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DECEMBER 2006



December 31/January 1, 2006/07 - Dreaming?

Comments: It is the end of the year again. They speed up as you get older, you know. It doesn't seem like another year should have passed by now - but it has. I celebrated in the usual ways. And, as usual...

It's raining.

I am happy to announce the old farmhouse tradition holds true. Some family members gather here first, and to the cry of "Regulators... Mount 'em up!" we head across the very flat plains of a soggy, wet Ohio and seek out the company of the rest of the gene pool. Despite the cold rain, the caravan arrives to a warm and congenial atmosphere, tables piled high with food. We hug, we laugh, we talk... We congratulate each other on our achievements, commiserate on hard times, and - in general - love each other the best we can. When bellies are full to bursting, no elderly aunt goes unhugged, no greying uncle unteased, no cousin without a slapped back or a handshake, and no parent or passed away loved one forgotten.

The Regulators ride again...

The sons and their women left well ahead, and that's fine. I don't know how other parents feel, but I'd just as soon not travel closely with my own. They are excellent drivers, but that little edge always reminds you of how quickly they could be taken away and it's just not a thing you wanna' see, you know? I'd rather just watch the windshield wipers slap away the deluge, listen to my rock and roll and let them worry about whether or not I'll make it.

The evening passes quietly. A bottle of merlot, a taste test of different beers, lively games of cards, and an old favourite comedy movie. When the time draws near, the arsenal is dusted off, safety inspected, loaded and ready. One sound of the action of a gun and H has conveniently become one the dustbunnies behind the deepest of the shadows in the bowels of the places I never clean.. let alone look. The countdown has begun and the rain has stopped.

As I aim the old shotgun high, I salute the New Year with three sharp repots amidst the laughter and careful handling of those who shoot with me. There is no fear for safety - they have grown up amidst the weapons of manhood and show far more respect for their power than many so-called "professionals" do. I am proud of them.

When the shells are spent, my youngest takes the gun from my hands, inspects the safety and carries it away. He has already seen that glazed look in my eyes and he knows I want to be left alone for awhile. When the lights go off, it is just me out here... Staring at the fast moving clouds and the Moon. I smile at the nearby Plieades and wave a hand at Saturn as it appears. How many years? Does it matter? The years are slipping quietly away from us, and now all that's left is a woman who has seen much younger years standing alone in the shadows under the quiet moonlight...

Thinking of you.

"December songs no longer I sing..."



December 29/30, 2006 - Sir William Goes to the Dogs...

Comments: A clear night? It didn't really start out that way. Early in the evening I accepted a rare chance to get out and went to visit the Gerhart family to enjoy Kamin's 9th birthday. Greg and I have been observing friends for a very long time and I really like his family as well. We stood out in the yard as I arrived, admiring a fuzzy Moon... And then later as I left admiring the nice 360 halo. It looks like another perfectly warm Ohio winter night gone to waste...

Or is it?

Oddly enough, I had trouble sleeping that night and along about 2:30 I was up watching the Moon set. The temperature had dropped significantly by then and the stars were out and shining...

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Herschel 400
Tammy Plotner 40.6 82.9
December 30, 2006 2:40 am EST
Skies: 5.0 Stability: 6/10
Scope: 12.5 reflector 25mm

NGC 2421 - NW of M93 by several degrees. A finely grained open cluster that is not overly bright, but rather large. Considering the stellar field, it's fairly compressed and most of its members are close to the same magnitude.

NGC 2422 - A stunning open cluster that could have even used less power. Mixed magnitudes, very bright and loose. Double star near center.

NGC 2423 - Just north of 2422. A very nice, slightly dimmer and much smaller compression of stars with a very notable pair of yellow giants at the heart.

NGC 2438 - The planetary nebula in the northeast section of M46. Deserves higher power than what I gave it, but is notable as a disc with a wink of a central star.

NGC 2440 - Very difficult to find at low power. Found by drifting north of M93 and spotted an elongated, green disc. Also deserves higher power.

