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January 2007

January 29, 2007 - Moon Dogs...

Comments: So where I have been? Right here, folks. Socked in by clouds, snow and single digit temperatures. (for folks on the celsius scale, that's more minus than you really wanna' know about.) Somewhere along the way I have inherited another german shepherd... A leggy pup that looks more like a foal than he does a dog. Needless to say, life has changed a little. The cats disapprove, but H adores having a pal to run through the snow with. (me? i just spend a lot of time picking up the debris trail. he's great at being housebroken, but he's a geniune thief.)

Always up early, I let them out for a run and noticed how blue the snow looked. With good reason! The skies had finally cleared somewhat and a huge gibbous Moon was hanging just above the northwestern horizon. It's hard to believe I'm looking at the stars of summer! I thought about taking out the binoculars for awhile, but I also know they are housewarm and would frost in a heartbeat. Instead, I am content just to look at the changes above me.

When we come in, the young'un is wound for sound. Unlike H, who is ready to lay by the fire, he's on the sofa staring out the window. I don't know where he got those ears, but they look like cock-eyed radar dishes on top his head. As I sit and admire this black and tan deer who will share a few weeks of my life, I can't help but laugh. Directly between those huge ears in the window is the ivory Moon...

Another moon dog is being trained.

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

Well, this is not for real... Afraid to feel. I just hit the floor... Don't ask for more. I'm wasting my time. I'm wasting my time. You can't stop the feeling... And there's no reason. Let's make the call... And take it all. I'm wasting my time... I'm wasting my time again... Whoa, oh... Again. "

January 23, 2006 - Return to Crestline Schools...

Comments: Back again? Yep! This time it was truly a unique privelege to do a follow-up visit a week later to the same two classes. I really liked the idea, and I appreciate Greg making the arrangements that way because it allowed me a new way of presentation. Learn - Assignment - Share Assignment - Learn.

Last week we worked on the solar system: a craft to demonstrate scale, an excercise to demonstrate how radio waves travel and the ramifications of distance, and the basics of observation, flyby, landing, roving and sampling distant worlds. In the iterim, the class was given the opportunity to make their own unique planet to share and boy... Some of them did a really awesome job!

Greg and I took turns on either side of the classroom as the kids exchanged planets and performed their own missions. It was a lot of fun to see how some kids eagerly grasped the concepts and even if they didn't really want to participate seemed to have fun anyway. Besides just the children, it is also a great way for the both of us to learn new presentation styles and how to constrain to time limits. (and that ain't easy!)

Greg and I both were delighted at such a progressive school system and we're both looking forward to returning in the future. We will be doing a "Lunch Bunch" block where we'll have time to interact with the kids while sharing a meal, and at least two other presentations that coincide with the Earth Science end of the curriculum. All in all, it's a great experience.

And right fun, too!

"You can't fight the feeling... And there's no reason. Why not make the call and take it all, again? Whoa, oh... Again."

January 22, 2007 - The Tranquil Moon...

Comments: Oh, it was out there. The moment I stepped out of work this evening and laid eyes on it, I knew I had to take a closer look. The earthshine effect was just palpatible and it was hard not to stare at it on the drive to the countryside.

Although I'm not a big fan of working late hours, I can certainly say the change in jobs has been good for me and while having dinner is foremost on my mind, the lure of Cleomides, Geminus, Burkhardt and Messala are equally strong. I want to see Langrenus again. I want to explore Funerius and sail the sea of Mare Australe. I want to meet Balmer and Holden.

It's a beautiful and tranquil Moon...

"Well, this is not for real... Afraid to feel. I just hit the floor... Don't ask for more. And I'm wasting my time... I'm wasting my time..."

January 20, 2007 - At Warren Rupp Observatory... Comet McNaught on the Horizon...

Comments: Yep. Still running! Back some time ago, a young couple had contacted me about taking a tour of Warren Rupp Observatory. As always, I am very proud of the place and I never turn anyone down. Why? Just think! Look at all the years that have gone by and reports that you have read. How many places have I been - a total stranger - where someone has taken the time to visit with me and show me around their places, eh?

Always repay kindness with kindness.

They were very fine people and the gentleman had a star named after his wife for their 10th anniversary. He had brought the paperwork along with him, and although they had decided against staying until evening to view the star, I am still very happy to give a crash course of map reading, provide them with some seasonal all-sky charts, and general instructions of how to locate what they were after. Believe it or not, they had at one time been campers at Hidden Hollow and had returned all these years later so they could finally see what was inside the dome! Isn't it funny how you just never know who's life you might be impacting or how things will turn out?

