of observing, the fall rate was around 10 per hour. I am sure that increased significantly after Perseus had well risen, but the Moon will take out all but the brightest and best. For now? It was really a great time and... I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Time to drag myself back across the field throwing silver shadows against the ground and leaving a trail through the grass. Pat the side of the pool as I go by and chalk up another observing encounter with the Perseids.

And dream of a year with dark skies...

"Hazing clouds rain on my head.... Empty thoughts fill my ears. Find my shape by the moonlight.... Why my thoughts aren't so clear."

August 11, 2006 - Perseids Warm Up A Cool Night...

Comments: Well, there's been a lot of clouds here lately. Off and on the heat will break and it promises rain - but doesn't. Oddly enough, the water in the pool has stayed incredibly warm and with temperatures in the low 60s I not only find myself tempted to swim... But do.

As soon as it got dark, I was out there. Just in case I get clouded out for tomorrow night's Perseid Meteor Shower, I leave my glasses on and it doesn't take long before I'm hollering and pointing at the sky. Not that anyone cares, mind you... But just in case. Keeping everything but my head below water to stay warm, for the next hour I devoted myself solely to skywatching. My reward was 10 bright meteors and a chance to watch the Moon rise. I don't care how often I see that happen, it's always wonderful. First you have these wonderful, dark starry skies... And then you notice the east is lighting up. For a fragile moment, you'll see the silver orb begin to show above the treetops and then it climbs at a dizzying pace.

It's beautiful.

By the time it had lit up the sky to the point where it would toast all but the brightest of meteors, I decided that was enough. Ten within a hour was very nice and several of them had long, lasting trails. Tomorrow will be the peak of the shower with a long time until the Moon rises. There's an old redwood chair over there with its ancient cushion and it has my name on it.

Why don't you come join me?

"I'm not the one who's so far away... When I feel the snakebite enter my veins. Never did I want to be here again... And I don't remember why I came."

August 8, 2006 - At the Observatory: "Starry Nights"...

Comments: Sorry to have been absent again. Seems I've overdone a bit and my punishment is the loss of use of my right hand. No worries, though. With proper drugs and rest?

I always bounce back.

Tonight is the last of our yearly "Starry Nights" program at the Observatory and I was very sorry to have missed our Public Night this past Saturday. Feeling much better and regaining my "grip" means I'm gonna' be there, because I've got a very special person waiting for me. Both Robert and his son Carl have completed the criterion for the globular cluster award and it about broke my heart that I couldn't drive to present it three days ago. No matter. I know Robert will be there and I am so proud of him and Carl! It pleases me to no end to present these awards and to see him working on his lunar club challenges as well.

The man has a very special place in my heart, you know. ;)

Again, we have wonderful club participation for the last program. Greg and Kamin are here, John N., Robert and Joe as well. This year has been such a pleasure because we have been well staffed and our programs have run like clockwork. And speaking of clock... Here comes the kids!

For the next 90 minutes, we streamlined them. 24 youngsters and 4 counsellors were our guests and tonight's highlight was celebration of Apollo and the Moon... and meteors! It's time for the Perseids and even though it will be "moony" I want these young folks to remember to look for all the great things we talked about. As always, the Night Sky Network props are wonderful and the kids are attentive and fun to be with. Despite nearly a Full Moon, we even had an awesome view of the Ring Nebula!

When the last of the thanks echoed off, it was time to pack it up and head out. As soon as the ClubHouse renovations are done, it's time to store away some of the great things we've used to teach this year. Thanks to the generousity of the Rupp Family, things have gone smoother than they ever have and I hope they know how very much we appreciate having the proper A/V equipment right on hand. From reaching for observing awards to giving public programs, we are alive here at Warren Rupp Observatory once again.

As Robert and I walk out to our vehicles, we stop to talk and look up at the stars. He's a lot like me, you know. We share a lot of the same passions, feelings and spirit. His aura is a tangible thing and knowing that someone else can live and laugh through pain is most encouraging. As we talk, John comes out and tells us not to go just yet because Joe has something to show us. Believe it or not, he's caught the Ring on camera! And all things considered? It ain't a bad shot.

As much as I hate to go, it's well after midnight and I know I will hate myself in the morning after the long drive and wind down time. Oddly enough, I had posed a question and gotten a response that leaves me smiling all the way home. After all, it's not hard to smile when the landscape is bathed in silver moonlight and the deer stand as still as statues in the fields. As my cheap little frozen pizza bakes happily in the oven, I sit by the window watching the Man in the Moon as I sip at a cold beer.

Life is good...

"Freezin' feelin'.... Breathe in... Breath in. I'm comin' back again...."

August 2, 2006 - The Capricornid Meteor Shower...

Comments: Still hot here. Hot, humid... and basically miserable to be outdoors. In other words, time to light the mosquito lanterns and hit the pool, right?

Darn right.

Once again, the water is warmer than I can ever remember it being. It's like a huge bath and it really isn't unpleasant not to have to scream and flail about getting used to. It's not quite as refreshing, but daggone... It's relaxing. So while the hidden speakers play my rock and rolls softly, I am just very happy to swim softly about, unwind, and float watching the stars overhead. I really wasn't thinking too awfully much about the meteor shower until one absolutely LIT UP everything around! It was like a huge flash went off in the sky and brothers?