NGC 2479 - Due east of planetary. Small, fairly well compressed cloud of slightly differeing magnitudes. Medium brightness. More stars beyond resolution at low power.

NGC 2482 - Easy to find east of Xi. An elongated oval patch of stars that is fairly well compressed, but not rich.

NGC 2489 - Easy mark in finder north of a pair of stars located south of Xi. Fairly bright and well populated, but a very open cluster that is mainly just a collection of chains.

NGC 2509 - A little more difficult to find well north of Rho. Not particular bright because magnitudes are similar, but a nice compression.

NGC 2527 - About the same distance southwest of Rho. Slightly larger than the last open cluster and considerably brighter with a wider magnitude difference between concentration of stars.

NGC 2539 - Very easy to spot in finder because 19 Pup is part of the cluster. Very bright and very rich, the major star appears to be a multi-system.

NGC 2567 - South of Rho and just northeast of easy finderscope star. Nicely bright, the loose collection of chains is compressed enough to easily be spotted as a cluster.

NGC 2571 - Just northeast and also has a significant star as part of this open cluster. A couple of dozen widely varied stars that show slight compression set apart from background.

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By now, nearly 90 minutes has passed and I am chasing Puppis to the west. I can feel the welcome sensation of being tired... Of having done something. I smile at Saturn and think about the galaxies of spring.

It won't be long.

"December clouds... Come cover me."



December 24, 2006 - O Holy Night...

Comments: I don't know where the stars came from - but there they were. Right now Ohio weather is due for a big change and we are leaving the unseasonal warm and about to get lashed with real winter. Believe it or not, this change meant a big, open hole in the sky and for awhile the stars shined down.

Am I weird? Yeah, I probably am. Rather than take a telescope or binoculars out, I stood under the stars and sang Christmas carols to them. I guess it's my own way of remembering the Reason for the Season - so I sing in a far from perfect voice offering my thanks. The days ahead will bring the cold to freeze the water on the fields and the snow will come at last, blanketing the dead ground in pure white. The earth will sleep and renew...

And the stars will remain constant.

"December wind... Won't you come unto me? December wind whispers of eternity."



December 23, 2006 - Remembering Ranger...

Comments: Over the years a lot of the scald has gone out of losing an old friend. It truly is a case of time heals all wounds - but we still remember. You might think of all cognizant creatures in the world that a big black dog would forget far quicker than a human... But it is not the case.

After Ranger first died, I tried to feed H using only one bowl, but he refused to eat until there were two bowls filled and on the floor. To this day he won't eat happily unless two bowls are present, yet he will only eat from the bowl on the left-hand side. And so, like H, I also remember. My ceremony is far more simple - just a snippet of the Christmas Tree and a cookie left by a marker that has long ago lost the raw look of a grave. It's now nothing more than a simple stone with a few tall grasses around it - and with time someone will one day move the stone and nothing will be left.

Nothing but the memory...

"Don't worry about... Don't speak of doubt. Turn your head now just spit me out."



December 19, 2006 - Sir William: Matador...

Comments: What can I say besides, "Ole!" The skies were beautiful when I got home from work, so I put the big'un out to cool while I grabbed a bite to eat and checked the email. (MSN puked and i was feeling web deprived, ok?)

And then it was time to rock...

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Herschel 400
Tammy Plotner 40.6 82.9
12/19/06 10:00 pm EST
Skies: 6.0 Stability: 10/10
12.5" reflector - 25mm study grade Meade

NGC 1647 - Easily located a few degrees northeast of Aldebaran. It is not exceptionally large, but it is very easily bright and fairly well concentrated. It's widely scattered, has many magnitudes and no real asterism.

NGC 1750 - Very bright, but far to large to be held in the same field of view with this eyepiece. Many mixed magnitudes spread over at least a 12" area. Very nice!

NGC 1817 - Pairs with NGC 1807 to the southwest. Again, a widely mixed magnitude cluster that is well compressed and populated. Many faint members cry for more magnification!