Needless to say, they had a great time exploring and learning the history of the observatory. I was very happy that I took the time to show them around and I even had used the coordinates beforehand to print them out a Palomar Sky Survey plate of the star. It is Ohio, after all, and you can never count on a clear night in advance! I'm figuring maybe one of these days I'll stitch all the plates together and paste them on the roof of the dome, eh? That way no matter when anyone visits we can always show them all the great things that are out there! (yes, jason... i hear you laughing and maybe one day we can get a grant to get a portable planetarium. stranger things have happened!)

Later that evening, it was time to make a supply run into town. Heading out just at sunset, I really wasn't thinking about anything too much until I got away from the village and saw the horizon. Holy smoke on the water! How can you miss McNaught?! Not since Hale-Bopp have I seen a comet so bright and so visible. It was blaring right through a thin cloud cover! Stopping to watch, it was gone in about 10 minutes, but it sure was a grand 10 minutes. And like many things?

Totally worth the time.

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

January 17, 2007 - At Nationwide Investments...

Comments: Still on the go? You betcha'. My little sportscar is running perfectly again and next stop is the capitol city of Columbus and a speaking engagement with the astronomy club of Nationwide Investments.

This time my "speech" was all about resources: what they provide, how we learn from them, and how to get them. As everyone who reads these reports knows, I am very pro-JPL/NASA and a huge advocate of both the Astronomical League and the Night Sky Network. For just a little bit of time spent doing public relations, the reward for we presenter's is huge. Learning materials are freely offered to those willing to reach out for them, and not only do the teach others, but they teach you as well.

My 60-minute block went very fast, indeed. As always, I am honoured that folks want to hear me talk! I was encouraged to bring a dozen copies of my latest book with me, so the group could spend time with the "author"... But I still haven't learned to be comfortable with talking about myself, eh? (to me, nothing is more of a dead bore than listening to someone tell you how great they are and what they've done.) Aw, you guys know me because you read this jargon - but the real heroes are all the great people that have put the tools where I can reach them. And the real winners are the folks who take the time to look up!

Keep doing it...

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

January 16, 2007 - Crestline School and Crystal Clear Sky...

Comments: Despite a bit of jet lag, I had made arrangements with Greg to give an astronomy presentation to Crestline Schools and I was armed and ready. You know, you often hear this phrase that if something is going to happen that it happens close to home, right?

Yeah. It's right.

Dressed and ready, my car made it to the end of the street before it stalled out and wouldn't start again. Rather than take a chance at getting it started and ending up stalled out further from home, I called Greg, told him to pick me up and pushed the little beast back into my front yard. To help avoid confusion, I walked back down to the end of the street to wait, and hung my briefcase on the post of a neighbor's split rail fence. I then promptly fell through the fence and bruised a whole lot more than just my pride. Figures doesn't it? Since I wan't bleeding, I went ahead with the program and figured I would assess my personal damage later.

The program for both classes went off without a hitch. Some of the new things I learned came into play and they were well received. The kids were bright, fast and eager to learn! We all had a wonderful time and I look forward to our follow-up visit in a week.

When I got back, I asked Jerry to have a look at both my car and my backside. Fortunately, my car was nothing more than a clogged aircleaner. I only wish $15 would have cured the rest! The small of my back had a lovely 2" wide bruise across it, and my tush? Well, let's just say that decorative metal plows have very sharp corners and I'm not sitting too comfortably for awhile.

But who needs to sit when there's stars overhead?!

The night was awesome... Crystal clear and Ohio perfect stability. It was a great evening to work with binoculars and a telescope again. My choice was the Canis Major and Puppis area and I'm thrilled to be out taking notes on the Collinder and Ruprecht clusters once again! After all, books don't write themselves and research is what makes them not only accurate, but entertaining. I might call it research...

But it's mainly fun!

"You can't stop the feeling... And there's no reason. Let's make the call and take it all again... Whoa, oh.... again..."

January 12 - 15, 2007 - The California Kid...

Comments: I'm baaaaaaack... ;)

Although my time in California was short, I'm always burning the candle at both ends and I appreciate your returning and waiting on my to catch up with life again. Are you ready to dance?

Several weeks ago I had been invited to attend a planning session at ASP headquarters in San Francisco and it was a trip I was looking highly forward to. Back a few years ago, I swore I'd never set foot in CA again, but situations have changed and instead of being at anyone's mercy, I have the complete and total independence I enjoy here. Although I can't afford to stay long, I always keep a bit of money tucked away for a rainy day...

And it's been rainin' in Ohio long enough.

