July 31, 2007 - At the Observatory: "Starry Nights"...
Comments: And tonight it's all about meteors! Hey, it's almost time for the Perseids... What did you expect me to talk about?!
As always, we have a great group of kids who are eager to listen and learn. Collecting meteorites is another passion of mine (go figure) and I am not just content to have them... I want to know about them and that's just all part of sharing. When were they make? What are they made of? Where do the come from? Etc. etc. etc... It was just great fun "enlightening" them just a bit. After all, these little chunks of rock come from the very beginings of our solar system!
Tonight's grand prize in our giveaway was a meteor and the young lady with the lucky raffle ticket was exceptionally pleased with her prize. But not a single young'un in the group left with an empty hand...
Or an empty head.
"Why do we dream when our thoughts mean nothing and when will we learn to control? I need serenity... I need serenity... I need serenity... I need serenity...."
July 29, 2007 - At the Observatory: Crossroads Seniors
Comments: It was our great pleasure to present a tour and program for the senior class of Crossroads Church and the families!
This was a very pleasant group of around fifty and a few hours together in the daylight means a great opportunity to run through a lot of different concepts and teaching streams than I normally get to chose from. In this particular circumstance, there was an opportunity to run our visitors through almost every we do and the work with the black holes hands-on experiments are always a treat!
The learning opportunities were fantastic and we even had a chance to do some solar viewing as well. At the end, the seniors all gathered around so I could take their picture to commemorate their field trip to the observatory. It's always great when folks take an interest in what we do and we love to share as well. Hopefully one of these shining faces will one day be an astrononaut... a brilliant physicist... or even the next Einstein!
Because you just never know.
"I need serenity. In a place where I can hide. I need serenity. Nothing changes. Days go by. And where do we go when we just don't know? And how do we relight the flame when it's cold?"
July 24, 2007 - At the Observatory: "Starry Nights"...
Comments: Well, at first it looked like it might be clear... Then it looked like it might storm.... Then it looked like permanent clouds... But no matter how it looked it was gonna' be a great night with the Hidden Hollow Campers!
This year has been a wonderful cooperation of folks to help give the camp kids a program and the help is just incredibly appreciated. Rather than do the same program over and over again, this time the focus was on the anniversary of Apollo 11 - 38 years of moon walking!
Upon arrival, one of our guests for the evening was kind enough to treat all the kids to ice cream (thanks go to lee hale!) and they were definately delighted. Happily sated, they came into the dome, took their tickets for the prize drawing and sat down on the floor to listen and learn. Joe and I walked them through the many basics about the Moon. How big, how far, how it came to be, why there is phases and why we look at it at the times we do. Handing the program off to Robert, it was great to listen to the laughter and watch the excitement as the kids took turns at creating craters and splash marks on the simulated Moon surface! Grant came in and whispered in my ear that the skies were clearing off, so we wrapped up the science end of the program and gave them the opportunity to watch the vintage footage of Armstrong's first steps on the Moon.
History is daggone important....
They were absolutely a great group of kids and (as always) knew a surprising amount about the questions I asked. After the Apollo footage, it was time for our prize drawing and I get such a kick out of watching how excited these kids get from winning things! While I wish I had scads of great prizes to hand out to everyone, somehow those "special things" seem all the more special because they were won. (you should have seen the little gal who one the great big photograph of the moon where apollo landed... you'd have thought she'd struck gold!) For those of you out there who do outreach, hound, hound, hound for things to give away! You can't get big things for everybody all the time, but you'd be surprised at how far magazines, photographs, posters, postcards, magnets, bookmarks, etc. will go!
And always have a little something for those who didn't win, too... ;)
All in all, it was a great night. The kids had the opportunity to see the Moon, ride the lift, tour the Observatory, get a special treat, and walk away with more than they did when they came. For us? The joy was in the being there. I just feel better about myself when I can share what I love with others. Who knows which one of these kids we might inspire? Perhaps one of these faces who are so eager to be here will be the next man or woman to walk on the Moon!
Or maybe even Mars...
"And every night I hold you... Hold you with my inner child."
July 22, 2007 - Joe and the Comet...
Comments: Usually I don't report on something unless I've done it personally, but in this circumstance I've seen something that's simply too darn good not to share with everyone! My good friend, Joe, is definately blossoming into an excellent astrophotogapher and while I languished in hazy clouds last night... He didn't.
What you see here is C/2006 VZ13 in the same field as M3! I am so proud of Joe that I could just pop buttons and with good reason! If you look, you can see that his camera also captured the great green of the cyanogen lines in the comet's halo - as well as provided some resolution on one fo the most difficult objects to photograph - a globular cluster. To capture them both and do it so well is definately an achievement!
And one I'm very, very proud to display...
