June 31, 2006 - Chasing Comet 177/P... Spica and the Moon... Comet 177/P 2006 M3 (Barnard 2)....
Comments: Yep. Back on vampyre shift. This time I fooled the sky and went to bed incredibly early. Right now, it's so hot it doesn't matter if it's early or not - exhaustion is emminent.
Around midnight I went out in search of the comet with the 16X50 binoculars. Am I going crazy or am I the only one who can see this thing? It's listed as magnitude 8... or magnitude 13... depend on who you want to listen to. Reality check? If it were 13 I couldn't see it in the binos. Next check? If it were 8 it would be walking out as clearly as the M13. Can somebody please explain to me why I can see something in binoculars, but it can't be spotted with even a large telescope?
It's south of the "Keystone"....
And I'm back again tonight. It's still beyond hot and the haze has turned the Moon quite orange. Still, I know what's going on in the sky and it was with great pleasure I took out the binoculars and had a look at the Moon and Spica mixing it up.
And then I had to look for 177/P again. Oh, it's there.... And it's moved. Now just a little south of 51 Herculis, the field stars are quite distinctive and it has about half the apparent diameter of the M13 - but only 1/10 of its brightness. V645 is nearby and by defocusing I can see that the comet isn't even coming close to approaching this magnitude 6 star. Yet... Yet there are other stars in the field that must be around magnitude 9 and when I scatter their light it truly is comparable.
Maybe I'm going crazy?
"I need serenity. In a place where I can hide. I need serenity. Nothing changes days go by...."
July 29, 2006 - Chasing 177/P...
Comments: A very warm and heat hazy night here. Right now, the best bet is just to get into the swimming pool and enjoy the early evening from the water while waiting on the Moon to set and the skies to darken as much as possible. For me? That's no problem. I'm hoping to catch a few Aquarids from the comfort of the water since the skies were totally cloudy and rainy yesterday morning.
Along about 11:30, I'd had enough of being in the water and it was time to get out the binos and see if I can't pinpoint this elusive comet again. By the time I had dried off, moved the mosquito lanterns around where I wouldn't get chewed and got the binoculars out, it was right around 11:45. Maps? Nah. I am quite aware of the general location and one quick sweep reveals our large and very diffuse friend west/northwest of Delta Herculis and in a very bright field of stars. If you want to see this comet, you have got to think outside the box. What you are looking for has no nucleus, no ion tail, and is totally diffuse. M13 looks like a beacon compared to it, ok? If you want to get a feel for it, chase down M54 with the binoculars. It's a round contrast change that's moving up the sky at a pretty incredible pace! While it might not be exciting chasing such a dim fuzzy around the sky, that's comet hunting. If it drives you crazy trying to confirm one round, hazy spot... try picking a magnitude 12 round hazy spot out of galaxy field! Welcome to comet hunting... 177/P is easy compared to 41/P.
You'll catch it. I know you can.
"I need serenity. In a place where I can hide..."
July 25, 2006 - At the Observatory: "Starry Nights"... Chasing Comet 177/P 2006 M3 (Barnard 2)...
Comments: Well, is it going to be cloudy or clear for our program tonight? When I arrived, both Robert and John already had the dome open and ready to go. First order of business? Extreme pride in being able to give John his globular cluster award and to have the opportunity to sit and review both Robert and Carl's observing notes and sketches for their award as well. Not long after, Greg joins us - then Joe. And what a pleasure it is to give Joe his award as well! I know how much hard work it is to log entries and do sketches. Just one look at these on-line reports are absolutely nothing compared to the boxes of notebooks and stacks of paper from my own observations!
And, you know I've got to tell them about 177/P. After all, anything easy enough to be seen in big binoculars should be easy enough in a telescope, right? Hah... Last night I did it on "north/northwest of Alpha Herculis right now!" It was a lucky thing that DoDz 7 was very close and that I recognized it to call the shot on the maps. What I had seen was a huge, round diffuse patch and I wanted some confirmation! At the table, I had Uranometria laid out and as the sky darkened we began to compare maps and coordinates. Just as quickly as the light faded, and the "keystone" appeared, I had it in the binos and passed them off to Robert. Within seconds he had also spotted it and then the real fun began! Laser pointers out, I could see it in the binos and was doing my best to direct the beam onto the comet's position when the kids arrrived.
As always, we have a fantastic time with the Hidden Hollow campers and giving our annual "Starry Nights" programs. Tonight we are once again playing to a full house and between members, counsellors and campers we had 40 of us there. The kids are wonderfully attentive and the props from the Night Sky Network are wonderfully helpful in allowing us to present fresh material. They've been having so much fun this year that once the rest of the camp kids are locked down, their counsellors have to sneak away to join us! It's really great to know that our programs are so popular and that the young folks are so anxious to visit. Their excited chatter and genuine attention is truly beyond compare...
