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MAY 2006

May 30, 2006 - Chasing Isara...

Comments: Only Derek Breit could get me out of the house at 2:15 to set up a telescope to chase a daggone asteroid occultation! The skies here were rotten with hazy heat clouds and although I have two events scheduled, there is no way the Hertha will show due to position and sky conditions.

Long before the event, I had already done some fine tuning with map work and knew my target star was southwest of Beta Librae. Tonight I chose the NexStar for two reasons... In a faint field of stars, my target star is going to be the brightest with this telescope... And the drive unit will keep me there. With almost 30 minutes until the Isara event, it wasn't any problem to get things set and ready to go...

The only problem is that I have never properly timed an asteroid occultation!

Do it seriously? No. Maybe some day. But right now, I'd just like to do it for fun and see what happens. Derek had suggested I set an alarm and the best I can do at the moment is the one on my cell phone. When it gives me the alert? I start watching with one finger poised above the remains of an old watch which has a stopwatch function. For some reason I found myself holding my breath as I knew the seconds were ticking down and then...

It happened.

Although I could not directly see asteroid Isara, what I did see was a star wink out for a heartbeat. According to my timing, it took 1.9 seconds for the event to happen and when it's over? It's over. I can breathe again!

How do I feel about all this? Well, I've certainly got to admit that it was every bit as exciting as catching a prediction of an ISS pass or an iridium flare. I think it would be a wonderful way to contribute to science and I really wish I was able to have calculated the exact point in time when it disappeared and then reappeared. Seriously, it was still cool to know that I had a handle on how long it lasted, but the scientist in me also knows that this kind of contribution is all right... But not exactly worthy of what the good folks at IOTA do.

Still... It rocked!

"That I say to you..."

May 27, 2006 - Out Watching Jupiter...

Comments: And my many thanks to Robert for giving me a heads up!

I made it out with the 12.5 around 10:15 p.m. Europa was already in progress as a transit and the shadow was visible to the west of the GRS. Io appears to be along the eastern flank and Ganymede and Callisto both west. The whole point was just stand and admire the show! So I did...

While sky conditions were not the greatest and stability wasn't either, it was still possible to see when Europa cruised off the western edge of Jupiter. As always, I get such a charge out of watching movement and for once I sat very much in attention as I watched it pull away towards its two companions. Io seems to be getting closer?

Anyhow, the Great Red Spot wasn't entirely a waste of time and it clearly shows. Although I watched for well over an hour for the appearance of GRS Jr., I am sorry to say that I did not pick it up.

And even sorrier that limiting magnitudes keep me from galaxy hopping!

"All these things..."

May 24 - 26 - Enjoying Retreat...

Comments: After such a busy day, it certainly wasn't hard for either one of us to sleep rather soundly. What does it matter what time we get up? We are, after all, on retreat and resting the old brain cells after months and months of work is what it's all about. Yeah, it's hard to get up to a kitchen that smells like basil gnocchi....

Not too long after I had my first cup of coffee it was time for this old kid to do one of the things I love most besides astronomy - gourmet cooking. As you can see from this great kitchen, everything I could ask for was right there... But then I have a "thing" about my own special pans (the right tool for the right job, you know... ;) and my big box of various spices and seasonings. While my sleepy colleague woke up and grumbled around at having some strangler rattling pans in the kitchen, once the good smells started he wasn't too hard to convice! Ah, yes... The power of a fresh fruit salad, bacon, and a proscuitto, chive and cheddar omlette....

Of course, it was equally hard to convince ourselves to take it to the great covered porch and park ourselves at a table in the woods to enjoy the wildlife while eating. Needless to say the curious red-headed woodpeckers were our constant companions over the days, meals and planning sessions ahead and there is just something very nice about dawdling over morning coffee while you watch swallowtail butterflies play in the greenery. As you can tell, it's rough being here and the inviting porch swing not far away also saw it's share of use as we pondered everything from upcoming manuscripts to the meaning of life.