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After that, I thought about tackling Orion tonight... At the very least Lepus, but instead found myself just staring at the M1. What a wonderful and fantastic nebula! The skies are exceptionally clear and steady tonight and the ribbands and folds are so apparent that I am spellbound. By the time I finally tired of staring, I noticed I was beginning to get cold and it was just time to let it go for the night.

The "Crab" is incredible in a large scope....

"Don't think about it... Don't speak aloud. Turn your head now, baby. Just spit me out..."



December 18, 2006 - A Binocular Kind of Night...

Comments: So what does that mean? Well, that means it's kinda' clear - but kinda' not. It would be frustrating to set up the big scope because it's not transparent enough to do any serious hunting - but it also means that it's transparent enough that I wanna' see what's out there!

So, for awhile, I used the 16X60s and did some sky touring. There's absolutely no shame in enjoying the Andromeda Galaxy or the M42. Is there any place finer than the Plieades or Hyades? How about the Alpha Persei Group or the Double Cluster? It doesn't matter what you're looking at...

As long as you're out there!

"Just throw away your basic need... For ambience and vanity."



December 16, 2006 - Lights in the Sky and the AFY Christmas Party...

Comments: I was up early that morning. It's last chance deer hunting day, and although I no longer hunt, I have boys who do. Before you cry "Foul!" realize that deer overpopulate Ohio and there is no shame in eating Nature's harvest. While the aurora activity was low, what I did not expect was a report of weird lights in the sky from my youngest son. Both sons have grown up with astronomy and they aren't the type to come home with tales of "weird lights".

Well, I listened and quite frankly I didn't have an explanation. The best was his own gut reaction that he was looking at some type of slow moving signal flare - but what we weren't prepared for was what it really was! In less than 24 hours the news had hit our local media and the answer was clear... Somehow, in some way, we here in north central Ohio were able to see the launch of the Mid-Atlantic commercial spaceport from Virginia! Needless to say, I am very proud of Jon for noting something unusual, it's precise time, location and providing outstanding descriptions.

He done good!

Later that day it was time for me to head for Robert's rural location to enjoy the annual Astronomy For Youth Christmas party! How wonderful it was to see my many friends again and to enjoy all the great food and laughter. It seems like ages since I have seen some of them and I had a fantastic time. Here's to a great 2007 season!

Although the skies were cloudy in that part of Ohio during our get together, the daggone things were peeping out bright and beautiful by the time I got back. I stood for the longest time and just admired Orion before I went back inside. He's an old, old friend, too...

And nothing is better than friends.

"Why dring the water from my hand? Lost as you think I am..."



December 14, 2006 - Aurora!!

Comments: Oh, YEAH! I watched most of the aurora action while I was driving home from work, but I am certainly not complaining. It feels odd to just be leaving work this time of day, but the changes have been so good for me that I really do not mind. At one point the green clouds went so bright that I had to try and call Joe to make sure he was outside!

It dropped my call.

Although I know I always get a good signal from this area, I also know that you can't keep one during geomagnetic storms and I went over the river and through the woods as quickly as I could so I could stand out in my own backyard and drool like a fool. Fortunately Joe caught enough of my attempt to reach him and I hope he had the chance to see it as well!!

By about 8:30 the winds had whipped up and the clouds claimed the aurora. There has got to be a connection there, I think. I checked off and on all during the night but the cover stayed until just after dawn. No matter...

I saw the aurora!!

"Don't worry about it... Don't think aloud. Turn your head now. Baby, just spit me out..."



December 12, 2006 - Sir William Meets Aquarius, Catches a Pair of Fish and the Sky Drips With a Meteor Shower...

Comments: OK. So I'm not very good at creating cutsie titles. If I were being realistic it would just be "Herschel 400 Objects in Aquarius and the Geminids" - but nooooooooo... I'm trying to exercise creativity.

No wonder I don't write fiction.

