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June 2007

June 29/30, 2007 - Blue Moon Illusion...

Comments: Oh, yeah. I'm still here. The weather has been awfully hot so a lot of time has been spent in the swimming pool admiring our hazy skies and appreciating the much needed rain. Summer is in full bloom!

And so is the Moon...

Hazy skies mean incredible sunsets here in Ohio and one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen was watching the Blue Moon rise opposite of it. Of course, it's only an illusion that it looks incredibly huge tucked inside the wispy clouds - but it's so poigniant that I had to try capturing it with my camera. Of course, being on film only drives home the fact that the effect is purely optical and I was pleased as punch when my friend Joe sent me this image. It seems someone else had noticed what was going on as well! You can see where the Moon is first rising against the trees in the clouds (which is eeriely similar to my own backyard!) that it's yellowish... But what you can also see is that it doesn't change size as it continues to rise. Well, there's proof positive. It is an illusion.

But what a cool thing it is!

"Sad eyes follow me. But I still belive there's something left for me. So please come stay with me. Cause I still believe there's something left for you and me. For you and me. For you and me...

Hold me now. I'm six feet from the edge and I'm thinking... Maybe six feet ain't so far down...."

June 22, 2007 - A Swimming Moon...

Comments: You know what? It's time to relax. I've been burning the candle and both ends for a long time now, and it's been awhile since I've just stopped. So much has happened over the last few weeks. There's been program after program... We at the Observatory have gotten our grant for the portable planetarium, I've been to Apollo Rendezvous, I won an astronomy acheivement award, I got a contract on another book and I even won a scholarship to attend "Cosmos in the Classroom"!

It's been very busy...

As always, I love to swim at night and there is a wonderful, tranquil beauty about seeing the first quarter Moon, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter reflecting on the surface of the pool. The water is very warm and peaceful and as I move about the solar system is shattered into a thousand members all riding on the waves. Together?

We are one.

"And with it, let me say... Let me say... Hold me now. I'm six feet from the edge and I'm thinkin'... Maybe six feet... Ain't so far down."

June 20, 2007 - The Moon, the Shuttle and the ISS...

Comments: Yeah. I was out looking at the Moon. I take peace in that orb of arid rock that's a quarter of a million miles away. There's just something very nice about spending a warm summer evening wandering around Posidonius or tracing the Serpentine Ridge. I fancy things like the Altai Scarp and the sharp features of Piccollomini.

And I knew what was coming.

At 10:53 pm ESDT the Shuttle and the ISS made one of the most impressive passes I've seen in a long time. They were separated by perhaps 20 degrees and so bright that I am ashamed that I did not take my camera with me and at least try. They sailed stately over the Moon and quietly dimmed to nothing as they passed on by Spica and drifted on into the night terminator...

It was really incredible.

"I cried out, Heaven save me... But I'm down to one last breath..."

June 17/18, 2007 - At the Observatory: Church Camp...

Comments: More programs? You betcha'! If there's any way possible that I can do a program for someone, I will in a heartbeat. After all, that's what astronomy is about!

Once again, this is one of the many LARGE groups of campers that spend around a week at a time at Hidden Hollow. I really love having the kids there because it helps me to develop outreach programs... to understand who and what is entertaining... and how to better for the future. Although you only see a handful of them here? They were everywhere!

As it is with large groups, it's best to break them into smaller portions because 200 kids and adults all at once is just really a lot to handle. Barb and Ken and here to help and Joe is happy on the lift at the big scope. They get their Night Sky Network training, the get our own personal touches and... They have one heck of a good time! Although the counsellors will say it was the combination of Mt. Dew and chocolate from the Snack Shack, it's just good old fashioned youth and the need to be exuberant. Noisy? Sure. Rowdy? Of course. Polite? Not always. But what the hell... Neither am I, eh? Giggle... You give it out to me and I'll dish it back. ;)

All in all the kids had a wonderful time and so did we. It's always a pleasure to have company here at the Observatory and in the very near future - thanks to the generousity of the Rupp Family - we will also have an AstroLab Planetarium! That is just going to be awesome for cloudy nights and school events...

Life? Is good.

"Somewhere in His grace..."

June 14-16, 2007 - Apollo Rendezvous...

Comments: It's that time of year again! And what a great pleasure to travel southward to visit with my good friends at the MVAS and their Apollo Rendevous Convention at Boonshoft Museum.

Of course, the first order of business was to find and share a motel room with my friends from WRO and to meet Terry for dinner. Afterwards, it's off to the museum to look around, enjoy the vendors and talk with friends both old and new. Give me a few more years and I will know everyone's name by heart! I definately know them all by sight, eh? It was a great time and as always, there are a couple of very special friends who'd I'd spend a considerable portion of my life with if we lived just a bit closer.