When the last of the "thank yous" had died off and they were gone again, we were back to the comet. Once again, I could see it in binoculars and it has moved very close to the edge of the Milky Way stream. At this point, it is as diffuse and unresolvable to binoculars as the Milky Way is, but that round signature is a dead give away. Using the tools at our disposal, I take my own calcuations from the map and we try those coordiantes. No luck. John called Bruce, has him access on-line ephemersis and we find out I am less than 2 minutes in RA off on my earlier calculations. Still no comet... But I can see it! Binoculars out, others search to no avail, but it's there, daggone it. You aren't looking for something that smacks you in the head.... You're looking for a round diffuse area.
And eventually we just give up because the hour is late and we all have to work the next day.
What we didn't know then, but Joe confirmed immediately once he was able to access the internet, was that my call was on. It is there, but moving at such an incredible speed that my initial calculations and even Bruce's were off by just a matter of about 4 degrees... 4 degrees isn't much to a pair of binoculars - but it's light years to a telescope. Joe also confirmed my magnitude estimate was also within fairly close and we were both blown away by just how quickly 177/P is smoking up the sky. And John? Ah, he's got it's number now... The next time we try, the computer will take control! While my own observations and guesstimates on sky position are close?
I can't beat MegaStar. ;)
And so I happily sit with Robert and star gaze for awhile. There's a great peace and healing here, just watching the night drift by. It was really a very fun night and I hate to leave, but I gotta' get home a do a report and sketch while my memory is fresh. I guess duty calls for us all and I can only dream...
That you saw that beautiful bolide that tumbled out of Aquarius on the way home.
"And every night I hold you... Hold you with my inner child."
July 24, 2006 - Chasing 41/P Tuttle Giacobini Kresak... First views of 177P/2006 M3 (Barnard 2)...
Comments: Sorry to have missed my opportunity last night, but Vampyre duty calls and although I went to sleep by mid-afternoon, I unfortunately did not awaken until the comet was too low to observe. Wanna' try again tonight?
Scope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: Meade 25mm IV to locate, 12.3mm ED Epic to study
Time In: 10:00 pm EST
Sky: 9/10 stability, 9/10 clarity. LM6
Now almost due east of Delta Virginis (roughly 5 degrees) 41/P should have been rendezvousing in a small area of galaxies which simply could not be spotted. Very small and diffuse, the coma shows no concentration towards the nucleus and no visible tail structure. By defocusing on a nearby 8th magnitude star, my guess from last observation might be a little bit low... Perhaps it is around magnitude 10 or slightly less. Moving roughly east/southeast, and if I have the trajectory right, it will be skirting along a very conspicuous chain of stars to the east making it somewhat easier to spot for future observations. Catch this one before the Moon returns or you'll never see it.
I put away the scope because I am dog tired from working the night shift and head back inside to begin to process my notes. As always, I sit down and have a check on the email and I see an observing alert from a friend who also likes to chase comets and he has sent me a rough diagram of what part of the sky to check. Although the skies are darn near perfect, I really don't want to go out, but it's really no trouble to take the big binos out and have a scan for a friend.
Athough instructions are stone cold, comets are discoveries... And half the fun is discovering them, eh? So I start a sky sweep with the big binos... Then I freak. Holy cat on a hot tin roof sundae!!! Do you know what we've all been overlooking? Buh, buh, buh, buh.... Unless I am missing my guess we are talking about a magnitude 8 that can be spotted easily in binoculars to the northwest of Alpha Herculis and on the field edge with DoDz 7! Oh, my.... This is my first look at 177/P 2006 M3 (Barnard 2) and I'm wonderin' if there's a globular cluster that I might be looking at to account for this one!
I will be back....
"I'm the one who loves you. No matter wrong or right..."
July 21, 2006 - Chasing Comet 41/P Tuttle Giacobini Kresak... Joyriding...
Comments: Going for something difficult? Yes and no. This time of year I would much rather be seeing how low I can push the 12.5 in the southern skies than trying to pick something out of the west! However, after more than 5 years of working on my comet studies, I have got to use tonight's very clear, moonless skies to advantage.
Scope: 12.5 Meade
Eyepieces: 25mm Meade IV to locate field, 12.3mm ED Epic to study
Time in: 10:10 p.m. EST
Skies: 8/10 stability, 9/10 clarity, LM 6
Object: 41/P Tuttle Giacobini Kresak
Notes: Thankfully fairly well positioned above the early evening sky glow, this comet isn't easy even with large aperture. Positioned northeast of Delta Virginis and well away from smaller galaxies which might be interpreted as cometary. When located, I see no stars in Uranometria which have a designation and the field is fairly barren except for those that hold roughly a magnitude 11 and below. Variable RT is also nearby.
