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JANUARY 2006



January 31, 2006 - The Vampyre and the Virgin...

Comments: Night shift again? Yeah, baby. It gets old, but it keeps bread on the table. When I got up around midnight, I really wasn't in the mood to go out, but I wasn't particularly in the mood to start working either. I puttered around for awhile, killing time, but every time I would look at the window, Corvus was right there pecking at the glass...

"Nevermore!! Nevermore!!"

Silly black bird. By the time I had myself together, there was still quite a bit of time to kill and it only takes about 60 seconds to set the old Celestron outside the garage door, take the covers off the optics and simply have at it. It's been far too long since I've played galaxy games in Virgo to do much more than a simple hop, but I can remember a fist's width west of Spica and a dance with the incredible Sombrero!

Only an old vampyre would be out wandering around in Virgo at this hour....

************************************************

The day stayed fairly clear and I was home well before lunch. It had also been a very long time since I had done any solar observing, so again the old Celestron got the honors. Of course, a little break in the clouds means only one thing - no sunspots! Ah, well...

It's just my luck.

"Yes, I'm wastin' my time again.... Whoa, oh, again..."



January 28, 2006 - Early Morning SkyWatching...

Comments: Scope? Nah. I was at work, but I love to walk outside on my break before dawn and practice a little "city astronomy". Once in awhile, I can get someone else to look as well, and it just seems to make it all worthwhile.

This morning I was delighted to watch Jupiter on my way in, and I knew to time my break very specifically, because an event was about to happen. I know my co-workers thought I was a bit crazy walking around in the parking lot looking at the sky, but they've gotten used to me. My first point of interest was that beautiful last slice of Moon rising just ahead of the Sun. If you want sky scenery, just have a look at something like that! Having Venus and Jupiter hanging out makes it even more scenic... Even with buildings in the picture.

Someone teased me about checking my watch, and asked me if I was waiting on my bus to Mars. Offended? Heck, no! I started laughing and got them to come out into the parking lot with me because I told them my ride had arrived and it was going to come out of the sky right there in 45 seconds. Needless to say, the calculations were spot on and the ISS made a magnificent pass. You should have heard them when it reached the top of its arc and the rising Sun's rays turned it brilliant! Yep. My ride is here...

And I'll catch ya'll around the Cosmos.

"Cuz' I'm wastin' my time..."




January 26, 2006 - Claiming the Rosette, Challenging the Cone, Studying the Hubble and Rubbing Noses With the Eskimo...

Comments: A very superior night here. Waiting until good, deep dark, I had taken the big Meade out with the intention of doing a bit of galaxy hunting to take my mind off of other things. I had my study eyepieces ready to go, notepad, charts, and every expectation of searching out the faint fuzzies. Yeah. It was late, but sometimes I just have to escape.

And there's no place like the stars.

So, here I am. Bundled in my parka on the park bench with my red flashlight and Uranometria thinking I ought to be hunting down some of these awesome planetaries and watching Orion start to dip west. I was just staring at the Belt, thinking my skills as a cartographer totally suck and wondering how it would feel if you were just sitting here beside me. I'm looking right at Alnitak, thinking maybe you'd like to see the "Flame" or maybe chase the ribbon where the "Horsehead" hides. I'm wondering what it would be like... What if... And then Alnitak doubles in brightness.

I can't even begin to describe how quickly the brain thinks. My thoughts had went supernova, but just as quickly as the thought formulated, it slid in a silver trail like a tear running down the face of the sky and ended up at the feet of Orion. I guess sometimes something as small as just seeing a meteor at the right place and the right time is enough to remind you just how wonderful the starry skies can be...

So I closed the book of maps and surrendered.

The big, widefield eyepiece turns the Rosette Nebula into a vast, whispery smoke filled with stars. It's a quiet place, where once in a while a twinkle of color sparkles. When I move on to the Cone Nebula, I am taken again by all the stars and the tiny obscuration that marks its place. I had been feeling the depression rather badly, but the Hubble Variable nebula takes it all away. Like a gas flame it burns... The most blue thing in the heavens. At this power, the Eskimo nebula seems so small compared to how it looks in the Obseratory scope, but to see it is to bring back wonderful memories... All the smiles and wonder that I felt the first time I saw it like that. And so I put the scope away. I guess there are times when I come out here that what I need is just what I got...