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Herschel 400
Tammy Plotner 40.6 82.9
12/12/06 Time In: 6:30 pm EST
Skies: 5.5 9/10
12.5" reflector - 26mm 12.3mm

NGC 7009 - Is getting very far west. Located just west of Nu Aquarii, low skies do not do this very blue elongated nebula as much justice. At high power you can glimpse the extensions that make it the Saturn Nebula.

NGC 7606 - Just north of triple Psi is a nicely elongated galaxy oriented from the southeast to northwest. In a nice field of stars, shows a concentrated core region and a blinking bright nucleus.

NGC 7723 - Is north of the Omega pairing with a finderscope star to the southwest. Large and round, it shows a little concentration across the core region at high power.

NGC 7727 - Is a hop north. It is smaller, more evenly distributed and has a genuine stellar nucleus.

NGC 488 - Southwest of Mu Piscium. Round, bright galaxy with a brighter core region and hints of structure at power.

NGC 524 - North of Mu. At low power, it is fairly bright and outshines two other small galaxies nearby. Definately a brighter core region.

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After that? I put the scope away. The annual Geminid meteor shower is really cranking up and I'd rather just sit and watch it. I did keep notes for my meteor logs, but how long, how bright, when, where, and length of train would really complicate this brief and friendly report. Let it suffice to say that most were cooking in at a good magnitude 1 and the fall rate was quite sufficient enough to keep me thoroughly entertained until 1:00 in the morning!

Oddly enough, the remains of comet/asteroid Phaeton definately had a more peak time. During the earlier hours until about 11:30 the fall rate was spectacular and I was catching at least one about every 4 to 5 minutes. Just before midnight, they dropped way off and I did go out for awhile around 4:30, but stopped at 5:00 a.m., when I hadn't seen anything in 30 minutes. It was definately a better early evening shower. Besides, it wasn't real hard to sit there and watch Orion right itself in the sky... To watch Sirius and Saturn rise...

And just sing to myself while I took notes.

"Don't think about it... Don't speak aloud. Turn your head. Now baby just spit me out..."



December 11, 2006 - Just Before Dawn...

Comments: Get up early when I don't have to? Yeah. There's a good reason and that reason is just to see some very beautiful sky scenery. I had my Meade Capture View binoculars with me and was all set to take - or try to - some digital sky shots. As you can tell, it took me a couple of days to prove to myself that I suck at photography, but my friend, Jason Shinn does not. His pictures blew mine out of the water...

Hanging almost overhead was the glorious last quarter Moon and following along below it like a obediant pet was Saturn. This alone was worth getting up early for and the pair looked just awesome in binoculars. How I wish I could take images like Jason's!

Even before the sky showed the first stains of dawn you could see the planets gathered in a trio just above the horizon. The camera would pick them up... But the picture looked like three dots of light. By the time the light came along enough to show the scenery... It washed out the planets. Again, I can't thank Jason enough for sharing his images.

I learned a lesson this morning, you know. There were two incredibly beautiful happenings and instead of just breathing deep and gazing on with wonder.... I was trying too hard. When I finally put the binoculars back in their little case, I realized I had missed the very most important part...

Being there.

"And my cup runneth over again..."



December 10, 2006 - Mr. Herschel Harpoons the Whale... AKA: Thar' She Blows!

Comments: A good mood? Yes, I am, thank you. It was my great pleasure to spend Friday night in Ohio's capitol city of Columbus in a fantastic suite and enjoy a very ritzy Christmas party. This would never have been possible had I not made the decision I made a work...

And neither would tonight, for that matter.

Clear skies and no time clock mean I am free to go out and study either until my little heart is content or my cold gives me warning. It's chilly, it's clear, and I've got a clean kerchief. Let's take out the dob and dance...

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Herschel 400
Tammy Plotner 40.6 82.9
12/10/06 Time In: 8:00 pm EST
Sky: 5.5 Stability: 8/10
12.5" reflector 25mm 12.3mm

NGC 152 - East of Iota. Nice, bright galaxy to start off with. Elongated and brighter core. Small star on eastern edge. Hints of structure.