This comet is very indistinct, doesn't not appear to have a nucleus structure and if there is a tail, it is not apparent. It is very small and the best thing I can compare it to is also nearby NGC 4713. While an inclined spiral galaxy and a comet are not the same thing, 41/P's diameter is roughly about the same as the narrower portion of this galaxy and the comet is slightly brighter. My own personal magnitude estimate would be slightly fainter than 11.
One more confirmation is needed, so wish me luck that the clear skies hold!
After a solid 45 minutes of work on that comet and moving further and further out into the south field to keep it out of any treetops, I was simply ready to unwind. My solution? Take out the power, switch to the big, wide-field 32mm 2" and just giggle my way through Cygnus down through Sagittarius! After squinting, chart reading, hopping, sketching and working?
Nothing can relax like surfing the Milky Way....
"Tragic visions... Slowly stole my life. Tore away everything... Cheating me out of my time."
July 20, 2006 - One Hot Occultation...
Comments: A chance to see the Moon occult the Plieades? Yep.
The days here have been horribly hot and humid with temperatures near 100. Just last night I had decided that I would go for a swim since the water was so warm. I watched Jupiter glow orange from the high heat haze and once in awhile you could spot the Summer Triangle when the clouds would thin a bit. Oddly enough, between the high night time heat and water holding its own temperature of 95, it didn't take long of breathing steam until I was hiding indoors again.
When the magic hour came, I was up and ready. I had put the binoculars and videocamera outside in the garage to adjust to conditions. When I saw the orange "smile" of the Moon, I figured this would be good to go. Maybe the heat backed off a little bit? When I got to the sliding glass door, I should have known because it was totally covered in dew. When I opened it, the heat and humidity was like a heavy, wet blanket thrown at you. Even with the binoculars, it was a total waste. Yes, you could see the Moon... But not a star in sight. The fog was so heavy from the moisture laden ground that the skies themselves were saturated. The old Celestron offered very little more... A sweep of the sky showed an occasional star here and there, but not even so much as a glimpse at the Plieades. Ah, well...
It was still fun to try!
"Why do we dream when our thoughts mean nothing? And when will we learn to control?"
July 18, 2006 - At the Observatory: "Starry Nights"...
Comments: Another program? You betcha'! It really is a surprising amount of fun to give outreach programs and tonight we have a great group of people to give the presentation. John N., Greg, Robert, Joe and myself have all done this so many times and done it together that we just really gel and we are ready to go!
This week, Joe has also brought along some new props which are just terrific. He had been doing some calculations with the dome size and we now have representative "planets" that are a lot of fun for the kids. Tonight I really didn't expect the skies to be clear, so I was going to focus on the Hubble Space Telescope and telescopes in general - but as the evening got darker?
The skies got clearer.
Our two winning cabins for this week came up just as the skies were getting dark. Seating the on the floor of the dome, we run through various parts of the Night Sky Network programs and (as always) I tailor what we present to the age and understanding level of the kids we get. Tonight was quite a young crowd, but they didn't have any problem grasping concepts - right down to the relative size of the distant stars compared to our own Sun, thanks to some great graphics from Robert and Greg. The program winds up with telescopes, the Hubble, and thanks to our generous grant money for A/V equipment, we are able to show an IMAX presentation of the HST.
Incredibly well-mannered, this group follows instructions perfectly and as I cut groups of 4 away from the herd, some join John at his telescope outside, others join Robert for constellation instructions with the laser pointer, and Joe, Greg and I run them through their chance to use the 31" scope like clockwork. All too soon, it is time for them to go and I am so very proud of our group of presenters. If I didn't know better, I would swear we are making this look easy!
As soon as the last of the laughter faded away in the dark, I found myself in the dome looking up at Greg on the lift. "Can you give an old woman a ride?" The answer is yes and it is at last my turn to journey away to the incredible "Ring Nebula". Greg has placed one of his own eyepieces in the scope and I am blown away all over again. You know, I look at an awful lot of objects through a wide variety of telescopes and still none will take my breath away like the view through the 31". Yes, I've used similar sized aperture housed in different scopes, but this one is the best I've ever had the opportunity to view through.
The braids in the structure of the shell are so incredibly clear. This is non-filtered, no "tricks" applied, straight up photons. Tonight the center of the ring has a vague, misty appearance and within 3 or 4 minutes of viewing a stability spot opened and the central star just slammed right out. I know I hollered. After all, what amateur astronomer doesn't want to see the central in the M57? When you can look directly at it with no aversion and see it plain as day, it's pretty hard not to be excited!
When Greg can peel me from the eyepiece, we go down to share the view with Joe, John and Robert. A glance at the discreet red clock on the wall tells me that I had best hit the road, because I know if we aim it at something else that I won't want to leave and I will be a total b... bear come the morning. Bidding everyone a pleasant evening, I head back out on the road again for the trip west. It has been a terrific evening, and although I should be dog-tired?