Of course, we are what we are and somehow a computer had followed me along on the journey. The dining room table soon held more than just food as we turned it into the "nerve central" of our working area - even though neither one of us was exactly working very hard. A little analog magic and soon enough we were able to access the internet and whenever the mood struck either one of us could just sit right down and work on any phase at a time... But who's into working when all this is here?

By late afternoon the grill had already seen use and once corriander chicken, pico de gailo and rice had been consumed it was time to peruse that hot tub that was just a step outside the door. It was really a trip for me, because my own spa is inside the house and it just seems so strange to be able to be outside and look and trees and sky while I'm in it! While it felt kind of unprotected because I'm used to having walls around me, it didn't take long for the hot water and good food to work it's magic and we both found ourselves ready for a little more much needed rest.

Although the best laid plans of mice and men included one of my own telescopes and a few nights of adventure across the expanse of the early summer cosmos, the weather quite changed our plans. Again, it is not so rough, my friends, to be inside a comfy, well-appointed log cabin during a storm... Or even outside on the porch sitting in the swing and watching the heavens throw thunderbolts and sway the slim trees. Yeah. It's hard to have dilled salmon and fresh asparagus...

Just inside the door is the comfort of a well-appointed living room with every channel you could wish on the television... But again, the storms changed plans. My friend had known that I had called the TV on Wednesday night to watch my "Ghost Hunters" program and although he was willing... The lightning said otherwise. So what's a writer and editor to do? Why... Play Scrabble, of course! If you ever want to see a real head-to-head competiton on a game with words, the ultimate has got to be Scrabble. And when you put a writer and an editor together over a Scrabble game? You get a very close competition and the editor wins!!

He always does... ;)

No problem. When the hour grows late, we simply chose to watch a movie for neither one of us has seen "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy". It was a bit silly, but not hard to take after a fine supper of salisbury steak and a generous portion of stuffed mushrooms as a snack. And although the skies never did clear off that night...

This beautiful 5-acre bed has my name on it and it certainly didn't take long for me to find the land of sleep and dreams once again. Again, I felt so spoiled and almost lost... But my head is to the east where it always sleeps, and at one point I woke up with my head to the south and I wasn't even hanging over the edges! My word... You could put seven people in this bed and they wouldn't even fight over the football field sized blanket, ok?

Not that you'd actually get cold or anything, because this room is so large I couldn't show it all in four pictures and there is a splendid remote controlled fireplace in one corner! Yeah. Spoiled. Remote control! Both my friend and I heat with wood and do you know just how tough it is to push a button and see flame? Holy cow. You know, I'm used to carrying in logs and kindling... And here all I have to do is push a button! How spoiled is that?!

And the next day brings on more wonderful sleeping, more equally wonderful eating with homemade sausage gravy, biscuits, fruit salad and an opportunity to explore the grounds. But not, of course, until either one of us feels like actually putting on shoes or anything. We have our own private lake nearby, along with our own private rowboat and a picnic ground. Although both of us are long past our mountain goat youth, we still enjoy the hike and equally enjoy just sitting in the woods and talking. It's a very warm day and the skies look quite promising. Before we went exploring, we had talked with the owners of the property and located a perfect spot to set up the telescope and were looking highly forward to spending an evening of our own hitchhiking across the galaxy...

And then the lightning changed our minds.

Well, then! Apparently this just isn't to be then, is it? That's really no problem, because I'm having a grand time working on outlines, research and simply digging on the scenery and comfort. While my colleague "rests his eyes", I find myself putting Chevelle in the CD player and my old, achy body back in the hot tub. When done, I had to sneak away, because you have got to see more of this place!

This is just one small portion of one of the upstairs rooms. At the other end was gamer's paradise, but since neither one of us does video games, it really didn't matter. Behind me is the master suite of the upstairs which is equally beautiful and larger with its own bathroom and sitting area, but privacy is privacy... And although I did film it for memories sake, I am waiting on my friend to come up with $500 before I begin posting pictures of it on my personal website. You know, blackmail does have it's advantages...