Boarding an airbus bound for Minneapolis-St. Paul before dawn at Columbus International Airport, I didn't sleep like most passengers do. I'm sorry, but I don't care how often I'm on a plane, I find it terminally cool and I always book a window seat and have my face pressed up against it for the entire trip. The first leg of the journey was fast, smooth and very, very cold in Minnesota. I enjoyed a short layover and from there?


Long before lunchtime, I was on the ground in San Jose. Although I was pretty scared, I had everything planned so well that it was like clockwork. I don't even think my hair had time to blow in the wind before I was behind the wheel of a brand new Monte Carlo and learning to use a GPS! The flawless little machine told me exactly where to turn and minutes later I was in the parking lot of some place I had only seen on television - Winchester Mystery House.

For those of us who like the Travel Channel, History, or Discovery, Winchester House is well known. Although reputed to be haunted, ghost-hunting was not what I had in mind. This is a fantastic old period piece where the original part of the Mansion destroyed by the big California quake of the early 1900s is totally preserved in situ - right down to the piles of bricks from fallen fireplaces and the cracks in the walls.

While this picture might not make a lot of sense, Sara Winchester (heir to the rifle fortune) believed herself to be haunted by the spirits killed by the Winchester rifle and in order to appease them never stopped construction on the house during her entire life... As a matter of fact, it still continues to this day! Doors that lead to nowhere, staircases that climb to ceilings, windows in the floor, twisting hallways, secret entrances... It's all here. The house winds and winds and winds around itself in a gorgeous display of one-time wealth. It was an awesome experience!

Afterward, I was enjoying the warm afternoon sunshine and up on top of one of the mountains I could see the white mushroom of Lick Observatory. Why the hell not?! So, I set the directions towards my goal and off I went. Even though the drive was short in miles, it was long on hairpin turns, sheer drop offs and enough switchbacks to make any flatland driver cringe. Although I would have loved to gawked out over the scenery of San Jose so far below, for safety's sake I kept my eye on the road and arrived on the windswept mountaintop to find myself all alone.

You know what? It's really not such a bad thing! I tried to call some of my friends from my own observatory, but you are really out of touch up here. Fortunately, the door was open and I happily wandered the halls. Although I have been here before, it is different for me this time. Evenutally I ran across the curator who simply gave me permission to enjoy myself and when she was free, she took me on a tour of parts of Lick Observatory the public never gets to see. What an honour to sit in this seat, or touch this piece of equipment!! I know the history of the place and knowing I was touching, standing, or being where some of my past heros have been is an otherworldly experience for me.

I guess my enthusiasm for where I was at (and respect) was pretty obvious, for I was taken places that no one but staff goes. Heading down a narrow staircase, I found myself in the bowels of the great observatory and with it the final resting place of James Lick - his body interred under the massive pier of the scope above me. I can't tell you what an honour it was to be where so few have gone before and to see the original mechanics of the building. Although the place isn't haunted, I half expected to see E.E. Barnard peeking out from the shadows!

Afterwards, I was invited to have a look at the 120" Shane reflector. Cautious and respectful of the genuine science going on around me, I was deeply moved to be introduced to those working and be allowed to watch them calibrate things for the evening's observing. Although the invitation was out to stay longer, I very much remembered the drive up and figured I had better make the drive down before dark!

They gave me a blonde Garmin...

Oh, it took me to my next destination alright. But it didn't tell me I would have been better off to have turned around and gone the other way down the hill! To make a long story short, I got to see a huge amount of California countryside and got more driving experience on mountain roads. Mad? Heck, no! I wasn't lost, had plenty of gas, and although I didn't get settled in for the night as early as I had hoped, I truly had a great time.

Before the dawn even considered breaking the next day, I was off and running again. This time it was to San Francisco to meet at the Astronomy Society of the Pacific Headquarters. The little machine performed flawlessly and although driving here is not like flat-land, there was still time to get there comfortably and even have coffee before beginning. When I walk in, I see faces that I recognize, but never put together with names. Only I could watch an entire training video and never once associate names. What can I say? I was more interested in what was being said than who was saying it!

For what it's worth, it didn't take very long to familiarize myself with the folks and the meeting was off and running. Although I'm not really at liberty to talk about what we did and discussed, things were extremely fast paced and I am totally humbled and fascinated by just how sharp the minds at work behind these things truly are. In a world where I thought I was pretty good, I was soon to be totally captivated by a few individuals whom I would have loved to have tucked in my suitcase and brought home. You don't have to spout a bunch of highly educated hogwash my way to impress me, but when you can show me in a few simple sentences, a hand gesture, or a bit of paper, a new concept?