I'm too wound up to sleep...
"Where do we go when we just don't know? And how do we re-light the flame when it's cold?"
July 16, 2006 - At the Observatory: An Evening With Brent Archinal...
Comments: Of course, it would be really dumb to tell you how much I had been looking forward to Brent's visit - but I had. I guess there's just so few of us in life that end up being able to do what we really want to do and being able to spend an evening with a highly noted astronomer, researcher, author and member of the NASA team is like being able to live some of our own dreams through someone else's eyes. Brent travels all over the world and is involved with so many projects that it is an honour just to talk to him - let alone share the same eyepiece.
As a life-long member of Warren Rupp Observatory, Brent is as familiar with things there as any of us. He had arrived about an hour or so before me and I think it's wonderful that he took the initive to open the down and start the cool down process after such a hot day here in Ohio. When I got there, it gave us an opportunity to talk about the many things he had done - from the Mars Rovers to the upcoming Lunar Recon Orbiter mission. Not long after, Mike A. also arrives and it is time to start setting up some scopes. As I begin assembly on the Celestron 102 (yep! i dared to take out a scope... ;) I look up to see that Robert has also joined us. Add what looks to be clearing skies and the night really looks promising!
Along about dark time, I offered to go get some pizza and headed out before things closed for the evening. By the time I started back, it was almost hard to keep my eyes on the road because even inside the car you could see how the Milky Way was really beginning to glow and hum. What incredible luck that we have skies!
When I got back, Joe had also arrived and we all gathered around the picnic table to peruse the great American passtime of consuming. Before I sat down, I did get the Celestron aligned, on an object and left it tracking. Unfortunately, after around 30 minutes or so it wasn't tracking as well as I had hoped, but came right back to the object when asked. It really is a clever little scope, and although I have not used it that often, I am very pleased that I learned even more about it's operation through trial and error and that it performed wonderfully throughout the evening.
Celestron NexStar 102
Time In: 11:15 p.m.
Eyepiece: 25mm Meade Series IV
M11 - Very bright, cometary wedge shape of stars. Leading star very prominent.
NGC6231 - Bright, compressed, 4 prominent members at this aperture.
NGC6242 - Compressed, small and faint.
NGC6124 - Slightly brighter, also compressed.
NGC6281 - Fairly bright, small and scattered appearing.
M4 - Large and faint.
M8 - Beautiful in the wide field scope. Very bright.
M7 - Very nice collection of stars. Superb in a small scope.
M6 - Also bright and beautiful. Notably blue in a refractor.
M22 - Very rich, bright and compressed. Very easy to see some resolution at low power. At high power (12.3mm) it resolves more, but loses brightness severely.
M28 - Quite small, but bright and compressed.
M17 - Very bright. Extremely impressive when see with the low power, rich field.
M24 - Even at low, it's too large to be seen all at once. Still a nice place to explore!
M25 - Bright and very pretty in a smaller scope.
NGC457 - Despite smaller size, this one is always a favourite. Very colorful.
M103 - Very faint collection of stars. Seen at moonrise.
During this time, it was also a real pleasure to take the time to seriously study the M27 through the eyes of the 31". Robert had brought along some of his fine eyepieces and filters and I simply cannot adequately describe. Without a nebula filter, the big scope shatters M27. Filaments and embedded stars become very clear, as well as an outer halo away from the structure. Brent has a theory that there are also "dark shells" around M27 and once the nebula filter is installed, it is quite clear to see what he is talking about. While the filter changes the structure to what we classically know, it also makes it very clear there are dark obstructions around it. There was really no problem in detecting areas of space that simply lacked starfield - a signature of unilluminated gases and dust. Very cool, indeed!
As the Moon rose, we sat and talked. Brent is a wonderful speaker, even informally. It was fantastic to hear first hand accounts of the Mars Rovers, insights into NASA, and to learn about the Lunar Recon mission which will impact the lunar surface. He's even working with ESA on closer determinations of lunar heights so they can accurately determine where SMART-1 will also impact the lunar surface! Throughout the evening we had all enjoyed a great early view of the Perseids and time just seemed to move far too quickly.
When the hour grew later and later, it was time to pack up the telescope and head west. Brent was free to enjoy the rest of his evening at the Observatory and best for this old kid to be driving while I'm still feeling very awake and alert. All of us had a wonderful time tonight and we can't thank Brent enough for taking the time from his busy schedule to visit with us.
"I need serenity. In a place where I can hide. I need serentiy. Nothing changes. Days go by...."
July 15, 2006 - At Hoover Price Planetarium... Swimming In Stars....
Comments: Sometimes things work out - and sometimes they don't. Two weeks ago I had planned on visiting Hoover Price Planetarium at the McKinley Museum of Natural History in Canton, and unfortunately I was simply unable to make the drive. Thankfully the new drug regime has really helped and my friend Jason extended the invitaiton again for today and I am very happy to join him!