"I don't care what you say! I have to have 1,500 more words for that article and be able to use a few more descriptors or else I'm going to show the whole world your room!"

Think it will work?

Although we both waited patiently for the rain to stop and the skies to clear so we could enjoy telescoping, it didn't look like it was going to happen anytime soon. No problem. We can sit right here at the table, continue to work while we consume shrimp cocktail and then treat ourselves to prime rib, loaded baked potatoes and a garden salad. After we had stuffed again, he went off to find his own privacy and I went off to find a cooler of beer and the hot tub again. Even though it is still raining a bit, what difference does it make? It's all good... At least the lightning has stopped.

And then while we were sitting on the porch a bit later contemplating life again, a very close bolt sent me to my feet and back inside. A few seconds later? Out with the power. But no need to worry. It came back on again and we decided we'd just make a batch of "Tarkany's Famous Nachos" and watch "Signs". Part of the way into the movie, I don't know what possessed me, but I had this sudden urge to get up and go look at the sky. It's like a calling and the calling and feeling are good ones...

Clear skies!!

Although in the heart of the woods is not an ideal place to set up a scope, astronomy at a moment's notice means binoculars and we both were armed and ready to go. Laser pointer handy, I showed the way to some of the summer's finest but straight overhead means that my associate was soon feeling like he'd been the one drinking a beer! (saves money, dude... just walk around looking straight up for 30 minutes or so... ;) I thought about getting the scope assembled and ready to go, but at 2:00 a.m. on an otherwise rainy night, this was just a freak hole and we're just a couple of freaks enjoying it!

By the time we had returned inside and finished the movie, I was already happily dozing off. While he secured things, I remember vaguely shutting my door and tossing myself onto the bed and not much else until dawn began peeking into the windows. Even though we have to leave in hours, there is still plenty of time to make another hearty breakfast and enjoy each other's company for awhile. And, oddly enough, it didn't take long to throw our things back together and be ready to roll again.

As I took my friend back to his home, we made one final stop on our leg of the journey... And that was the local Harley Davidson dealer. I guess he needed to see the other side of what I am, and I needed a T-shirt! And all too soon... We hug goodbye.

The trip home was just that. Around Indy was't so bad, even though the race fans were arriving. I did well through Dayton, but hit Columbus at Friday night rush hour. It's alright, though... I guess everyone but me is used to 90 minutes on the 270 outerbelt, eh? You couldn't pay me to live in a town this size! And the rest?

Is history.

"Promises of what I seemed to be... Only watched the time go by."

May 23, 2006 - South of Indy, Retreat and Goethe Link Observatory...

Comments: Leavin' on a southern train? You betcha'. My engine is a little silver sportscar and my track is the highway. Despite my own anxiety issues over finding and doing and meeting the new head on - I simply put the maps in the trunk, take the route I know by heart and hold my arms wide open for whatever the new days brings.

The hours pass quickly and the scenery and miles spin by. For the next few days I will leave my worries and responsibilities behind. If I have forgotten something? I will replace it. If I make a wrong turn? I will correct it. If I have made a mistake in coming here? I will live with it. I turn on my favourite music and take great pleasure in watching new scenery unfold before me. Once in awhile I feel that old self-doubt, but I brush it away and each mile brings new adventure and a renewed sense that I am what I am. Oddly enough, just like my ability to navigate the sky, I find myself not lost at all!

But going exactly where I need to be like I had been driving it all my life.

In almost record time in had managed the Columbus rush hour, gotten away from Dayton, and easily cruised Indianapolis. I'm on the right road with no problems and when I stop to top off my gas tank I make a phone call. At the other end of the line in this miracle world of cell phones is an unfamiliar voice - but is it? Not hardly. For this time the voice belongs to longstanding friend and editor. We have never spoken to one another in person, much less met face to face. Is he as nervous as I am? Perhaps. But his is a voice I know as well as my own. This is the voice that takes raw writing talents and tempers them into books.

