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March 2007





March 30, 2007 - Asteroid VV2 2006

Comments: So today was D-Day. I went to my exam filled with confidence. I had studied. I had learned. I was ready. I sat down at my terminal with my test booklet and when the instructor called "Time." I opened it up and began.

Began sweating...

Every so often the instructor would call out how many minutes were left in this portion of the test and I felt so useless. I saw myself with 2/3 of the book left and 2/3 of the time gone. Then something opened up and I made it almost to the very end... The last problem... And I did not know the answer. I tried everything to coax the solution from my brain, and I hate to disappoint you, but it just wasn't there. In the final minute, I handed in my test and apologized to the instructor. No matter if I had 7 more hours, it wouldn't have made any difference.

The second half of the test loomed large. It was also timed... But my kidneys had timed out. I excused myself to use the restroom and promptly shut my middle finger in the door. White hot pain screamed in my brain, but I at least had the class to pretend I didn't feel it. By the time I made it to the restroom, I could see again... Well enough to see that it had turned the most charming shade of purple.

When I got back to the testing area I opened my book and everything I had studied came pouring out of my brain. I had to smile a little inside as I ticked off the answers quickly and did my configurations without the use of a calculator. I could see the young'uns on either side of me struggling even with the use of that little piece of electronic magic. My word! Haven't they ever balanced a checkbook?! What we have here is simple algebra.. roman numerals... metric measurements! I finished the test with total confidence in one third the time allotted. I'd celebrate, my friend.... But the kid here struck out the first time at bat and getting a home run now isn't going to pull my average up that much.

But, I can always hope.

Dwell on failing? Nah. I'm not even sure I did and even if I did it wouldn't matter. I am not failure in life and if I have to take the test again I won't fail a second time. I've got something bigger and better in mind...

And this I know I can do!

I had received an astro alert about the latest near-earth asteroid and I haven't watched a flyby since NY2003. Armed with my charts, I went out with the big dob as soon as the skies got dark enough and went about searching for the right area. With the Moon so close to the target area, it's a tough call. You simply can't find the right stars with so much sky bright, but where there is a will, there's a way. I started at Gamma Leonis and hopped north until I positively identified Beta Leo Minor. From there, a shift back southwest for 25 and 29 LMi. Further south, the unmistakable diamond pattern of 27, 28 and 30 crowned by an apparent double. Bingo. Perfect field.

Ultrawide eyepiece, low power, keep 30 to the west of the eyepiece field. Shift south to 33 LMi and drop about a degree further south for an 8/9 magnitude apparent triple system, narrow the FOV a bit and wait. I might not be able to use the (&(*#^@^!! programs on the blank keyed test computer, but I by-howdy know how to use Megastar and at magnitude 10, VV2 2006 is gonna' outshine all but 4 stars in this field. And, I didn't have long to wait!! Along about 9:30 she came a'waltzin' in from the north. By this time, a light haze had developed and with the moonlight this left the fainter stars in the dust. I had to laugh, because I watched that tiny fleck of light asteroid sail right by the eastern edge of my northern markers and within 30 minutes had caught up with the western side of my southern marker star.

I can still do some things very right.

"And she'll say to him... Just saying... I would fly to the moon and back if you'll be... If youll be my baby. Got a ticket for a world where we belong. So would you be my baby? I would fly to the moon and back if you'll be... If you'll be my baby. Got a ticket for a world where we belong. So would you be my baby?"



March 29, 2007 - The Sun and the Moon....

Comments: Yeah. I'm still here. A bit strung out because I've devoted every moment of my free time to studying for my Tech II exams. I'm really beginning to believe that no matter what "Myth Busters" says, you really can't teach an old dog new tricks. I've crammed my head with so much so quickly that I'm not even sure if I'm studying the right things or not. I see prescriptions in my sleep and numbers dance... Simple proceedures escape my mind when I need them most.

I'm burnt out.

And to me? The best way to relax is to practice a little astronomy. When I got home from my classes in Columbus today, I decided to just not even go inside until I had looked at the glorious Sun! Guess what? The jokes on me because there ain't no sunspots, boys.

Later in the evening, I crammed for my tests again... Drilling myself over and over. When it got to the point where I wasn't retaining anything, just mindlessly going over words, I decided to go out and have a look at the Moon.

Aaaaaah.... There's no place like the Bay of Rainbows when you're tired and your mind is hungry for anything else. The wonderful detail around Copernicus delights the tired mind... and I find a certain solace in picking around the Apollo 14 landing area and just thinking about anything else besides computer functions, numbers, sigs and equations. Why can I remember crater names - but not a three-letter code? Why can I read a star chart... But can't decipher a simple entry? I can't get it out of my head. And chances are... When I need to... I'll fail. Fear of failure...