I want your mind.

Everything here was hands-on... And for tactile learners like myself, it was better than Disneyworld. Once again, I was very impressed with how well everything had been thought out and recognized some of my own tricks-o-the-trade incorporated in new ways. Let's just say they used the same basics on certain subjects that I'd been doing for many years and packaged it very neatly! Everytime someone said you should do this or that, all you had to do was look at the materials we were provided with and you could see that they had thought of everything. Besides that, they taught me some new tricks and although I might be an old dog? I learn new tricks really fast.

The meeting was absolutely wonderful and I didn't want it to end. Thanks to Comet McNaught, the entire group decided to head for the beachfront before the Sun set to get a glimpse of the mighty comet.

What could be a more perfect ending to a perfect day than this, eh? Lord only knows that those of us who are West Coast deprived always dream of the green flash. I mean, it really couldn't get much better, could it? The answer is yes. Although the comet was just barely visible unaided in the strong sunlight, an even brighter light was about to appear as my long-time acquiantence and illustrator for many of my books joined us on the beach. I can't adequately express just how pleased I was to finally meet the incomparable R. Jay GaBany in person!

Well, of course I had arranged to meet him! You didn't really think for one second that I could be that close to someone whose outstanding astrophotography has graced both the covers and interiors of my books without having dinner, did you?! Part of the joy and pleasure of knowing someone virtually is when the day eventually comes that you finally meet. And the prognosis is, doctor, that I liked Jay every bit as much in person as I have through our correspondence and work together.

Jay? You're awesome!

By the time I made it back to home base, it didn't take long to be out for the night. I remember stepping outside for a smoke and admiring just how dark the north sky was... And not much else. I've got one more full day left here in California, and I intend to use every second of it!

Back on the road again before dawn, I headed south towards San Francisco again. There is simply too much to do and see before I leave and I have booked myself on a tour bus for comfort. Although the Garmin would have taken me to anywhere I wanted to go, it's not the knowledgable and entertaining tour guide! I learned more about the town, it's history, and everything we were seeing than I could have ever dreamed possible. And he knew where to park!

One of our first full stops was on the 'Frisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Yeah, we've all seen it before, but you really can't imagine how awesome it is until you see it in real life. Not far away sits Alcatraz Island and you would genuinely swear that it would be possible to swim the distance. It just doesn't occur to you that this is the ocean! Bay Bridge is also very picturesque, but there's nothing like seeing that post card perfect image of everything you know of a storybook town.

From the streets of Haight Ashbury through Chinatown, we wandered everywhere. Through magnificent gardens and parks, Nob Hill and all the famous places from the movies. (Yes. The hill from "Gone in 60 Seconds" is really that steep!) Cable cars, trolleys, horse and buggy. All these things are there and all just like you see on television. Again, what never occurs to flatlanders is the vista from the mountains. From way up here you can look down on all that's around you and marvel. It truly is a very special place.

Last stop of the day is Fisherman's Wharf and my car is parked only blocks away. Leaving the tour to wander about on my own, I explore nooks and crannies, museums, shops and restaurants. I watch the sealions sunbathing and the boats move in and out. I dine lavishly and enjoy gardens. I send postcards and pick out souvigneirs. I sample chocolates and coffees and enjoy streetcorner musicians.

And then I go under the Bay.

The Aquarium Under The Bay is just that. Wonderful glass tunnels where you can see all the fantastic seawater marine life that thrives below the surface. Colorful fish, sharks, starfish, rays, and anemones. I have one picture of a whirlpool of small silver fish that were above my head and I could have stood and watched them all day! There are enough pictures of all of these things to fill album upon album, thanks to my new digital camera. What a shame they take up so much storage space or I would share them all!

By sunset I am heading back to home base again to collect my friends for dinner. There is one last stop that I would like to make before I leave and it is not far away.

The Brookdale Lodge is also another Travel Chanel and History Channel destination. Yes, I have been here before, too... But I want to be again. The atmosphere is like being inside of a very large, well appointed barn with a babbling brook running through the center of it. The live stream is indeed the charm of the place and low lighting makes it a wonderful experience... Not to mention the great food! Here again, all is as it looks on television. It could very well be formal, but equally welcome to a "family dinner". Is there a ghost? Yes. It was right behind me on a walkway. Almost everywhere I've been in the last three days have been alight with spirits, but the beauty and joy is not yelling "I see a ghost!", but knowing the little time loop is playing over and over again. It's quite a privelege to at least sense it's there.

Afterward? Home base again. It's a beautiful starlit night out, yet I am content to enjoy the companionship of my friends. Too many years often pass between visits, and I notice we have all greyed a bit more since the last time. I am tired, hurting, but I am happy and my time here has almost ended.