And it's time we met.

There are no first impressions. Those were formed long ago. When I turn the key off it is to see the man who has helped me keep my sanity through thousands upon thousands of words and I am here to tell you... He is real! Within minutes we have his gear stowed in my car and it's time to head out for supplies and to find our writer's and editor's retreat for a few days. It is time to get to know each other in person and take a break from the months and months of work.

First stop? Well, my alma mater, of course. Quite frankly, I'm delighted because if there is any place that I know inside out it's got to be a branch of my own workplace! When it comes to food? All you need to do is push the cart and leave the rest to me. And our first laugh was trying to get all that into an already overloaded little vehicle! All I need is room to work the clutch and shift gears...

And soon thereafter we arrive at our destination - Aspen Leaf Cabin.

Although this is just a shot from the front, no words can quite describe the incredibly well-appointed log cabin in the secluded woods near the Hoosier State Forest. Anything you could ask for is here... And it's downright beautiful. We pull up as close as we can get to the door - because we have a lot to unpack in a very short time. The first thing is to do a little bit of exploring on the inside and it doesn't take very long for me to chose a room!

And not much longer to get our dinner started.

As quickly as we ate, it was time to head back out on the road again towards Indy. Tonight we have an appointment with two of the members of the Indiana Astronomical Society who are giving us a tour of the historic Goethe Link Observatory and a little observing time. Thank the skygods.... It's clear!

Much like finding WRO, it's a little twisty path up the side of a steep hill. When we pull into the parking lot, both Jeff and Gary are on hand to greet us and what an incredible place! The first thing I do is grab my video and still camera to take some outside shots... And my blasted video is dead. Figures, huh?

But don't you worry. I took plenty of still pictures inside and for now I'm borrowing one. Within minutes, introductions are made and as Jeff and Gary lead us inside, I am immediately taken by the thought that I have been here before. There is absolutely no doubt about the era in which Link Observatory was built, because my first impression as we went into the presentation hall was that I had stepped into Perkins again. As Jeff tells me about the history of the observatory, I begin to look around a bit and realize this is more than Perkins. Gary runs an absolute treasure of a video of recovered celluoid film of the construction and within seconds I understand why I feel like I've been here...

It's patterned after Palomar!

As we begin the tour of the facility, I am blown away by the resembalance to Lick Observatory as well. The wood work is absolutely incredible and plates taken from the scope are caught in illuminated cases adorning the walls. As we skirt the lower floors, I feel like I should know this place... From the library to the sleeping rooms... From the kitchen to the steps up to the dome proper. And when we climb those steps?

Lick Observatory comes home again.

No words can describe. It is built entirely from wood and a dead replica of the old observatory greats. I am so very impressed that I will do a separate report and article on the Goethe Link Observatory itself... For you really need to see the pictures I took to understand how grand it was. Jeff and Gary point out intricate little details that the eye might miss and both Ken and I are blown away by the ingenuity displayed in the design in those pre-computer years. Here is this magnificent structure with a hand poured pier - yet nothing touches it! Every little thought of design... And so much more. Please. Please be sure to read about the place! I will drop a note and a link (no pun intended. ;) in just a quickly as I get it written!

Before we leave the dome, we take a look a Jupiter in the twilight and then head to more while we wait on dark. Other tour goodies also included going around the grounds to the roll-off and a chance to see the 10" Astrograph that made the asteroid discoveries. A tour of the storage facility also brought up another gemstone - the original mirror grinding machine! How cool is that? Not to mention that it's the exact same blank that forms the mirror at my own observatory, eh? Fused honeycomb quartz...