That got my attention.

Even though I don't wear my glasses while I swim, tonight they were back on as I scanned the sky for the Capricornid meteor shower. From 10:00 until 12:00 p.m. I counted 12 faint meteors and 2 very, very bright ones with trails leaving the total at 14 and an average fall rate of 7 per hour. I really would have like to have stayed out later, but right before midnight one of the candles in the lanterns gave up the ghost and I realized that I really needed to get my hide out of the pool and into bed for work the next day. It was really fun to catch a rather obscure, but very nice meteor shower...

And to see the Jupiter and the Moon trade places.

"Candles raise my desire... Why are my thoughts so far away? No more meaning to my life... No more reason to stay."

August 1, 2006 - At the Observatory: Confirming 177/P 2006 M3 (Barnard 2)...

Comments: Normally this would have been one of our "Starry Nights" programs, but the camp plans have changed and we won't be having the troops in tonight. Considering how terribly hot it is right now, it seems like a relief. Stay home in the air conditioning... Putter in the pool... Skip the drive, right?


John N. is also a very strong observer and 177/P defeated him last week. It's not that this comet can't be seen - but what you can see it with. He had written me earlier that he had the updates for the computers and MegaStar and was planning on going to the Observatory to make sure we are all current there as well. It's a clear night.... And there ain't no way that I'm going to turn down another set of eyes to help me confirm this cam-domet!

I loaded up all three pairs of binoculars, dressed as cool as I could and headed out. John had the dome open and the mirror cooling when I arrived and also had updated the MegaStar system on the 31". As we sat and talked waiting for dark, Joe came as well. Like the two of us, there's a curiousity going on here. Joe had also spent the last few nights trying to locate the comet at his home observatory with no success. Yet, he is another person that has complete and total faith that what I say can be seen can be seen. He thinks he had it on - but like the rest of us, wants that confirmation for co-observers as well.

Weird lot, aren't we?

So as the Moon lights up the landscape, the stars come out to play. John heads in to get alignment on the 31" and get it set on the comet before it crosses the meridian and I just want to know I'm not crazy. As soon as I can see 51 Herculis I go for the binoculars and pow... there it is. (you notice that's a soft "pow", because this is a soft comet. ;) Joe had brought along a very detailed locator chart and although he and John were teasing about chalk outlining my body as I laid flat out on the concrete - at least they were listening. I described what I saw and described the star field.


Joe is also a very experienced observer and although he couldn't catch it in his bigger binoculars, he knows I'm not kidding and asks to use mine. Now you can make that two chalk outlines to credit to forensic science, because his bones are on his back on the concrete as well. I grabbed the little 5X30s and away we went. And he sees!!! I can just barely make it out in the little binoculars, but we can compare what we see of the starfield easy enough. While we're laying there, the temptation is too great not to starhop and start picking off Messiers. Even with the first quarter Moon hanging out, you could do half the binocular list challenges in nothing flat. At least until John re-appears and asks if we'd like to see 177/P!

Well, hot damn. Confirmation just doesn't get any better! With a 31" aperture F7 telescope and I do believe a 19mm eyepiece, happy comet 177/P 2006 M3 (Barnard 2) has now been totally confirmed at 10:30 p.m. ESTD. The really weird thing is that it isn't that much brighter in the big scope! One thing we all noticed was that it has a gauzy appearance. While most comets appear to look more like unresolved globular clusters, this one looks like a planetary nebula - a supernova remnant. There is a slight fan to the coma and absolutely no nucleus whatsoever. I know all of us had grins 10 feet wide!

About that time one of the young lady counsellors had returned for a quick peek through the scope and John turned it on the M13 while Joe and I went back out to slap each other's backs and do everything but high-five. When the young lady returned, Joe gave her a constellation tour and John also came back out. All three of us have completed our globular cluster studies and all three of us can't keep from grinning and joking that this comet is as vague as the Palomar globulars. Who knows why it can be seen in binoculars, but not in a telescope? Is it the "can't see the forest for the trees" type of thing? Or something to do with surface brightness? No matter what the answer is, the important thing is that we nailed it.

Confirmed kill, sir.

Feeling like a million bucks, I headed back west grinning like a fool and just digging on listening to the stereo and cooling down again. We had seen several of the Capricornid meteors tonight as well, and bright fireballs and dim comets still sparkled in my eyes. At least they did until I topped a hill and saw the western plain laid out before me...

There on the horizon was the most incredibly large Moon that I can ever remember seeing... With Jupiter following it like an obedient sattelite. I know it's an illusion... But its an incredible illusion. It's a deep orange and the sight of it appearing to be ten times larger than normal just takes my breath away. My science mind knows that the heat haze accounts for the color and I know that it's the same Moon - no bigger nor closer than it was when it was blazing the sky just 90 minutes ago.... But right now?

It looks like magic.

"I'm not the one who's so far away... When I feel the snakebite enter my veins. Never did I want to be here again... And I don't remember why I came."