Up early once again, it's time for the local cafe before heading back to San Jose. It has been a great trip, and it's time for Dorothy to head home. Once the car has been returned, I find myself with a comfortable time before departure and holding good natured conversation with the some of the same passengers I flew in with. The flight out is overbooked, and although I was greatly tempted to take NorthWest up on their offer of a free round trip passage to wait 12 hours - I am also ready to be back where I belong.

Although I am tired, I cannot sleep. I watch the mountains, deserts, and frozen land unfold before me. I did not think about a magical time until it was upon me and I realized that we were going to fly through the terminator into night. What Hand of Grace saw fit to open my eyes to this beauty? No one around me was particularly impressed, but I am here to tell you there is something very mystical and wonderful about crossing the line between day and night from high above the world. Ahead, the stars were shining - the ground dark except for the twinkle of cities like molten pools of gold far below. Behind is the sunset, the sky blue and colorful and the land lit with long shadows. It was an experience I will never forget.

The rest of the trip was spent staring at the stars until the fascination of the city lights below brought me down to earth. It was a textbook trip, just like I had been doing it all my life. My light bags were quickly in my trunk, my parking paid and I was back on the straightaway on famliar turf. It was snowing!

A fitting end...

"Well this is not for real... Afraid to feel. I just hit the floor... Don't ask for more. And, I'm wasting my time. Yes, I'm wasting my time..."

January 9, 2007 - Snow At Last...

Comments: Unfortunately, the return of snow also means the sky is gone and no chance to spot Comet McNaught at either sunrise or set. The forecast is not good for the days ahead, but I will keep my binoculars with me should any opportunity arise.

And it just might...

This will be my last chance for a few days to use the internet because I'm heading for California. I have been invited by the Astronomy Society of the Pacific and JPL/NASA Night Sky Network to San Francisco to participate in an outreach planning session and it is my great honour to go. Although it will be a very short trip, I plan on packing in the maximum amount of things to do and see while I am there - and that means no time to worry about finding an internet connection.

Think I'll live for a few days with out? ;)

When I get back, it will also be a whirlwind of activity the following week, for I have two public appearances to make here in Ohio as well. Although it may be several days before I can catch up enough to get back to reporting, you can bet I'll be scanning the skies for Comet McNaught and taking pictures by the dozen. Wish me luck...

And I'll see you soon.

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

January 8, 2007 - Venus and Comet McNaught...

Comments: Had I heard? You know I did. I have my finger on the pulse of all things astronomy and I've learned my lesson about always having at least a pair of binoculars with me. Although I was still at work when the Sun set, my job is very liberal now and I took my last break outdoors.

Venus was just blazing away and there was only a string of dark cloud in the sky. With the 16X60 binoculars it was easy to locate Comet McNaught to the southwest of Venus and it is a BEAUTY! A brilliant white with a long, fanned tail that consumes at least 1/3 of the field of view of the binoculars. Once I saw it, I could easily see it against the darkening sky... Who couldn't?!! Not since Ikeya/Zhang have I seen such a grand and easily spotted little bugger. Burning in at at least a -1 magnitude this exceptional comet is making one heck of a show!!

Don't miss it...

"I've already gone too far away...."

January 6, 2007 - RAS Meeting and the Moon...

Comments: Although the Observatory is closed during the winter season, we still continue on with our monthly meetings. How wonderful it was to see my friends again! Dan and Pat, Terry, Ken, Dave, Joe and John... And all the laughter!

What do we discuss? Everything from global warming to having the mirror recoated again. I do a lot of blushing because I can't help but show off my latest book and this time it is my turn to present Joe with a copy. One of these days I promise to update my webpages so others can order the books for themselves... But for now?

I am just me.

As we stand in front of the restaurant, the Moon has well risen and the skies are clear. We have chided each other that we should be out observing rather than eating, but commaraderie also is an important part of astronomy. Reluctantly we part, and that same Moon is still out when I get back.

It was wonderful to see it again... Atlas and Hercules on the decline. The soft run of the Serpentine Ridge. Although it is just the little scope, I still enjoy looking around and the M42, Sigma Orionis, M36, M37, and M38 are all eager to comply. It's awfully bright for serious hunting - but not for hunting Sirius! The M41 will cut through anything and so does the M35.

But nothing will cut through those gathering clouds...

"Well, I don't want to see you waiting..."

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

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

It's raining.

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

The Regulators ride again...

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

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

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

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

Thinking of you.

"December songs no longer I sing..."