Needless to say, we closed the place down.

Of course, the next day dawned hotter than Hades and I was off far earlier than my commrades to attend the Great Lakes Region AlCor Meeting. I take my role in the Astronomical League quite seriously and even though I can't always afford to travel to everything, am glad to go where I can. As we slip out the side door for a moment, we meet up with a wonderful gentleman with a very special talent. He makes incredible use of the Sun to - as he says - "Burn people up!" It was truly my honor to have him create one of his own personal stylings on my behalf.

Despite the day's heat, everyone still had a wonderful time and I can't tell you how good it is to see so many people that I've know for a long time. I guess you have to understand this hobby of astronomy to realize you might only see this person or that one for 2 or 3 days a couple of times a year, but you get close. You know? I've watched some people's kids grow up and seen others evolve. I look at all the wonderful smiles and hear the laughter and I think of what great pleasure it's give me over the years to know these guys. Heck, I've even gotten to the point where I know who's there by what scope I see.

Go, Bowl!

So, do I show you this or don't I? I guess there's a lot of complex personal issues to deal with here. When I first started this crazy astro-diary it was only meant for me because it's one heck of a lot easier to type than it is to write by hand. Over what... the last six years? It's evolved, just as I have. There's a handful of you out there who read it and all I can say is "May the stars shine on you." It's somehow important to know that someone somewhere listens to what you've got to say... So I guess in a way I should share what came next.

I had met and spent quite a long time talking to the key note speaker because I did several articles on the Deep Impact Mission and was just plain interested. I like planetarium programs especially, so when it came time for these last two things I was the first in my seat in the dark. It had been a very hot day and it was just good to sink down in the reclining seat, let the stars sweep me away and listen to "How We Hit That Sucker." When it was all over, it was time to announce the winners of their contests and the prize raffle drawing. What I was totally unprepared for was about to come my way.

Ron Whitehead was speaking. If you don't know him, he's the chairperson over this whole astronomical region and one heck of a nice guy. He was talking about some type of award and I was really only half listening at first. I had a pretty good feeling that Terry was up for an award because her family was here and I was proud to be there to see it. The first few sentences fit right in... And then I realized he was talking about me.

I wanted to cry and hide.

Cry? Yes. Cry. I've never been so honored in my life. Hide? Yes. Hide. The last year of heavy medications have also made me heavier than I have ever been in my life and I am extremely self-conscious being in front of people. So, I wiped my eyes. Stood my butt up and with face flaming walked up front with my unbrushed hair and told the whole world how much that award meant to me. It was for both profession and personal achievement in astronomy. Cameras flashed, handshakes and hugs came out of everywhere and I don't know of a soul who didn't congratulate me. You know what? Yeah. I'm proud. But in very real sense I am also embarrassed. It was never my intention to be set above anyone.

I just want to be part of you...

"I'm looking down... Now that it's over. Reflecting on all of my mistakes. I thought I found the road to somewhere..."

June 11, 2007 - At the Observatory: Church Camp...

Comments: Am I crazy? Yeah. You'll never know all the things that are going on right now and the pressure that is building. I am currently working on two manuscripts, doing the final cuts on the book that will be out at the beginning of October, administering to the AL website, coordinating the events for Hidden Hollow, writing reports for NSN, trying to draw everything together for the Rupp Family visit on Wednesday, getting ready for Apollo Rendezvous this weekend...

And coughing my guts out.

The call came on Sunday to come and give a program to 60ish campers at Hidden Hollow. The sky isn't the best I've ever seen and if you saw me? I ain't the best you've ever seen. Not made it much further than the couch with a blanket. Thank heavens Joe said he would help and we moved it ahead to tonight. I cannot thank our members enough as well for running with the ball and helping to get the Observatory cleaned up for the visit and to Barb and Ken for also volunteering to be here tonight to help as well. I feel like the Pantera album... Far Beyond Driven.

Do I push myself too hard? Maybe. All I know is that I truly love what I do and when you see happy faces like this and have them in front of you the last thing you're thinking about is your spine screaming and feeling miserable. Who knows when the dirt nap is coming for me? All I know is that for as long as I can dance... I'm dancing. Everything over here looks fantastic and ready to go for our visit. The skies are superb tonight and it's so very, very easy to see everything that it's actually relaxing to be out here!

There were lots of 'em. Crowding the door to the dome, wandering around on the observing platform, asking questions, looking through binoculars and enjoying the groundscopes, too. It makes me feel good when teenagers take a real interest in what you've got to say and think what you're doing is the cat's pyjamas. By the time they left, I was plenty tired. Prolly' wheezing like an old set of bagpipes, but still happy. I sneak the 12.5 off for a walk through Sagittarius and that always brings a smile to me. Can't help but wonder if that old bloke still has a few feelings left on the wind, eh?