Seeing it through someone else's eyes.

"I just had to fall... And lose it all."




January 23, 2006 - Wabbit Twacks...

Comments: Another spectacular night and despite loss of sleep, I can't stay inside and let an opportunity to do some galaxies studies pass! It's time again to get out the big Meade, some maps and see what I can tease out of Lepus. First I have some business to take care of and while things stabilize, I sip at a cup of much needed coffee while on an Astronomical League conference call... Trying not to hurry so I can get outside!

For the record, it was very cold - near freezing, seeing was limiting magnitude of 6, transparency was a sweet 9 out of 10 again and stability was very good at 8 out of 10. Eyepieces used tonight were the Meade study grade 25mm and 10mm to save switching between the 2" and 1.25" adapter. Time in? 10:45 pm est.

The first hop is a drop south of Epsilon Lepus around five degrees through three faint but visual stars and northwest of the southernmost for NGC 1744. It is pretty good size at low power, but it is very misty in appearance and quite nebula like with no apparent concentration towards the nucleus. It is set in a stellar field and does not improve with magnification. It shows some elongation that orients in as north/south on the long axis.

NGC 1964 is about two fingerwidths southeast of Beta Lepus and almost between Beta and Gamma. It is much brighter in appearance and definately holds a more spiral shape. with a star caught on its lower leading edge. Slight brightening towards the nucleus.

NGC 2179 is around 3 degrees southeast of Delta and there is a finderscope star to its west. It is small, faint and round with a star on either side. No particular noting of brightening towards the core and appears an even spiral. At low power, there is an apparent double in the field.

NGC 2139 is around 2 to 3 degrees further southwest and is not an easy catch at low power. It is oval, like a very even elliptical and surprisingly faint with a trio of stars to the north. It is best seen at lower power and by tapping the eyepiece to pick up averted vision.

The last for me tonight is NGC 1832 just a breath in the eyepiece north of Mu. This one is relatively faint and I would not suggest looking a Mu too long in the eyepiece because it does harm the vision. When readjusted, I find it to be fairly round in appearance, with some brightening towards the core area. There is a nice little stellar point on the eastern edge. Magnification does improve it.

And, of course, I had to take a peek at the M79 and M42! Who can be out there and not at least take a pass at them, huh? But, I am pleased with what I have accomplished tonight. On the average, it takes me around 20 minutes or so to locate and study each object - some are faster and the faint hazy ones are definately slower. Time out? Too close to 1:00 a.m. for a kid that had been up for the last 24 hours. I guess one of these days I should hook the magellan navigation system back up so I could be doing more field studies in the 2 hours or so that I have time and energy to devote to it, but then... Where would be the fun of freezing while hunting?

Following wabbit twacks...

"Well, this is not for real. Afraid to feel..."



January 21, 2006 - Challenging Columba...

Comments: Tonight? About as perfect skies as one could ask for at this time of year. When you can see exactly where the M35 is at, you know you've got to go galaxy hunting!

Late? Yep. I waited until the skies had changed rather radically and small children and big dogs had long gone to sleep before I sneaked away. I can't go far out into the field, but from my favourite vantage point due south is open all the way down to the horizon and I have some mighty fine horizons. I kept looking at Lepus and there's stars below it that I don't even know!

So let's get acquainted, eh?

Pulling the dob out, while my good eyepieces stabilized and my night vision improved, I had a look at the charts. Boy, howdy! That's Columba! And doing this dance isn't even going to require a stepladder because I am going to be going low. First object of choice? NGC 1800.

Visibility for the night was a good limiting magnitude of 6. Transparency was a 9 out of 10 with a 10 at the zenith. Stability was a sound 8 out of 10. Viewing time was 11:00 p.m. and eyepieces were 32mm Televue to locate field and 12.3mm ED Epic widefield for study. Due south a fistwidth of Epsilon Lepus, the NGC 1800 isn't particulary spectacular, but it is visible. It is definately disc-like in shape with a brighter concentration towards the center and a certain amount of fading out towards the outer edges. No particular nucleus present. It is on the edge of a asterism of stars that look like a miniature of the constellation of Gemini.