Jason is really a dynamic and great young man. We had first met through the RadioJOVE program and I was delighted to have someone fairly nearby here in Ohio who also enjoyed radio astronomy. But, like myself, Jason is much more than just that. He's also a very active member of the Akron Astronomy Club, loves to do public presentations, and is now also working at the Hoover Price Planetarium. On a personal level, we also connect very well because we share the same basic occupation as well as our love of all things astro!
We start our tour with visiting the McKinley Memorial and then it's time to head inside as Jason introduces me into exactly how a planetarium works. What a control panel! It is really a very unique experience and although I have seen many planetariums, this is my very first opportunity to have a chance to see what makes all these things work. You can't believe all the incredible amount of cameras, switches, dials, etc. goes into even the simplest of presentations!
Very soon, the audience arrives and it's time for me to kick back and enjoy the show. I hope my presence isn't making Jason nervous and it doesn't take long until he just incorporates me into the program as well. What an honour! As I look above to the high domed projection screen of space, I realize just how great the hobby of astronomy truly is and how many wonderful people that I have met through it. It's great to be able to be part of the program.
Afterwards, Jason takes me on a tour of the museum itself and it is a terrific place. For those of you in Ohio who are old enough to remember COSI back when, then you are in touch with the Canton Museum. Everything from dinosaurs through science is represented - along with a great look at yesteryear. When we are finished, invitations to the staff to visit at WRO are forthcoming and I am sure glad that he invited me out to dinner because I really don't want our visit to end.
All too soon, it's time to head back my own way. I will see Jason again in just a few weeks as he will be one of our honored guest speakers at the Hidden Hollow Star Party and I look forward to our continued friendship and cooperation between all our various public outreach efforts. I had a great time!
And speaking of friends, it has also been wonderful to talk to Brent Archinal. Right now he is also in Ohio visiting with family and we are about to get together at the Observatory and spend the evening together. Since weather is chancey at best, we left the date open and there is a fair share of clouds tonight at sunset. I know my friends with Astronomy For Youth are also gathering tonight at Malibar Farms, but I am also aware of how quickly I tire right now. Reluctantly, I take a pass on another two hour drive and decide it's probably just best for me to head out to the pool and chill for awhile.
Just after nightfall, the skies weren't the best. But, the longer I was out, the more and more clear it became. I watched from the pool as an outstanding iridium flare occurred and an unconfirmed pass of either the ISS or Discovery. Even without my glasses, there was no mistaking the billows of the Milky Way and finally I just caved in. I gotta' see!
The doctor prescribes rest as well as drug therapy, so for me there is no taking the telescope out tonight because I know that I would end up overdoing despite myself.... But there's no harm in binoculars, is there? At least I make very sure to find a place to stabilize myself and I severly limit my time. When the upper reaches of Telescopium and Corona Australis are visible, you can't help yourself, ok? Besides, the pickings are so rich between Cynus down through Scorpius and Sagittarius that even the shortest amount of time with the sky rewards the eye! M4, M80, M10, M12, M19, M62, M14, M25, M24, M8, M16, M17, M6, M7, M11, Brocchi's Cluster, M27, a tiny M56 and M57, M29, M39, M13... Not to mention those great NGC opens!
After about 30 minutes, I made myself stop. It has been a fantastic day and I have enjoyed every second of it. It was wonderful to see my friend Jason again and I even got to enjoy the stars!
I like this feeling...
"I'm the one in your soul... Reflecting inner light. Protect the ones who hold you.... Cradling your inner child."
July 13, 2006 - At the Luthern Church Camp...
Comments: Another program? You betcha'. Greg had lined this one up quite some time ago, but thanks to Ohio rains, flooding and tornadoes we had to cancel our Monday appearance and reschedule for tonight. As it turns out, that was a very good thing for it's one of the very few times in the past week that the skies have cooperated!
When I arrive, Greg already has a solar telescope set up and groups on interested kids taking a look at our nearest star. I had also brought along my Orion ShorTube 4.5 and the snap set up meant the kids were off and learning very quickly how to different telescopes work and what fun it was to watch them figure out why one was right side up and the other was upside down!
After everyone had a chance to view the Sun, it was time to gather them up and give a little "program". Tonight I had brought along several different props because I really hadn't rehearsed anything in particular. Sometimes that's the best because these kids were bright, fast and full of questions! At darn near the speed of light we zipped from demonstration to demonstration and my guess is that 75% were grasping each concept within seconds of seeing a physical demonstration! And oh my goodness... We even ended up discussing quantuum physics! Every time I thought we were winding up our talk?
More... More... More!