Only theirs is bigger. ;)

By now it's getting dark enough to give it a try and Gary hops Jupiter. Well, lo and behold! Seems like we've got a galiean that has appeared from behind the planet since we looked last! We take a look at the magnificent M53, the splendid Cor Caroli and hop of to the Mighty M104. The triple folded mirror is a design delight and their own methods of aiming so different than what I am used to with a big scope! Why... You can even push on this one and it won't go anywhere unless you drive it there. That seems so strange after spending hours of pulling my arms off with Big Blue!

And it is very reluctantly that we leave. Me? I could hound these guys all night, but it would also be very rude to keep them there (although I doubt I would have had to twist many arms to stay) when they have been so kind to open the observatory to visitors. The hour is late, the drive has been long, and a couple of astro senior citizens are very ready to find a place to rest.

Jeff and Gary? I cannot thank you both enough. I hope I am able in some small way to help preserve and protect this great place!

And my many thanks to my esteemed colleague who acted as navigator, for I would have been lost without him. (as always... ;) It's about an hour or so before we return both tired and happy. To be honest, I should have written my report then because I really don't remember too much after that. Of course, what does it matter when there's a hot tub right outside your door, the company of a really good friend and a sky full of stars?

You're right. It doesn't.

"Leavin' on a southern train.
Only yesterday you lied..."

May 22, 2006 - The Magnificent Milky Way...

Comments: Vampyre here. One that was reluctant to get up, but so excited about finishing up a last day of work and heading out on a vacation that I was actually ready to leave for work early. My hands are still with me, but they live on ice most of the time. I am beginning to think that I am the only human being on Earth that can melt an entire tray of ice in 5 minutes just by holding it. Come what may?

I'm going.

And as I leave for work with every intention of stopping at McDonald's for breakfast, I do what I always do.... Look up. The Milky Way was so breathtaking at 2:15 a.m. that I immediately went to my trunk and got out my binoculars. Fifteen minutes of sky - or a sausage biscuit? I'll take the sky anytime. And so I breezed with the 16X50s over all the beautiful things that I know in my heart and can never forget where they are at. Once upon a time I used to set my scope out and take morning walks through Sagittarius.... Now I lean against my car and enjoy it through binoculars. When the little digital clock says it's time to go to work? I go. And in 24 hours? I'm leaving for anywhere in the world but California...

Never again.

"With all I've said and
All that's dead for you. You lied - good bye."

May 20, 2006 - And Then There Were Stars...

Comments: After virtually weeks of rain and cloudy skies, it was almost beyond my comprehension to see the stars again. My reports have been late in coming because my hands have turned all but useless - but not my eyes.

Although I could not stand to hold up binoculars, I could still set the old 4.5 outside the garage and once I managed to losen it up, I was a happy camper. The visibility is poor, but not so poor that I cannot enjoy M13, M65, M66, M44, M67, M81 and M82. I look longingly at Virgo, but know that even with the big dob that the fainter galaxies wouldn't be worth the pain. For what it's worth? After weeks and weeks of no skies at all...

Even a little bit feels like heaven.

"Breathing is the hardest thing
to do..."

May 8, 2006 - The Vampyre, the Ring and a Comet...

Comments: Well, as much as I would have like to have been able to get up at the precise time that 73/P C passed through the Ring Nebula, I'm afraid that just plain exhaustion had gotten a hold on me and it was about 90 minutes after the event before I could make it out with the telescope. Realizing I don't have much time before I have to leave, my choice was the Celestron 4.5 and the 25mm eyepiece that was already in the scope.

At the time of my observation, the pair were very well separated, but it was still quite a unique view to see both in the eyepiece at the same time. And... what a great way to assess magnitudes! Sky conditions tonight were pristine, but still very moonlit. There is still a tiny little stellar nucleus, but I also know the magnitudes of some of these stars by heart and we've got a 10 on our hands. Between coma and all, the comet is no larger than the apparent 60" of the smallest portion of M57, but I truly think moonlight is robbing some of its diameter. Tail? Very, very faint and the little telescope is simply not able to pick up coma structure. But, wow... Both of them! My guess from last night at magnitude 9 holds good! While I'd say the Moon is taking away at least 2... This comet is fading, baby...