Further south (about 2 fingerwidths SSW of Gamma Caleum - an apparent double) is NGC 1808. This one is reasonably bright enough to discern a little bit of structure and has a definate linear concentration across a bright core region which signifies a barred spiral. No arms are present, but there is a misty, halo-like aura around it.

Slightly further south is NGC 1792. This one isn't for the kiddies. Just barely visible with a star caught on the leading edge, it is billed at magnitude 10.7, but either poor sky position for my latitude or just plain low surface brightness makes this one nothing more than a small, nebulous patch with no particular features to distinguish it as galactic. Best seen while looking at the star itself and picking it up with averted vision.

Next it is off to Alpha Columbae and just a scant few degrees (no more than a finger width) east, southeast for NGC 2090. Much better! Here we have a true spiral signature. It is elongated basically from north to south, has a fairly intense nucleus and a definate concentration towards in central region. There are two stars space slightly futher apart than the galaxy is long on the eastern edge. This one is faint, but definately achievable in most larger scopes.

My last hop is northwest of Kappa about 2 degrees for the NGC 2188. Again oriented north/south, this one is exceptionally slim and would probably be considered more of a highly inclined spiral rather than a true edge on since there is no hint of a dustlane or core region. While it's not fancy, it does reside in a very nice field of stars and makes this hunt very worthwhile for someone looking for something a bit out of the ordinary!

For now? I best call it in for the night. I didn't mention that it is rather cold out and that is why it is so clear, but I'm beginning to feel it and that's enough for now. It was a great night out galaxy hunting and even if it took me forever to find them?

They were as worth it as you are...

"I see you waiting. I'm lonesome, lonely... I see you waiting."



January 19, 2006 - Chasing Rubies...

Comments: Tonight was rather special in my opinion, and being able to do stargazing also made it even more so. In 1736, a great-grandfather of mine opened his eyes for the very first time in Scotland. His name was James Watt, and even though most folks know him more for patenting improvements to the steam engine, great grandda had his hands on a telescope long before I was even dreamed of. While his field was engineering instead of astronomy, this ancestor of mine not only used that telescope to look at the stars, but held the patent in using a telescope for surveying. How wonderful it is to know that 270 years later his genes live on in an old woman who is equally fascinated with the telescope!

As I step out around 9:00, I wonder if he ever saw what I am looking at tonight. Above me are the jewels of the winter heavens sprawling across the black velvet of the night, but there are none more beautiful than the alignment of Mars, Aldeberan and Betelguese. Although they vary in magnitude, just as gems vary in size, their colors are so strikingly similar that I can only stand and stare.

"Thy soul shall find itself alone, mid dark thoughts of the grey tombstone. For then the spirits of the dead who stood in life before thee are again. In death around thee -- and their will shall overshadow thee: be still. The night -- tho' clear --shall frown and the stars shall look not down from their high thrones in the heaven. With light like Hope to mortals given -- But their red orbs, without beam, To the weariness shall seem as a burning and a fever which would cling to thee for ever. Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish -- Now are visions ne'er to vanish -- From thy spirit shall they pass -- no more -- like dew drops from the grass. The breeze -- the breath of God -- is still -- And the mist upon this hill shadowy -- shadowy -- yet unbroken, is a symbol and a token -- How it hangs upon the trees. A mystery of mysteries."

And this is a fitting thing, for this is also the birthdate of Edgar A. Poe - one of my most beloved of authors. Keeping in mind how the works of both have inspired me, I chose not to telescope, but to use the binoculars tonight instead.

Turning my eyes toward the skies, I journey across space and time to visit with the Plieades, the Orion Nebula, the M35, M36, M37 and M38. As I walk out beyond the shadowy trees, it is to greet the southern stars and to scan the M46, M47 and M48, M93 and M41. I engage the beauty of Melotte 72 and 71 and when I turn my eyes toward the north? It is to greet the M81 and M82 all over again.