"Tragic visions... Slowly stole my life. Tore away everything... Cheating me out of my time. I'm the one who loves you. No matter wrong or right..."
July 21, 2007 - At Malabar Farms....
Comments: Ah, yes... The most welcome rain and very glad that it departed in time for the AFY Star Party at Malabar Farms! But, sometimes first things come first and that means a trip to the Observatory for a Board meeting. But, that's OK, because we really needed the communication time. During the last year our public nights have become so busy that if you aren't there early when we give a member meeting, you're liable to miss out on some important topics we've been discussing. Each month I do a recap of all of our activities and plans... and a lot of times I have to go by present member approval when a decision needs to be made. Sometimes that's a difficult thing to do when many of our board members are most often not present at the time... But, hey...
I do my best.
Anyhow, it was good to be there and get some solid information from people. Fund raising, tax status, conventions, grants, etc... All of these things are time critical and while our group is not known for its expediency, perhaps the inability to come to a quick decision, determination or action is what's caused problems in the past. Sure. I'm willing to take the heat. After all, when you're the one in the kitchen who needs to make the decision on what to cook and nobody's home, you've got to expect that. You can't always please everyone with the dinner you've made, but at least you're not letting the rest of the family go hungry. Ya' dig?
Afterwards it was time to head to Malabar and enjoy the star party! It was an awesome, clear and beautiful night. On arrival at dusk, the group was fully set up and busy entertaining the public with educational programs, happy and conversational people and all kinds of things to do! I am so proud of them. AFY's attendance has also grown well over the last couple of years and it's great to see grant suggestions and donations in action. Just take a look at this!
You should have seen this thing the first night it appeared out a certain car trunk. I remember all of us laughing while we tried to figure out how to set it up, but the important thing was that they realized its potential. Sure. It wasn't easy the first few times, but after a bit of practice it changed and you'll never know how good it was to see other ideas implemented as well! Stuart and Al have got the art of poster making down to a fine science and everywhere I look I see outreach grant materials in action. Better get to it myself, huh?
I was delighted the Charlie had also decided to join us and brought along not only his HUGE binoculars, but a video eyepiece and small TV as well. While he went to work setting it up, I gathered up my little box of outreach tricks and in just a matter of minutes a crowd had gathered. Charlie aimed it at the Moon and thus began the next couple of hours. The really clever part about the binoculars is that the video eyepiece can go in one side, while the person can look through the other. Teaching craters, how they were formed, etc. becomes an easy matter of being able to point out on the screen what you are talking about and the person can also get a first-hand look at the same time. Both kids and adults are always happy to get a little learning in on top of what they're seeing if it's fun! There were several young'uns and adults that I remembered from the past and how good it is to see them still interested!
The night kept going... It was wonderful to loop around to all the different telescopes and admire the view. Ken had brought mounted binoculars as well and when the cry went up for a comet, it certainly didn't take long for us to produce a map and all eyes were turned its way. C/2006 VZ13 has definately brightened over time and it's an awesome sight in any optics.
But the night didn't stop there. I did say the skies were fantastic, didn't I? If you want incredible, use a pair of binoculars that are like looking through twin small dobsonians and sweep the Saggitarius, Ophiuchus and Scorpius regions. Bull-rider Grant was one of the first takers and willing to listen. I explained how to run a slow and steady grid pattern and then he sat down and did as instructed. Every few minutes he'd call out and I'd go look at what he had found. Needless to say in 30 minutes or so, he'd conquered a huge portion of the Messier list and globular clusters! And Jupiter? Oh my dear sweet stars... Once again, just like at Apollo Rendezvous, we were all blown away by how bino vision allows one to see the galieans as not only dimensional - but true orbs as well.
By then it was getting late and the public had started to drift away. Now is when the view really got fun! Between all these heads we'd keep coming up with new and awesome things to look at and you'd be surprised at just how freaky and incredible Barnard dark nebulae looks in big binoculars. The things were so black they looked like they were pulsating. Just tremendous...
Into the wee hours and time to enjoy Robert's big Obsession and right on down to Mars. It's not going to be long until dawn and although it's cold? Who cares! It was another one of those really, really memorable nights...
And I'm damn glad I was there.
"Why do we dream when our thoughts mean nothing? And when will we learn to control..."
July 17, 2007 - At the Observatory: Starry Nights...
Comments: Hey, hey... I'm back in action. As promised, I eventually get used to changes in meds and although the new ones make me kinda' tired... At least I haven't lost my hair yet. Of course, having a BIG group of kids means I could be pulling it out!