Finally, I just had to stop and say "Who wants to look at Jupiter?" They would have kept Greg and I there all night and happily discussing everything we know! Eager lines formed at the telescopes and I kept crossing my fingers that the skies would hold. As luck would have it, the skies stayed clear, but the dew point from the saturated ground and foliage didn't take long before it began to find everything. It's one of the very few times in life that I've actually seen my telescope sweat more than me.
As the thank yous echo off the woods, the youngsters leave on a night time nature hike as we pack up to go. I know Greg would have liked to have stayed on because this is truly a very dark sky site, but the old woman here really doesn't want to over do. The happy, smart children have made me feel terrific this evening!
And I like it...
"As I sit here and slowly close my eyes... I take another deep breath... And feel the wind pass through my body."
July 11, 2006 - At the Observatory: "Starry Nights"...
Comments: Hey, hey. Steadily improving here. For every little bit of rough seas you encounter, there is also smooth sailing ahead... And so I hang in there, take one day at a time, and am very appreciative of every good moment.
Tonight is the season opener for our annual "Starry Nights" program at Warren Rupp Observatory. For those of you familiar with my reports, you already know that the Observatory is located in a private park called "Hidden Hollow" and that each year the camp is innundated for six weeks with groups of young folks from all walks of life and ages. For many years it has been tradition for the RAS to provide these campers with a telescope program and the last few years have seen it evolve into a full scale science adventure that happens rain or shine. Guess what?
Only the day before, the Richland/Ashland area had been home to two confirmed tornadoes and flash flooding. Joe had called me earlier and we both decided that as long as there was no lightning danger present that we would be happy to go ahead with our program. So, despite a few closed roads here and there, we made it! Greg and Kamin, along with John N. had made it there ahead of me and gotten the dome open and ready for business. Each time I see Kamin, it seems like he grows taller and taller... And what a fine astronomy presenter he is becoming! It doesn't take long before he has me all set up with our program about black holes and I have the opportunity to talk with John.
First order of business is to present him with his honorary Messier Certificate Award and pin from the Astronomical League. I am exceptionally proud of him for logging his observations and it is truly a privelege to give him this award. He is one of the three of us who stuck diligently at it, and although it takes some time, was able to accomplish all the Messiers unguided. Way to go! I am also deeply thankful to learn that my mishap with the telescope at the last program hasn't apparently caused as much damage as I was afraid it did. I am not a telescope mechanic, and John's words that it can be fixed sure make me feel a lot better. I don't think I'm ready to handle equipment yet, but a least I don't feel so sick at heart. Not long after, Joe arrives with a new learning book for me, and I am always delighted to explore different ways of communicating the night sky to others. This is awesome!
And so we give the go ahead to send the campers our way...
As always, I give the general program that helps to understand just a little bit more about our night sky - such as the phases of the Moon, sizes, our solar system and distances. Although I am beginning to feel a lot more like myself again, I am also a bit "out of sync" for some reason and very glad for Joe's help. When we go through our routine spiel, it is time to show the young folks about the fabric of space and to teach them more about gravity and black holes. I am very appreciative of NSN's fine props, and , as you can see, so are the kids!
Although our two age groups varied widely, the are still very intelligent and quite willing to participate. Believe it or not, the older teen boys knew a surprising amount about astronomy, gravity and its effects. The most fun was watching the younger girls laugh at them as they tried to provide the "rocket fuel" to launch their craft away from the force of gravity. It is really a great deal of fun to watch them participate and to hear their laughter as they learn!
Of course, no trip to the Observatory is complete without a ride to the top of the dome in the lift to see how the telescope operates and how the observatory itself works. Thanks to John, they got a thrill! As they take turns in the lift, we answer questions about telescopy and I am delighted to see such bright minds that already understand such a great deal of what the mechanics of the great telescope are. Others ask questions and are answered, they had an opportunity to handle and meteorite... And of course, the favourite tour of the clouds via Greg, Kamin, and the green laser.
When all is said and done, it is time to head out again. Although I had been instructed on how to return (follow Greg) across where the bridge had been washed out... I totally forgot and left on my own. Although the rain was pouring down so hard it was almost impossible to see, I took it slow and easy.... And turned on a totally unfamiliar road. Lost? Not this time. I don't know what miracle kept me on the right track or making the right turns...
But I'm thankful for every little thing that comes my way.
"And with the birds we'll share this lonely view..."
July 9, 2006 - Moon Fruit...
Comments: Still very hot and hazy here in Ohio. Still ain't feelin' the best. The skies are trash, but even so...
Some things can be very beautiful.
With a bit of help, I got the cover off the swimming pool. While temptation is greatest to simply do nothing when I don't feel well, the reality check is that exercise is critical and so I find myself standing by the warm water and watching the Moon rise as I convince myself to get in. Thanks to the soft cloud cover, the Moon is wonderfully orange and it just so happens that it is caught in the branches of the apricot tree and I found it such a simple pleasure that I had to try and take a picture of it. If I was good, I could have lapped pictures of the top of one another to show the details... But I'm not that good. To me, it is enough to have had a smile at the apparition...