NGC 246 - South of center Pi star. Very nice, large, bright planetary. Round in structure with 3 involved stars. Some dark areas.

NGC 247 - Low surface brightness, very large and pencil slim edge-on galaxy. Shows are slightly brighter central bulge.

NGC 584 - Northernmost in a grouping north/northeast of Theta. Faint, even and definately appears as an inclined spiral.

NGC 596 - Drop south in group. Round, bright and concentrated around the center. High power reveals a stellar nucleus.

NGC 615 - (east of 600) Small, egg-shaped galaxy with a brighter central portion.

NGC 720 - Located roughly halfway between Zeta/Chi pairing and Tau. Relatively bright and much elongated. Bright core shows well at low power and snaps stellar at high.

NGC 779 - Northeast of Zeta/Chi. Also highly elongated galaxy with a brighter core. Shows just a little bit of structure at high power during pure stability.

NGC 908 - Far south - east of Upsilon. Very trick galaxy! It's fairly bright and ovid, but shoot the power to it. This might be a barred because the core region is extended.

NGC 936 - Pairs with 931 northeast of Mira. Pretty bright and almost precisely round. A soft concentration towards the core region.

NGC 1022 - Big jump southeast of Mira and difficult to find. Faint, round and slightly concentrated in the center.

NGC 1052 - In a same low power field trio of galaxies west of Eta Eridani. 1052 is brightest, all are round with slight concentration towards core.

NGC 1055 - Dead east and almost on top Delta. Very large, relatively bright and elongated. Brighter central region. Aversion calls up a slight arm structure.

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By now, ol' rusty here is beginning to see the first signs of the Moon coming up. I know it will be awhile yet, but I've had a great evening and some of these galaxies really took some work to find! Best head back in before I make this cold any worse. Besides...

I really want to get up early.

"Just tilt your sun towards my domain..."



December 7, 2006 - I'm Catching... Up....

Comments: As you can tell from the long delay in reports, something ain't right. Well, I'd been plagued with a little bit of a common cold, but unfortunately the many drugs I take leave me in a position where it's very difficult to heal from what others would shake off in just a few days. (and i am extremely careful not to pass it on!) Even though I had basically retired several weeks ago, I found myself scheduled for vampyre shift on Monday and that quickly took me from... well...

Bat to worse.

By the end of Monday night, it was pretty bad. Over the last few days I remember seeing the Moon rise - first not quite full, then full, the not quite again. Bouts with the fever means the most observing I can do is to look out the window and pray for a few hours of rest here and there. Even poor H has been sick! It is very alarming to hear a dog cough and you can bet the vet had him on antibiotics long before old stubborn here admitted defeat and visited the doctor myself. So, no worries. H is getting better and I expect I'll soon follow. My semi-retirement will now be honored and I look forward to concentrating on healing...

And heading back to the stars.

"As contagious as you think I am..."



December 2, 2006 - The RAS Christmas Party...

Comments: How forward we all were looking to joining together for a great meal, much laughter and to hear about what a great year 2006 had been. As always, we meet in the mysterious Masonic Temple and the smells of all the good food kept us gathered in the kitchen and barely able to wait as all of us arrived!

After a hearty meal, it was down to friendly business. Time to relay all the great things that we'd done and accomplished as a group over the last year. Time to work on our yearly calendar for the next... And time to vote in new officers. Chances are probably pretty good that I didn't give anyone an opportunity to change their minds, but our board members and officers stand for yet another year... And I am humbled by the many kind remarks that I received quietly and personally from our members as to my performance as president.

The time passes all too quickly and the conversations and laughter flow freely. There isn't much left of all the wonderful dishes that were brought and it is the concensus of the club that we are all darn fine cooks! Patting full bellies we make personal plans for the upcoming year and look forward to another successful Hidden Hollow and a terrfic time of public outreach. Things are going fantastic, and I do believe we are one of the happiest and most productive groups of all time!

Let's keep on rockin' the night - together.

"Why drink the water from my hand..."