As I scan the skies, I find different stades of rubies everywhere. Beta and Gamma Canis Minor are two, as is Alpha Monocerotis. Beta, Delta and Theta Cancrii also have a red hue. Beta, Eta, Epsilon and Sigma Canis Majoris follow. But before I leave...

R Leporis is a ruby all of its own.

"Well, this is not for real. Afraid to feel. I just had to fall to lose it all. And I'm wastin' my time... Yes, I'm wastin' my time, again... Whoa, oh again."



January 18, 2006 - The Great Orion Nebula...

Comments: Well, what looked like temperate winter weather turned absolutely rotten at the beginning of the day. Overnight, what had been a gentle rain turned into an ugly coating of sleet and before dawn around four inches of powder snow had dropped. While that fresh, fluffy powder would have made for excellent skiing conditions, I made for one hayride going to work. (hey! watch out! hey! i can't see! hey! i'm going side... ok. hey! i'm going straight again!) The roads were untouched and a driving wind caused areas of total white out and unexpected drifts. But, I am an Ohio driver. Reckless and stupid I ain't,.. And I am happy to wave at all the above as I see them backwards in the ditch while I make my merry way on down the road at my slow and steady pace. I might not get there the fastest...

But I get there.

And of all the weird things to happen, by 9:00 at night the skies were again gorgeously clear. The wind had died down and the temperatures dropped to downright crisp. What are you going to do when Orion invites you to dance?

My answer is to pull the dobby out into the driveway where there is no chance of errant snow blowing off a roof or tree and opening up on the Great Orion nebula. My eyepiece of choice is the 32mm Televue and the M42 will take your breath away. Unlike photographs, all the tender rifts, folds, ribbons and tiny embedded stars come out to play in subtle shades of dimensionality. You can see depth that is lacking in pictures and although we often think of the Orion nebula as a thing we have seen so often that it no longer holds appeal... Look again.

It unfolds its way across the starry sky like a giant eagle. It wings are of phantom smoke, the glowing stuff of nebulosum. It is caught like a frozen fantasy, its western side so wonderfully detailed that you can only stop and stare. I trace a long ribband to the east and it brings to mind the aurora and all of its subtle nuances. Just look at the stars caught amoungst it! The Trapezium calls, but I do not seek the Holy Grail tonight. All I want is here. Take the time, my friends... Take the time to really stop and enjoy one of the finest sights in the heavens...

And let it steal you away.

"I took a chance and left you standing... Lost the will to do it once again."



January 16, 2006 - Doing the Vampyre...

Comment: Who me? Up late? Yeah. Formally the shift is now over again, but instead of being creative when I got home in the morning, I was exhausted and spent the majority of the day napping in the long absent sunshine. As it departs the sky, I enjoy a beautiful purple sunset and once again my thoughts turn to working and despite clear early evening skies, I find myself busy. I don't have to go to work in the morning and -

What I want will come along later on...

And did it? Why of course. Officially the date would have been the a.m. hours of January 17th, but the very last of the double star studies have now been completed and all that remains is to translate my field sketches over to the proper forms, fill in little things like the fact that stability was 6/10 and seeing was 4.0. The Celestron 102 refractor has served me very well indeed. And I can't help but wonder...

What's next?

"Months went by with us pretending... When did our light go from green to red?"



January 14, 2006 - Back To Seeing Double...

Comments: We've got snow in Ohio again! And those nice freezing temperatures that mean the muddy ground is frozen and it is safe to use the "Grasshopper" and take the big dob out for awhile.
Tonight I started very much on the late side for a working astronomer, but again I am working towards my doubles and clear skies have been at such a premium that what does it matter if we lose a little sleep, eh? We need Gemini and Leo before the spring rains come and the clouds take it away!

And we need Saturn...

So why give up doing my notes, sketches and deep sky to have a look at a planet? Maybe because its nearness to the Moon simply draws so much attention to it. The pairing is spectacular and once again I find myself wishing that I was capable of taking "sky shots" to communicate it. But, at the same time I also know that the eye doesn't work like a camera and while I can stand here and look at the maria that the Moon would be overexposed to catch the light of Saturn. So what's an astronomer to do?

Drop in a high power eyepiece and enjoy the "Ring King!"