And we're watching it.

"All these things that you said to me..."

May 6, 2006 - At the Observatory: "Astronomy Day"...

Comments: Ah, yes! A section in my life which could also very well be titled "The Day That Everything Happened At Once". After I came in at dawn from watching the Aquarids, I was limping pretty bad so I decided to just take one of those happy pills the doc hands my way to dull pain and it dulled it all right. It dulled me right back to sleep until noon! While I'm sure I probably needed the rest, I also have many, many things that need to be done today and it's time to brew a pot of coffee and get the party started!

First off? Edits. Being a writer is not a walk in the park and before I can even think about loading the dishwasher or having some lunch I've got manuscript to conquer. Of course, being "on-line" also means that I have other responsiblities and with Astronomy Day being today, I doubled check the AstroLeague website and noted that half our activites weren't displaying. (&^#%!!! What I did not need this afternoon was internal problems in an international website on one of the biggest days of the year! But, hey... That's why I volunteer my time and it didn't take long to get the full site back up and running again.

Time for this morning's reports? Uh uh. Right now I really need to create some handout materials for our own Astronomy Day activities at Warren Rupp Observatory. Some nice Moon maps... some all sky charts... some monthly observing tips... And my printer running out of ink. OK, then! This day looks like it's going to be great! I'm 25 miles from the nearest store and even further from a copy machine! What's that? Wing it? Darn right, wing it. I've got stickers, bookmarks, cards... I can do this.

vvvvrrrrmmmmm.... pssssssssssst!

And I look up to see a brand new Peterbuilt pull into my driveway and this long-haired, goateed, rock star lookin' young man jump out of the cab. Terry! Hot dang.. my oldest son and followed by the youngest! He'd dropped by to show off his new truck and I'm very proud of him. Although you might think that I'd be the type to want sons who have college degrees, I'm hear to tell you that I am very proud of any young man who has such a wonderful work ethic. I've seen a lot of "degrees" working at McDonald's... And a fellow who can afford a rig like that by pulling the hours and the miles it takes to do it deserves a hug!

Or two... ;)

Once we'd visited, my time was up and I gathered everything up quickly, showered and headed for the Observatory. Stopping only to talk to Sean, my jaw hit the ground when I saw the ClubHouse. Two work ethics in one day! If anyone ever dares to tell me about these worthless, long haired, rock and roll listening hippies not pulling their own weight, I will very strongly give you an attitude adjustment! Drum-beating, rock and roll loving, full time working Sean has totally stripped the ClubHouse down to bare in his "spare time" and will have all the repairs and remodels done in three weeks!!

Ashamed of myself for feeling like I was overworked, I quickly gave our monthly statements and meeting to the RAS members in attendance and we got things rolling for Astronomy Day. By dusk the folks were a'comin' in, the Chernobyl Kids Charity scope was ready and we've got mostly cloudy skies! No matter. We all had a very wonderful time and a total of 62 guests and members in attendance. Even Dan had made it back on his feet again! Scopes were aimed at the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter and bright objects through the clouds. People laughed, people talked, people had a very good time! It was great to see Bruce, Greg, Terry, and Mike and Joe back in action and to watch people using the different scopes we had set out. After all, half the fun is in the discovery!

In the big scope, M3 was superior - but one of the highlights for me was to have time to really kick back with Jupiter. I had picked up the Great Red Spot in the 6" and the 31" slammed it out. Funny that no one else had noticed! I also knew where GRS Jr. was positioned but unfortunately the sky was very unstable and it would have required a lot more time at the eyepiece to confirm it.