And so I think about the Moon and nothing else. It took billions of years for it to become what it is. It took half a century for me to become what I am. So what if it takes me a little bit longer to learn something than someone 30 years my junior? For what it's worth...

They can outrun me, too.

"They say that no man ever loved her much and old friends never keep in touch... That's why she shies away from human affection. But somewhere in a private place... She packs her bags for outer space. And now she's waiting for the right kind of pilot to come."



March 21, 2007 - The Moon and Venus...

Comments: Warm! Oh, so warm... It feels so good to go outdoors without a coat again! Of course, those mild temperatures also mean the sky is hazy beyond belief... But won't you sit outside with me for awhile?

Despite the haze, there is a lovely crescent Moon out, filled with earthshine and being lead across the sky by Venus. The bright planet shines like a pearl through the veil of clouds and runs ahead of La Lune by around 10 degrees. What a wonderful sight it is to see them as they head west! They drop as precisely into the horizon as coins into a slot... First Venus like a shiny dime...

And then the Moon.

As it slides further down the horizon, it turns orange and the earthshine glows like a halo. I watch as it heads into the trees and I think of how picturesque it looks. Far too often, I just don't take the time to play with the technology at my disposal... So while I'm thinking it is a scene beautiufl enough to be a painting... I make it so. It is crude. Unworthy of being a astrophoto. But it depicts that wonderful Moon hiding in the budding trees.

And so I sit. Contented on the porch steps watching the Moon sink lower and lower. All around me, the world is waking up again. The peepers - those noble amphibians - are singing and the wind carries the scent of greening grass and wet earth. A rabbit darts from under one of the pine trees and strikes a pose in the gentle light, standing upright with ears alert. The classic "chocolate rabbit" pose. I half expect him to pull a watch from his pocket and loudly exclaim, "I am late!" Yes, the scene reminds me of Lewis Carroll's "Alice In Wonderland", for that slice of Moon looks all for the world like the grin of the cheshire cat... Fading slowly... Oh, so slowly...

Until at last it is gone.

"What a pleasant dream. Just saying... I would fly to the moon and back if... You'll be... If you'll be my baby. Got a ticket for a world where we belong. So, would you be my baby?"



March 20, 2007 - The Hyades and NGC 2420...

Comments: Another fuzzy night here in Ohio. Visibilty isn't that great, but not so bad in some spots that I can't do some study with the big scope. Time to let the dobs out...

My first aim was - of all things - the Hyades. Far too large to even begin to fit into the widefield 32mm, I know you're saying... "Why the Hyades?" Well, first off probably because it's the closest daggone open cluster to our own solar system and second? I don't ever really remember taking the time to serious study it! If you want to get a rush, stop and really look at the twin Thetas. They're almost spot on the same magnitude, but they aren't part of the same group. You see, the whole Hyades cluster is moving towards a point over there near Betelguese, but the Theta to the north isn't. It's sorta' like Aldebaran.... It has it's own agenda to follow.

If you look around in the Hyades system, you're going to find it's a whole lot like the Beehive, only the stars are for the most part brighter. There's enough doubles in there to keep the high power guys happy all night and enough different spectral types to keep the color weirdos like me happy. The Hyades is a real study in differently evolved stars and the really cool part is our great, great, great grandchildren aren't going to see it in the same part of the sky as we do now.

The next stop was on to Gemini and the NGC 2420. Very visible in low power as a nice, rich concentration of stars, this one is worth the switch back to the 1.25 eyepieces to slam a little more magnifcation on it. At high power, it resolves right out and looks all for the world like a class X globular cluster... But is it? As you can tell from the delay in the reports, I wanted to know.

So I studied....

Chances are, NGC 2420 really was a globular cluster at some time. As far as its position goes, it's way out of our galactic halo and it had to have met up with a really bad encounter with a molecular cloud or something to have flung it that far away. But, that doesn't account for it stellar evolution. Being flung around in our own galaxy would have been one thing... But globular cluster stars are all about the same age and it doesn't take a whole lot of eyeballs to see there's some different spectral types here. The most recent studies show that maybe it really was a globular cluster... But not one of ours. Somewhere along the line the Milky Way might have snacked up on a smaller galaxy and this one just didn't quite digest as fast. As theories go, I think that one is pretty good. It would account for the shredded appearance and having it's stars pulled apart would also account odd metallicity content which let some of the stars evolve more quickly than the others.

Of course, my next thought was to shoot out that other little globular cluster looking thing in M35, but again, the skies had other plans. Instead of having big, wide holes to look through, the gaps were narrowing fast and shutting things down again. But one thing is clear...