I do.

"That maybe six feet... Ain't so far down."

June 9, 2007 - At Camp Avery Hand: Field Competition and Exams...

Comments: 08:00, Sir. I am here and ready to spend the day with the troops. This is the day of their field competitions and exams on everything they've learned. The object of today is the all the troops are divided into teams. They are given maps, turned loose in various areas of the camp, and they then must navigate to all the different "stations" in the camp where they are given both a practical and written exam on everything they've learned at this training exercise.

I am event "Charlie".

Armed with my military radio, stop watch, exams, notebooks, folders, score cards, brief case and ever present thermos of coffee I am given a very comfortable shaded porch on which to sit at a picnic table and await my teams. The weather is extremely pleasant and I have worn all of my astronomy "medals" on my suit... I try to be intimidating. But I just can't be.

I watch them come up over the fields, sometimes double-timing it... Other times at a stately walk. They salute when they arrive and I call in their times, hand them their tests and start the stop watch. As they answer the questions, I watch them. I made the test - but I didn't make it easy. If you were paying attention... You'd score high. As luck would have it, not only were they paying attention, but they were paying a whole lot of attention. Group after group commented on how beautiful the skies were last night and how much they enjoyed putting what they had learned into use! Oh, man... If you can get them to look up?

You've done your job.

Out of all the groups I had, the lowest score was a 90%. The fastest time for completion of both halves of the exam was under 2 and a half minutes. You know, they really were listening! And that's a good thing. As each would complete it, I would grade it, mark their score cards, call in their times and wish them luck. They got a whole lot of ground to cover in just one day. Not all of them will make it...

But 95% of my pupils had a perfect score.

At several points in the day, various Colonels came to visit, along with Master Sargents, Majors and even a One Star General. Let's just say I was very honored when the General sat down to take the exam and watch him raise his eyebrows when he realized that even he was capable of making some very common night sky mistakes. It wasn't very hard to use a pen and draw a few diagrams to set things to rights and it pleased me to no end that I was truly of service.

To the service!

At 18:30 I turned in my exams, results and honors the the Command Post and headed out. It had really been a grand day and all I wanted now was just a couple of hamburgers on the grill and some cold beer to wash it down with. The night turned exceptional again, but I'm just too dog tired to do anything more than sit here on the deck...

And count shooting stars.

"I'm six feet from the edge and I'm thinking..."

June 8, 2007 - The Arietid Meteor Shower, M104, The Field of Dreams and Omega Centauri....

Comments: What a frandamtastic night! Oh my sweet stars... Where were you last night when we could have blown away the troops with your perfection?

And me dog tired...

At first, the only intention I had was just sitting down in a lawn chair and watching the Arietids. And I did. The problem was, the more I did, the more clear the skies became and when I started seeing stars down less than 10 degrees off the southern horizon I knew I had to let the big dob out for awhile. Of course, I should be working on finishing up the Herschel 400, but cha' know what? Right now I don't even have time to log the things correctly and have perhaps 5 Astro League Observing Club things done that I haven't even turned in because I just never seem to have time.

But I'm making time for the stars...

A big deal? No. Just a little hop over to the Sombrero to drool and then to the spectacular low power field around the M84/86 area because it still makes me laugh and clap my hands like a little kid when I find it. And even though it doesn't look like anything but a round contrast change, I did Omega Centauri...

Just because I can.

"Hold me now..."

June 7, 2007 - At Camp Avery Hand: Ohio Military Police - Night Sky Navigation....

Comments: What's that then? Yeah. The same day I got back from the Lakes. Fortunately this time I did have clean clothes. ;)

Before you start asking yourself if a blonde astronomer is qualified to teach night sky navigation to the military... The answer is yes. Who can communicate how the sky moves, which stars to look for, how to understand the angles of the Earth and sky, the ecliptic plane and the phases of the Moon better than an astronomer? And if you wanna' catch the attention of 200 soldiers...

You better not be Ben Stein.

Almost a year ago, one of the Colonel's had contacted me about giving the program and we'd had many interviews with each other to assure them of my qualifications. As weird as it may sound, I can also create a rough sextant out of common trash and things you might find in the woods - but I'd go way over their heads trying to teach them that. As you can see, there's a very nice gathering here and this is just a small section of the room. As my presentation went on, more and more entered and the sea of faces became pretty blurred. It doesn't matter to me one bit, because all I need is one or two interested faces in the crowd to talk to and I'm on a roll.