"Yes, I'm wasting my time again... Whoa, oh, again...."



December 12, 2006 - Dancin' In The Moonlight...

Comments: Yeah, baby! A clear night on my hands and some time to play. It has been a very long time since I had taken out the Celestron 102 refractor and for some reason this just really felt like the night to do it.

Wanna' go starhopping with me?

As horrible as it may sound, if put a lot of my studies on hold to keep after other things and obligations. I'm ashamed to say, but I've been working on my "double star" certification for a year! So... just after sunset it was time to go work on them. I am really pleased with the performance of the Celestron 102 and the 12.5mm ED Epic eyepiece is a wonderful companion for doubles.

Waiting for the sky to change, I covered the scope up, took my battery pack inside to stay warm and worked for awhile. By the time I went back out, the Moon was wonderfully risen and it was such a pleasure to work on not only more doubles, but to have a look at Gassendi, Kepler and Aristarchus as well. This little scope really rocks!

And so does a clear night...

"I just had to fall to lose it all... And I'm wasting my time."



January 11, 2006 - At Nationwide...

Comments: A trip to the capitol city of Columbus? Yeah. For anyone who has ever driven in Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Charlotte, Richmond, Pittsburg, Cincinnatti, Raleigh, Ann Arbor, Nashville, Indiapolis, or any other major city, you know the scene. You darn near need a global positioning device just to navigate a hospital! After I had taken care of business, it was my great honor to visit with my good friend Keith (a.k.a. "Bubba") at the Nationwide Building a give a visit with their astronomy club.

I arrived with no problems and he gratefully met me in the lobby. You would think that after all the airports and campus areas that I've been to, that I would be used to BIG places, but I'm still awfully shy when it comes new situations. Nervous? Yep. But I really love this guy and within minutes he had made me feel comfortable and we headed for the conference room. Of course, being me, I had forgotten part of what I wanted to bring with me and all of what I wanted to say, but once you turn that little key in my back labeled "astronomy"?

I'm off and running...

So what was my "lecture" about? Observing. Not just what to look for in the sky and when... But really observing. How to take the time to really look at all the mystery and magic that astronomy can give you. How to make the most out of what you are doing... And how to share the love with others. At the beginning of the program, one of their members had demonstrated with with a tape measure a new way of looking at the size of the solar system and I thoroughly applaud him. They are off and rolling! The concept is there...

As I would speak, I would look at all the different folks there and watch their reactions. Nothing fascinates me more than those who are eager - or willing to laugh! As always, I know I'm doing a good job when folks laugh out loud or lean forward in their seats. The point is not me, or what I can do, or what I have done... But can I for one moment ignite a spark in someone else? If I can, then the greatest reward in the world is knowing they felt that spark and will perhaps remember how to recapture it.

Did I stumble? Yes. From time to time I would become aware of where I was at, or that there were people listening on a teleconference and my internal circuits would shut right down. But right there beside me was a fellow who has spent many a happy hour with me in the dark, and a couple of words from him would be all it would take to ignite my own spark again. But for heavens sake, Bubba, don't get me going or we'll be here all day! ;)

Once again, it was my honor to visit with the good folks at Nationwide and I hope in some small way that my visit encourages them to not only to observe, but to enjoy what they are doing and reach out towards the public. They are the "stars" of the show...

And may they all shine on!

Speaking of shine, guess who came out to play tonight? Ah, you know it. Selene... What a wonderful way to end the day...

Let's hope you were watching, too.

"Well, this is not for real... Afraid to feel."




January 10, 2006 - Hello, Sunshine...

Comments: It didn't last for long, but I enjoyed it. It was hazy. It wasn't perfect. And it was darn near blank, but it still felt good to solar observe again.

Right now activity is incredibly low. At first glance, I thought there were no spots at all, but it didn't take long for my eyes to adjust and I caught one small Hax type low and about central on the northeast quadrant. It's a pretty plain little fellow with a mature umbra and matching, equally marginal penumbra region, and it would say from its regular appearance that it's just another good old alpha class along for the ride around the solar surface.