NGC 2420 was awesome!

"Send a signal that she's hanging... All her hopes on the stars."



March 18, 2007 - NGC 2362 and Collinder 140...



Comments: It's not an exceptionally clear night out. There's plenty of sky haze, but I've just got that wee itch to go out and do some observing work. Tonight's choice is the 12.5 Meade and some low southern objects.

The first is NGC 2362, better known as the Tau Canis Major grouping... Or the "Mexican Jumping Star". At low power (32mm), it's not the most outstanding I've ever seen, but when a moment of clarity comes to call, I can see why its cool! Tau Canis Majoris outshines the rest of the stars in the group, making it kinda' hard to see the fainter members... But take your time and really look. You'll find that Tau is surrounded by a halo of faint stars! It's an experience kinda' like looking a a very disparate double - only to find the double has about 8 components ringed round it like the face of a watch!

My next choice is Collinder 140 located about 5 degrees below Eta. By all accounts, this one should be visible as a hazy patch without any aid, but the slightly furry skies aren't letting that happen. It is, however, easily picked up in the finder and a stone, blow-you-away cluster in a wide field eyepiece. A handful of very bright stars are widely scattered with a backdrop of many fainter ones sprinkled in the loose and very large open cluster. Somewhat like the Plieades (but no blue and no nebulosity) this cluster is dominated by its brighter members, but contains so much more if you take the time to really study it. It fills the eyepiece (and more) with a real photon fix!

I was thinking about heading into Gemini from there, but I musta' waiting around too long before going out, because those old clouds are sure creeping right in. Of course, I have to give a cursory look to the M42 and M41 before I go. That's kinda' mandatory, you know?

It was fun while it lasted!

"So baby's gonna' take a dive and... Push the shift to overdrive."



March 17, 2007 - At Malabar Farms: Spectacular Skies!

Comments: Was it cold? Yep. Was it windy? Yep. Was it cloudy? Yep. Was it snowing? Yep. Did we call the public night off? Nope. Even though no public showed up, Robert, Greg, Dan, Stu, Al and myself did. We drove through spitting snow. We drove through clouds. We arrived at the top of a windy hill and every last one of us got out of our cars and began digging through our trunks for protective clothing. If anybody had arrived, we would have most certainly looked like a bunch of very strange people!

And I love them strangers...

Scopes were set up and turned towards a gibbous Venus as soon as it popped out of the sky. I have to thank Greg, because this is the first time in a long time that I've looked at Venus and I quite enjoyed it! As the skies darkened, the clouds began to depart and huge holes were left to shoot through. At one time, Greg and I stood discussing a weird glow cone that we could see to the northwest. I joked about it being the zodiacal light because it was so perfectly cone-shaped and we just chalked it up to some weird atmosphere and perhaps a light source we didn't know about.

We moved about from scope to scope enjoying each other's company and the views. It was good to see standards like the M81, M82, M1, M35, M41, M47, M48, M93, M44, M67, M65, M66 and M42. We spit double stars and laughed over the fact that we were able to tug apart the trapezium with an 6" long focal length reflector. We looked through binoviewers, we enjoyed a Televue, and every last one of us was cold and didn't care!

After about 3 hours, I was beginning to really feel the bite. I knew my core temperature had dropped and despite excellent gear the ends of my toes and fingers had gone quite numb. For me? That's enough. I know that if I overdo it in the cold arena that I'll pay the price later, so I went to tell everyone good night and that's when we saw it...

Aurora.

There is no mistaking certain aurora signatures. Anything that looks like a giant spotlight turned towards the sky that fades in and out and has a nearby red glow... is... what it is. Robert immediately looked at his watch (he is a boyscout and better prepared) and logged 9:41 pm. As we looked at it, it went out just like someone flipped a switch... And then began fading in about 10 degrees further west. The whole northwest sky was glowing red right through the clouds. While Robert phoned his confirmation, I actually turned on my phone and gave another aurora viewing friend a buzz. In that split second, I also realized that I had the technology to have captured the moment - but like my cellphone - tend to take for granted. Where's that fancy new digital camera capable of taking timed exposures?

At home on my stupid desk.

Ah, well. On one hand I would actually like to take a picture of the aurora one of these days, but on the other I have an excellent mem... excelle... good... yeah... And I will remember for a good many years to come the night I froze on top the hill at Malabar watching the aurora with my friends.

I hope those a couple of hills away were doing the same thing!

"All her friends, they've been tried for treason... And crimes that were never defined. She's saying love is like a barren place... And reaching out for human faith is... Is like a journey I just don't have a map for."