Of course, I'm only joking. I dearly love to work with the kids and do my best to give them an interesting and educational program on nights when it's cloudy. It had been some time since I had done this particular presentation and I'll have to admit I did stumble a little... But they were a great group and didn't seem to notice. This year has been wonderful for club participation and I so welcome Dan, Joe, Barb, Ken, Robert, Greg and Grant. When I'm finished "talking", the kids like to be... well... kids! And it's great to have so many people on hand who are knowledgeable and can answer their many questions. (and i'm so looking forward to traveling to los angeles and on to pomona college for "Cosmos in the Classroom"! it's a real honour to be able to learn some new teaching techniques.)
We had hoped that a predicted hole would come along in the clouds so they could view through the big scope - but it wasn't to be until they had already left. On the way back, I drove into the stars and it's always a choice between watching for deer or daydreaming when I dare look out the window. By the time I was settled in and cooled down, the stars were gone again...
But the rains came at last.
"Where do we go when we just don't know? And how do we relight the flame when it's cold?"
July 15/16, 2007 - No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn...
Comments: When will it rain? When will it rain? The skies keep promising and it just doesn't happen. One moment you'll walk outside and it will be cloudy and you'll think to yourself... "At last. It's going to rain finally." and an hour later it's all gone and the stars have taken back over the night.
And there's no sleep 'til Brooklyn...
When the skies were clear I tried sitting out in the cool night air, sweeping the heavens with big binoculars and no real intent. These places are my home and I don't need an address to recognize M13, M92, M10, M12, M4, M80, M19, M6, M7, M8, M20, M22, M24, M18, M16 and M11. Overhead, Cygus cruises the night and along with it M27 and M71. How many others? How many NGCs should I know by heart and can't recall. Does it matter?
Because there's no sleep 'til Brooklyn...
A couple of hours later I was back out again... Fighting the way the drugs make me feel and looking for anything to take my mind off of it. An open vista of starlight shimmers and there is peace and comfort in M15, M33 and M31. Who cannot look into the double cluster and anytime and not feel the pull of the faraway stars... Lulling the mind to rest? Can you look beyond M2? Can you imagine the incredible distance to such nearby things as Uranus and Neptune? Does your soul sing when you see Mars beginning to rise?
Because there's no sleep 'til Brooklyn....
Before the dawn comes along, can you pull a blanket around your shoulders and gratefully walk through the cool dew on the grass? Can you smile at how quickly Mars has climbed the sky and laugh seeing how the constellations have nearly come full circle and winter approaches again? Sit with me here, Orion. Cradle a cup of hot coffee and breathe the fragrant steam while we watch the Perseid meteor shower warming up. The Sun will soon light up the sky...
And there's no sleep 'til Brooklyn.
"Nothing changes... Days go by."
July 13, 2007 - Identifying C/2006 VZ13 (LINEAR)...
Comments: OK. So it was bugging me. I don't usually go into comet hunting half-hearted no matter how I feel, so I returned again tonight and did it the right way... With an accurate locator chart.
I was wrong.
Oh, yeah. I found the comet... Along with 3 galaxies and I should have know better! I should have known last night when I saw the edge-on that I was in the territory - but too lazy to go upstairs and get proper maps. What I had assumed was the comet was actually NGC 5879, a 12th magnitude spiral galaxy. Comet C/2006 VZ13 (LINEAR) is cruising right by a Draco field and my head just wasn't in the game or I would have realized when I saw the long streak of NGC 5907 that it had company nearby. I was too far south for my first sighting and that's just what you get for hopping straight to the big guns and not double checking your charts.
Viewable in small aperture (4.5) C/2006 VZ13 (LINEAR) is considerably brighter than the neighboring galaxies and holding a rough magnitude of around 8. Of course, I had to go back to the dob because edge-on structure is my favourite... and despite light pollution to that area of the north, NGC 5907 is still a splendid long streak of light that makes my heart beat just a little bit quicker. Knowing there's a comet cruising past the whole group is an awesome experience and I hope some photographer out there gets a chance to catch it.
I'm glad I did.
"I need serenity...."
July 12, 2007 - Chasing C/2006 VZ13 (LINEAR)...
Comments: Thanks to both John N. and Joe, they've got me interested in the new comet in town and hunting it down. After all, what would you do if you saw this?
It looks like Joe's challenge to me and I was keen to accept it.
Booked as slightly fainter than magnitude 9 and binocular available, I started the hunt in my least favourite constellation of all - Draco. From my home observing position, it means a lot of shuffling around to find a good spot to view the northwest and to do so without intererring light sources - like neighbors. I honestly tried with binoculars - but got nothing. The next step was the only one logical, right? Darn right. The big dob.
Although it took some hunting, I located C/2006 VZ13 just south of Iota Draconis and if that puppy is a 9, someone has got a sincere case of wishful thinking. We'll try again tomorrow night and see if I'm looking at the right thing. Right now a new drug has got me feeling like a wet dishrag and I've kinda' lost my will for the thrill, if you know what I mean.