And to be out once again.
"With the birds we'll share this lonely view."
July 8, 2006 - 898 On The Limb...
Comments: Takin' it very easy here. I did want to have another look at the Sun before the "hot spot" rotated westward, but wasn't up to carrying out a bunch of equipment. There's really no need to, for I do keep one small telescope assembled just inside the sliding glass door to the deck. Why not?
Because I am taking it easy, this is nothing more than the Baader film and the eyepiece camera that connects to the VCR. While a little more work makes for a lot more quality image, I am still quite pleased to see the faculae field around 898 looks almost circular - like it's been blown outward. The sky is unsteady and mostly cloudy, but I'm still quite pleased to have gotten one last look at the bad boy. Thanks to the CME from the 6th, we are on aurora alert, but chances are very slim since both the clouds and the Moon will toast the skies tonight. That's OK, though. Just having had a chance to look again and get my reports current are enough for this old gal right now.
Maybe we'll just stargaze from the redwood chair tonight...
"And with the birds we'll share..."
July 7, 2006 - The Belt Of Venus and the Moon...
Comments: It's after midnight and I can't sleep. The pain in my arm and hand are like blue fire and no position offers any comfort. I find myself in the recliner chair hoping for any type of rest and after a cup hot tea and honey, the ice finally puts me to sleep. A couple of hours later, the pain becomes so excruciating that I can't stand it. I know I need to use the bathroom and find myself falling repeatedly, bumping off walls and caught in a corner like a crazy pinball game. My body is drenched with a sudden sweat...
And fear and pain are my companions.
As you can see, prompt medical attention has me once again back amoungst the living, eh? We're trying yet another drug and I find myself able to at least use my hands in short spurts. Praise the lesser god Steroids! Inject me... Pill me... Hook me to a generator and jump start me... But please don't take away my sky!
While rest for the coming days is in order, rest and peace come in different forms. My ice and I curl up on the cushions of the swing, watching the Sun set and glad to be alive. When I pass through the house to get more ice and a tall glass of water, I sit on the deck for awhile and watch the glorious Moon begin to appear and Earth's shadow creeping up along the eastern horizon. While my video camera doesn't take great pictures, I can hold it up long enough to try and capture the beauty of the Belt of Venus... The deep purple/blue overlaid with pale orange. And above it all?
The smiling face of the Man in the Moon...
"Soft spoken with a broken jaw... Step outside but not to brawl. Autumn's sweet... We call it Fall.
July 6, 2006 - The Sun... Discovery, ISS and the Moon...
Comments: I've been following RadioJOVE and all the solar activity. Although I ain't doing to good with setting up a scope right now, I can still set the old Celestron outside the garage door, hook it up with the glass filter and use the video camera to have a look!
Sunspot 898 is quickly breaking up, and oddly enough - spilt more and produced a CME just shortly after I took this video clip. The radio bursts from this baby have been occuring since July 4th and I can see why it's so active! Just look at those plasma breaks in the structure and how the umbra regions are coming apart. That means the magnetism is swirl between positive and negative between them and what an incredible view!
Sadly enough, I didn't feel like taking the telescope out later to have a look at the Moon. However, I did take binoculars out with me to have a look at the ISS and Discovery docked together and making a visible pass low across the western horizon. Had I been a bit more on the ball yesterday I could have caught them flying together four minutes apart, but I honestly didn't know! Ah, well... In binoculars you can at least tell there are two separate shapes and I look very forward to seeing what much better photographers than myself can come up with chasing the duo with a webcam.
Before I leave, though... I have to at least glance at the Moon. My hands are terribly unsteady, but I can still see Plato and Tycho. I didn't know it then, but things were about to get a lot worse...
But I'm still hanging in there.
"Blood loss in a bathroom stall... Try to manage, but only bawl. Wave goodbye to Ma and Pa... Cuz' with the birds we'll share...
July 5, 2006 - Fly Over!
Comments: It's a beautiful night out there. Clear skies... The Moon and Jupiter just sitting so close together you could hold them both in the palm of your hand... And where am I?
I'm watching the north/northwest quadrant of the sky.
Right now even binoculars are out of the question, but I've darn well got eyes. I would love to swim, but can't grasp the cover of the pool to take it off. So what the heck? Let the mosquitoes feast and skywatch! It's a pizza kind of night and I can drink the beer faster than my hand will melt the can. If you are offended at my choice of beverage? Well, heck... Know this. I don't drive, I don't harm anyone, I don't get angry, I don't get sloppy and I really don't care. It takes the edge off the pain and it isn't another bloody pill.
And there's the shuttle!!