Along about midnight, only us hardcores were left. We, the brave, the few, the stupid... were diligently waiting for any type of hole to appear in the clouds to have a look at 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann C. As the clouds began to thin in the right area, maps were anxiously passed about and the arduous work of tyring to pick Kappa Lyrae out of the murk began. Inside the dome it had risen high enough to put the 31" on it and Joe had his big binoculars and SkyWindow set its way. Terry had his 12.5", Mike his 10", Greg was manning the SVD8, and I was calling out coordinates to Bruce. I think Joe nailed it first in the binoculars and somewhere between the Moon and clouds it was nothing more than a soft hazy patch with no nucleus. The SVD8 brought in a little more coma structure and a bit of tail...

But the 31" laid it bare.

As soon as Bruce said he had it, I was in there.... And confused! Yes, yes. I started barking out orders like how many arc minutes does this eyepiece reveal in the 31" and what magnitude are the two fields stars... But mostly I was stone blown away by the detail in the coma. There's opposing tails! My first and most immediate thought is what the heck has happened to the nucleus? From what was once a very stellar point is now just a prick of brightness. As soon as Bruce gets me the information I need, I find I am correct in my assessment of a 15 arc second ion tail - and probably more had the skies, position, and less moonlight been available. But what really got me was the nucleus! I've been chasing comets for a long time and in just a matter of days 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann's nucleus has dropped by a minimum of four magnitudes. I don't care what sky conditions are... A stellar point is a stellar point and the core has dimmed dramatically.

And in my silly excitement, I've kinda' forgotten to share the eyepiece, eh?

I know 73/P has a track record of making huge jumps, but it's really been quite exciting to see such rapid changes. I was also deeply gratified when Bruce also confirmed that movement can be detected while watching for extended periods. This is really a dandy comet and to make the drop in the nucleus from between 5-6 to 9-10 in four days makes it very unique indeed!

It's not long until we're all pack up and ready to go. There was a lot of teasing laughter about the unpredictable weather and how we all knew as soons as we left that the skies would clear. Funny thing I noticed after I made it back and got out of the car...

The stars were everywhere!

"Promises of what I seemed to be... Only watched the time go by,"

May 6, 2006 - Babysitting With Halley's Children - a.k.a. "The Sleepy Aquarids"...

Comments: I was not happy when the alarm went off. I distinctly remember turning it off rather firmly and burying myself down further under the warm blankets and listening to it tick tock... And the more I listened, the more it seemed to be saying: "Halley's Comet... Halley's Comet... Halley's Comet..."

Oh, all right then.

My aim was not to be up early to check on a comet, but the watch the offspring of one. This morning before dawn signifies the return of comet Halley's debris stream and the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower. Crabbily dressing in whatever clothes I could find on the floor, I bundled up to head outside in the returning Ohio cold. (i think it was a t-shirt i had tied around my head - but i'm really too sleepy to care. it smells ok... therefore it is ok.) I microwaved a cup of coffee to the point where it was only somewhat less cool than molten lava, poured it in my thermal cup, promptly scalded my tounge, and headed out with a bundle of blankets at 4:00 a.m.

Crawling into the old redwood chair, I lit a cigarette, scalded my tounge again, and promptly set out to watch a mostly cloudy sky for any sign of meteor activity. I woke up when I burned my fingers. Cursing myself for not putting a dab of Bailey's Irish Cream in my cup to lessen the impact, the first meteor was enough to remind me why I was out here. Bright enough to cut through some of the clouds and absolutely astonishing when it hit the clear area, I promptly scalded my tounge again. Some babysitter I'd make, eh?

The next time I woke up I didn't burn anything cuz' the cold had found its way through everything. A glance at my watch told me that somewhere between the time I started and now that 45 minutes had elapsed, my tounge hurt and I'd only seen one meteor. Kicking the blankets off, I walked out to the south field and no sooner than I had rounded the big pine that another silver tear dripped from the sky. Unlike a lot of meter showers, the Aquarids are stunningly bright and slow... Like a bead of quicksilver.

Figuring it was best not to give up, I kicked back in the chair again and watched the clear spots. Between 5:00 a.m. and dawn it was my great fortune to catch two more of comet Halley's children...