Right now I'd rather just sit and stare and the stars...
"I need serenity... In a place where I can hide..."
July 10, 2007 - At the Observatory: "Starry Nights"...
Comments: Oops. I overdid it. Sunday was pure punishment for having a good time and I curse my rotten body. Yeah. Can't walk... But who the hell cares?
Saturday was awesome...
Oh, well. By Tuesday I was feeling well enough to get back out and it's time for our first "Starry Nights" program! I love the camp kids and I am so pleased at how many of our members are here to help out tonight as well. Would you believe it? All this time we can't get any rain and the very first night of our camp programs is cloudy...
You know what? I doesn't matter one bit! The kids had a wonderful time and so did we. I'm happy I am here and willing to take the risk, ok? You only go around once...
And I intend to make it a good one. ;)
"And every night I hold you.... Hold you with my inner child."
July 7, 2007 - At the Observatory - Public Night...
Comments: And the old woman is back to doing what she loves best - astronomy! Although I've been quietly complaining to myself that we need rain very badly, tonight I am most happy that it is not raining and we have some mighty fine skies for our monthly public night.
This month's theme was all about the planets - "Song of the Spheres" and one of our members (Barb) had done a great program work up. With such great weather, we had many more visitors than usual and over the night perhaps 70 guests drifted in and out.... Along with one very special one. I had met Charlie a couple of years ago at Apollo Rendezvous and I am extremely happy that he's come to join us tonight! He's really a super guy with a fine personality and he fits like a glove with the rest of us.
One of the highlights of this month was also a suggestion by the MVAS - a prize giveaway for anyone attending our monthly programs. You know what? Not only was it successful, but it was very fun, too!
Charlie had brought several pairs of binoculars and was happily working with the kids. Many of our good friends from the AFY had also joined us this evening and there were scopes everywhere. (dang, curt! that old edmunds definately outshined even the 31" on jupiter!) We watched a shadow transit and all manner of cool things. I was quite happy with the 10"... Pickin' things out here and there and just pleased as punch with how much I remembered without a chart. The M57 was absolutely awesome in the 31" with the central star showing just as pretty as you please.
Needless to say, none of us old stargeezers were going anywhere. Can't remember a finer night! Long about the witching hour, I went down to the ClubHouse and fired up the grill and made a massive amount of hotdogs. Folks had brough soda and snacks along and it wasn't very long until the smell started drifiting up and people came drifting down. Have a dog! It's on us...
Laugh? Oh, my goodness... Don't remember last time I laughed so much. Stars? Ditto. Don't remember the last time I spent so much time at the eyepiece either! The Milky Way was absolutely humming and all the veins and lanes were so easy to see. Reminded me a whole lot of Glacier Point and some other good times....
It was a late one, folks. We didn't give up until Mars came along. Even the waning Moon was worth all the lookin' we could give it! All in all, it was one of the finest nights I've had in a long, long time. I want to thank everyone for being there... Charlie, Robert, Joe, John, Terry, Curt, Aaron, Stuart, Dave, John B, Barb, Ken.. all the great folks from the Mansfield area and far beyond...
It means so much to all of us.
"I'm the one in your soul... Reflecting inner light..."
July 6, 2007 - Am I Alone?
Comments: Ssssssh.... Look around you. Am I alone now? I'm almost afraid to make a sound - to breathe a breath....
Needless to say, my summer schedule is soon going to make visits with family impossible and that goes double extra for my grandchildren. I love my busy life, but I don't want to look back in 20 years and wish I had taken a little time from my busy astronomy life to remember that children grow up and family grows away if you don't tend to them once in awhile. So, for at least the time being we had a wonderful week together spent swimming, going to the beach, invading parks, tenting out, having a campfire and cooking marshmallows, chasing fireflies, playing with model trains, cooking, coloring, playing games and just enjoying one another. And now?
Now I'm alone again.
Submersed in the incredibly warm water of the swimming pool and drifting along enjoying the stars overhead. This peace is nice and I was ready for it. I like the dark and the quiet. I like the silent swirl of stars and the deep impression of the Milky Way. It's time for me to get on back to where I belong... With my head in the stars and my feet on the ground.
As I realize my calling, I also realize something else rather incredible is going on. Unless I'm dying, there's a white spire appearing over the top of the big maple tree and the northeast looks decidedly red. Swimming to the edge, I put on my glasses and blow out my candle... Quietly waiting for dark adaption to deepen. It isn't my imagination...
Aurora has softly come to visit.
"As I sit here... And slowly close my eyes... I take another deep breath... And feel the wind pass through my body."