Raising a toast to the sky, I watch in fascination as Discovery makes an absolutely magnificent pass over my area. Coming in at a magnitude -2 at 55 degrees, it takes a long, leisurely journey all the way across the zenith - moving as deliberately as only a spacecraft can. Gliding past the Moon and outshining Jupiter. I wonder what they look like from up there? How wonderful it must be to see the Sun fade behind you and to head across the terminator! I watch it until it disappears the the east/southeast - fading away until it is a tiny speck. It is wonderful feeling to have seen mankind high above me and to see the stars... They make me feel good.
Here's to hope!
"Push me up against the wall... I'm trying hard not to lose it all. Now I'm fallin' all over myself... To lick you heart and taste your health. And with the birds we'll share...
July 4, 2006 - Shuttle Launch, Spica, the Moon, Jupiter and Fireworks...
Comments: Thank the stars for a day off work! Monday was challenging, but how wonderful it feels to have managed to complete the rough text for the 2007 book and to know that it is illustrated and ready to go. Yeah. I was kinda' hoping to have gotten to see the asteroid flyby, but we're back to clouds and storms again. While I would have much rather spent the day holding down my beloved ice and watching the "Star Trek" marathon, I feel good about having completed this first leg of my 2006 journey into pulling off two full books within a year and working a full time job, too.
And what an incredible day it was, too! For the first time ever in history, we have a launch on Independence Day! Yep. I was glued to the NASA channel... Wasn't everyone? Who could not want to watch this magnificent piece of machinery rocket into space? This is just grand... And how I would love to some day see this in person! Can you imagine the power?
Later in the day I got the hankering to see some fireworks. Usually I will attend a local fair, or some such event, but I just can't right now. But, just because I can't doesn't mean that I missed them! My gosh, in flat Ohio you can find all sorts of areas where you can watch fireworks displays and a local branch of my own company suits me just fine. (actually, it was quite fun being in the parking lot watching the children get excited and to listen to them. ;) I couldn't help but notice through the clouds that the Moon had just scooted by Spica, and while waiting on the fireworks I watched it and Jupiter play in between the dark clouds. Poor H... When he's not hiding from the lightning and thunder, he's now got fireworks to contend with! And between the neighbors and my bottle rockets at home? Ahem...
He tried to get into the refrigerator to hide. Honest.
When all is said, done, and quiet again, I sit and watch the world go by from the window of Discovery. How beautiful it must be to be above the world and look down! To see the curve of the blue Earth and the vastness of space beyond. "Fly me to the Moon and let me play amoung the stars... Let me see what life is like on Jupiter and Mars. In other words? Take my hand... " Wait. You don't want my hand, really.
They won't let me hang it out the window of the shuttle.
"And with the birds we'll share this lonely view... With the birds we'll share this lonely view."
July 1, 2006 - At The Observatory: Public Night...
Comments: Again, my apologies for such late reports. I know there is no one out there grading me on this... And if you are here, then you know it really is a personal diary of sorts. After 5 years of writing about my astronomy life, I could no more stop writing than I could stop my love of the stars. I know I'll never be anyone special, but perhaps there will come a time when a grandchild or great-grandchild shall wish to know more about me... Or maybe there will be a time when all I am able to do is read my own words.
Ah, hell. When that day comes, stick my IV in a beer can and a smoke in my ventilator, will you?
Even the act of typing has become difficult right now... Therefore my tardiness. But if there is any way possible I can still be a part of things? I am not going to miss it. Thanks to the good folks at Wendy's for supplying me with ice, I made it to the Observatory before everyone else for a change! I happily opened the dome and got things going for the good folks who will eventually drop by this evening. Although I can't use the scope, I can sure charge the lift and do lots of other things. Soon enough, Terry joined me... then Dave, Joe and Greg.
People began arriving and by the time it was dark Terry had set out a smaller scope and Greg had the 31" up and running. Joe had also brought his Celestron and for the very first time I got to see what a StellaCam can do. John? Holy sh**! The moment I saw M3, I was howling at the Moon. If only I had known it was going to rock like that I would have brought at VHS tape with me!
All in all, we had 16 visitors over the evening. It's wonderful to see folks take an interest and although it was partly cloudy we still gave them one heck of a show. For what it's worth, I tried setting up my 4.5... And I didn't get the polar axis tightened down enough and darn near lost it, too. Thankfully I also caught it in time, and when no one was watching I just quietly put it away. I am happy with a look through the 31" and to see what Joe and Terry are aiming at.
By 10:30 or so, I had melted all the ice I had. When things are like this, I think I could lay my arm on a glacier and melt through in 2 hours. Realizing that ice is my salvation and that time is limited, I'm afraid I had to go then. Next time? I'll bring more. Until then, I wished Greg and Terry the happiest of evenings chasing the riches of Scorpius and Sagittarius.
I'll be back someday...
"Scar tissue that I wish you saw. You'd be sad if you knew it all. So, close your eyes and I'll kiss you. And with the birds we'll share..."