That afternoon before leaving, I sat down at the computer and threw together a fast slide show that helped to illustrate the points I was trying to make. Thanks to Joe and his very portable computer, he was also there to help and to give a practical demonstration using a planetarium program as well. Of course, no one escapes without a little fun and once you get a group laughing?

You've got a group learning.

Afterwards, we went outside to practice what I had just preached to a rather fuzzy sky. Once again, thanks to Joe who brought his very fine Celestron telescope and had set it up so some could snatch a look at the planets or an object. As for me? Surrounded by troops and fending them off with my laser pointer. We retreated to the darkest area possible and began honestly watching other stars besides Polaris and it really didn't take very long until they were catching on as to how the sky moved and using their planospheres to help identify the constellations. As it sometimes happens with almost all group activities we give, the time just slips away while everyone was having a good time and finally the Master Sargent herded them away for taps - even though we weren't ready to quit yet.

Let's hope they were listening to what we had to say...

"And with it let me say... Let me say..."

June 4-7, 2007 - At the Lakes...

Comments: And so I ran. After three straight days of programs I was beginning to feel kinda' bad and I knew I was pushing my luck. I had planned on making a mid-week trip to my parent's place at Lake Erie, but a check of my e.mail soon showed me that more things that I can handle all at once are coming up - including my promised get-away. Answer?

Get away...

Nope. I forgot my camera. What I didn't forget, I bought when I got there and ta' heck with the rest. It was the first time in my life I had simply thrown whatever clothes were laying around in a suitcase, dumped my drug basket in whole, went to the bank and split without a shower. You know what? It felt good. It didn't matter if half those clothes were dirty (ok... almost all of them were, including what i was wearing) because there is a washing machine there. I really didn't care if my hair could have used washed because I really didn't plan on going in anywhere.

And it didn't matter one bit that it was storming.

I don't know what it is. Maybe it's high pollen count, maybe it's allergies, maybe it's asthma, maybe it's the smoking, or maybe it's just the damn disease giving me a royal tweak - whatever it is, my spine has been killing me and if I could quit coughling long enough I might even worry about it. Right now, the only thing I'm worried about is taking a long nap, getting cleaned up, breathing fresh air off the Lake and sitting in a restaurant with an incredible view and drinking over-priced import beer and long absent from my diet beef.

While my health didn't improve that much, it was still good for me to sit on the rocks at the Marblehead Lighthouse and watch the crystal blue water slap the rocks. It was good to see the Islands on the horizon and watch the barges laden with huge blocks of granite and gravel being pushed along by the tug boats. It was good to see Johnson's Island and walk amoungst the Confederate gravestones and stop to remember the Unknown. It was worth every second away to see the gulls wheeling on the wind, the blue heron and the cranes. It was good to drive... It was good to be away.

It was good to sleep.

"And I'm trying to escape... I yelled back when I heard thunder. But I'm down to one last breath..."

June 3, 2007 - At Mohican State Park: Senior Nature Group...

Comments: Another wonderful opportunity has presented itself and it is my great pleasure to travel to Camp O-Wah-See-Kah and visit with a very lively group of senior citizens to give an astronomy program!

Unfortunately, I did take the camera with me, but committed the ultimate sin of not taking spare batteries or I'd be able to show you these great folks. While I thought our visit would be brief, I found out in a big hurry these folks were not only very sharp but very interested in what I had to say and we kept very happily busy for almost three hours!

Retirement rocks...

"It seems I found the road to nowhere..."

June 2, 2007 - At the Observatory: Public Night...

Comments: Oh, sure! It's public night at the Observatory and what's the weather like? You got it... Totally cloudy.

Despite the weather it was still a wonderful opportunity to visit with friends and club members and to plan for the future. On a happy note, while we were standing outside trying to wish the clouds away one of the young men who had visited with us earlier in the year stopped by to speak. Unfortunately, we weren't able to grant his wish by showing him something in the big telescope, but it certainly was nice that he remembered our public night dates and was kind enough to at least stop by!

Let's hope the future holds clearer skies...

"I'm holding on to all I think is safe..."

June 1, 2007 - At the Observatory: Girl Scouts...

Comments: Ah, yes! You'd be right to have surmised that I've been very busy and that's why my reports are a bit behind, eh? Ah, well... It's time to catch up!

As fate would have it, a girl scout troop which had visiting with us once before, tried during the winter months and at last had a warm clear night to attend was about to visit! I think we all very much enjoy the young'uns and it was a real pleasure to have these lively girls and their families with us for the evening. As you can see, they had a great time with the NSN solar system and we had a terrific time on their visit.

We like to thank Lori Fanin and the girl scouts and families who joined us this evening and we look forward to watching them grow up over the coming years!

"Please come now I think I'm falling..."