Riding high above the clouds - yet still shining on.

"Leavin' on a southern train... Only yesterday you tried."

May 3, 2006 - The Moon, Saturn, M13, 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann B and C, and Jupiter...

Comments: Ah, yes! Another decent night. While the first hour of darkness was devoted to watching my favourite (and only!) television program - "Ghost Hunters" (and it was a good one!) I did set the Celestron out to stabilize for later. A little after 10:00 it was time to go out and have at it and my first object was the ever-lovin' Moon...

Hello, Posidonius! Theophilus, Cyrillus, Catherina... How are you? Piccolomini! Old friend... I scubbed across the great tectonic plate shift of the Altai Scarp and noticed the Serpentine Ridge wasn't quite as well highlighted as last time I saw it. As much as I enjoy looking at the Moon, I am caught by the sky scenery tonight and how wonderfully close Saturn is. Wanna' have a look? Darn right. I always enjoy the Ring King and the outward swoop of Titan and the close dance of the inner moons.

I kept puttering around for quite awhile - mainly just looking at the stars and waiting for Hercules to really clear the sky poop. Jupiter is at opposition tonight and it is certainly a grand site with the bright stars and Moon. After a certain point in time, I couldn't stand it any longer and figured I'd go shoot the M13 to assess sky conditions. What the?????? Doing a double take and knowing the track the C component of 73/P was taking, I was very surprised to see what appeared to be a daggone comet with its tail sticking straight up in the air! After a little chart work, I found out in a great big hurry that it's the B component! Not as bright or as grand as the one I've been chasing, I'd say this little dude is holding around a magnitude 7...

But what of its big brother?

Oh, I found it alright. And still just as grand, but oh how it rocks in the telescope! The nucleus is just as sharp as a tack and the tail formation is so much clearer than in binoculars. Not far from U and W Herculis, the telescope helps to confirm that it is definately a magnitude 5 and the tail extension is at least 15' and probably far longer if I could hang out longer to let it rise higher and that daggone Moon to set!

Before I go, though... I have to give a look at Jupiter. While it could have also stood more steady conditions, I still love the waltz of the galieans. There's just something so serene about knowing how they move so perfectly coordinated around the mighty Jove. Such an intricate dance!

Perhaps one day... We'll dance, too.

"Feelin'... Like a hand in rusted shame. So do you laugh or do you cry? Reply?"

May 2, 2006 - The Moon, Tau Gemini and Chasing 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann...

Comments: It rained all day here. I really didn't set much stock that skies would be clear enough to do any observing tonight - but they always surprise me. Of course, things were dripping so my best bet was binoculars and when I saw the Moon smack in the middle of Gemini?

I started thinking occultation.

Orange Tau just danced right out the moment I set eyes on the field. So close! So close... Do I go back in and check information? Or just wing it? Wing it... It's what you do best, ~T. So back in the house I go for awhile to let the stars turn quietly overhead, catch up on some mundane chores and head back out about 30 minutes later. My answer? No occultation tonight. I can see immediately that this isn't even going to be anywhere close to a graze, let alone an event. Ah, well... There's still a comet isn't there?

By now Hercules has risen quite sufficently to get a look at the C component of 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann. First off? M13 and as I lower the binoculars... POW! There it is about two fields due east. You absoutely cannot miss it west of the c - d alignment of stars. Out of curiousity, I steadied myself and defocused on 59-d Herculis which would appear to be a fifth magnitude star by the charts. You know what? The C component is every bit as bright. The coma is perhaps a magnitude dimmer, but the nucleus has got to be clocking right in there around 5.

I probably watched that crazy comet for an hour. I swear before all that's holy that you can see it move! Part of me really wants to go get a scope and whack it down - but the other part of me knows what time it is and what time I have to get up. Duty calls...

But so does the Cosmos.

"Waiting.... On a Sunday afternoon... For what I read between the lines.
Your lines..."