And even though I had hoped the clouds would stay away and I'd have a chance to lunar observe and work on my double stars - it wasn't to be. We're trying hard not to complain here in Ohio with the unseasonable warm and rain, because it is better than being buried under snow... But we also know that winter is far, far from being over. It's just mother nature's way of giving us a tease.

Like a little sunshine...

"I still can't keep the day from ending... No more messed up reasons for me to stay."



January 8/9, 2006 - I've Been Mooned...

Comments: If you're a longstanding reader, you know that a long lapse in reports means skies my way have been cloudy. Not only have they been cloudy but the total lack of sunshine, stars, or even a hint of blue is deeply depressing. I remember of couple of days ago seeing the Moon for just moments behind the racing clouds as it was snowing, but it has been so long for the Sun that even the solar lights barely glow from the lack of its lifegiving rays.

So very much has happened in just a few short days that I feel entirely out of it. I thought it would end when the holidays were over, but it was only the beginning. It all started a few days ago when my ancient pet lizard finally went to sleep and never woke up. I had been watching him slowly dim, praying he was going into his brunation state, but the end came and I just really wasn't ready for it. You might think that it would be impossible to mourn a cold-blooded creature, but a bearded dragon has personality. They are not without intelligence and I was deeply hurt when he passed on.

Maybe a day later was when the book finally broke. It would indeed be very remiss of me not to tell you that you can find it here or not to even say a few words about it. The response to its release was so overwhelming that I'm afraid I've pretty much hid since it came out. I can't even begin to explain all the things I've been feeling, but these reports are all I still have. It's pretty scary when something you have done makes the big time like that. I am so humble that folks actually liked it and at times it doesn't even seem real to me. Four long months of work and then one day... There it is.

And I hadn't even seen anything but the words and the pictures.

So, when we had the monthly RAS meeting a couple of days ago, no one was more surprised than me when Joe walked in a put a copy of it into my hands. It was really hard to not cry when I saw it a last and knew it was real. I saw it go round the table and heard the praise, just as I have since it came out.... But please remember above all that I am still me. Just a crazy old astronomer who likes to write and above all is your friend. There's no prima donna here... Just Tammy. And she'll do anything in the world for you.

And so along comes the "vampyre shift". I had been so exhausted from everything going on that I was really grateful to just go to bed in the middle of the afternoon and surrender myself to sleep. Ken and I had been working hard at getting the final copy ready and without his support I would have been on major overload both physically and emotionally. The hours passed and long before I should have, I found myself awake. I laid there for the longest time not wanting to begin again and knowing there was time left on the alarm clock. I don't know why, but my eyes kept opening and I noticed there were blue shadows in the room.

Leaving the sanctuary of the sheets, I dressed and went to make coffee. I guess if nothing else I will just go back to work, eh? And as I let H out, praying he wouldn't exhume the lizard, I noticed there was a light on the car windshield. Stepping outside, what should greet me but a sky filled with stars and a wonderful silver Moon. Putting on boots and a coat, I slipped into the garage and set the old Celestron out for a few minutes. How long, old friend... How long has it been?

For perhaps 30 minutes I did nothing but stare at that far away landscape whose features have so long been a part of my life. The Alpine Valley is still just as sharp and pronounced as the scar I, too, bear. And I trace the many hills and recite the names of the craters. How I long for the energy to bring the atlas out with me to learn how many more can be seen with a small scope!

I turn my attention towards the stars as one day blends into the next. How great it is despite the moonlight to see the M42 again, or to have a look at Beta Monoceros or the M50. How long since I have seen M48, M49 and M92! And what a wonder M41 still is... I sweep through Auriga, Gemini, and land on Saturn. The tiny troopers still dance around the ring edges and my faith in knowing what I can do and what can be seen with modest equipment is once again renewed.

Mindful of my time frame and my promise to have the weekly column prepared before I left for work, I cap the old Celestron up and carry it back to the garage. Of all the rewards in the world, it was just nice to be outside once again. I try not to think of my reports that still need to be stored, or the many updates I have yet to do. Just one job at a time. When I have completed my work here, it's time for me to move on to the next job. I drive towards the setting Moon and know that somewhere out there...

Maybe it shines for you.

"Well, I don't want to see you waiting... I've already gone to far away."