March 10, 2007 - At the Observatory...

Comments: And a clear night for our activities! I felt badly because I was having some problems before I left (remind me just to not eat) and arrived kinda' on the late side, but everything turned out fine. I got to see the Sun set on the way over and watch Venus blaze out of the blue skies. Within minutes, I had the program set up and running and did some quick Night Sky Network stuff and ran through the GLOBE at Night Program. It was good to see guests at the Observatory and we had a group of around 40 all told.

By the time GLOBE was explained, it was more than dark enough to begin our observations and the folks caught on right away on what to look for and how to report it. How good it was to see so many members of AFY attending tonight! For what it's worth, they supported the GLOBE night better than our own club and we owe them a debt of gratitude. Telescopes were set up everywhere and the public really got a chance to do some observing! Bruce had the 31" ticking and some awesome views were had of the Eskimo nebula, Saturn, NGC 2397 and many other favourite galaxies. John had his binoculars and clever new mount aimed at the stars, Terry his new dob and Ken set up the Hardin.

Joe had brought a very impressive planetarium program that had folks buzzing and AFY members had the ground scopes covered with Stuart, Al, Joe, Aaron, Curt and Robert. I took out one of our dobs and had a young man shooting stars in nothing flat with the aid of a laser pointer. Dan had some very nice youth visitors and it was just really good to see some activity on a clear night! Me? Oh, when things tamed down I set my mind to hunting up 4/P Faye, but it's too dim to be seen with a 6" scope. No matter... I'm pretty good at the nickle tour, too... And it doesn't take very long to hop to the bright Messiers and enjoy!

Even with clear skies, it only took a few hours before the cold began to get to us all. It's getting warmer here in Ohio, but after about 3 1/2 hours your core temperature will drop to the point where it's time to stop. I noticed that even the drive back in a heated car wasn't enough to bring me back up to speed and even as nice as it was, it was time to hold out and warm up for awhile.

Well, the hours passed quickly and it wasn't long until I could see the Moon beginning to rise and knew we were in for an occultation event. Clear skies meant I was ready to go, so I started the coffee cooking and sat down to wait.... and I woke up when the Sun started shining. Somewhere along the line I had missed the time change and my body decided it was just time to shut down the circuits. Even though I wish I could have seen the occultation, it had been a great night out and I know being able to move the next day is also important, so I don't sweat the fact that I crashed out.

Sleep happens...

"If love was red, then she was colour blind..."



March 8, 2007 - Confirming Comet 4/P Faye...

Comments: Still chasing? You betcha'. Viewing a comet once is not enough! Tonight we've got very good skies with a decent 5.5 LM and 9/10 in steadiness. My scope of choice is the grand old Meade 12.5 and the 26mm study grade eyepiece.

Wanna' dance?

Tonight 4/P Faye shows movement in an easterly direction. It is next to (south of) a loose box asterism of brighter stars between 8th and 9th magnitude. Defocusing on the stars themselves shows them to be far brighter than Comet Faye and my guess of 11th magnitude is still pretty firm. Tonight it is diffuse and shows a slight brightening towards the interior, but no stellar point or appreciable nucleus. For now, I make a field sketch indicating star patterns and direction of movement and I will keep after it. (for those interested, i have all my sketches now on jpg and one day very soon i'll put them on-line with the comet hunter's gold certificate and reports.) Perhaps I can talk Bruce into setting the 31" on it Saturday night - but it's going to be tough because we'd have to cross the pier. While the "Big Blue Beast" is capable of viewing objects to the west, it is not comfortable - nor easy. No matter. Comets are my gig anyhow. ;)

Afterwards I took a little joyride up to open cluster NGC 1663 whose position isn't very far away from 4/P Faye. Just a nice little concentration of stars - something that only Herschel would write home about. Since I'm joyriding, it's also time to really have a look at the M1 this year. Gosh, I love it! As always, I am blown away by what the 12.5 can do on this object. It definately pulls out some distinct ribbands and filaments and the typical "living" presence I sense in supernova remnants. No. I'm not going to get back on my soapbox about "why" you can see/sense movement - I'll save that sezchuan for my books.

After that? Well, it was time to go and totally shatter M67. I remember being so exciting when I first found this one so many years ago, and I guess that feeling never faded. Yeah, it's really beautiful in a small telescope - almost galaxy-like. But when you put the awesome power of aperture behind it and send it into complete resolution?

It sure is something to see....

"She can't remember a time when she felt needed..."



March 7, 2007 - Comet 4/P Faye...

Comments: So, I've got dark skies at last... A whole dossier of things that I could look at.... A 12.5" very fine reflector... And what do I do?

Chase a comet.

Well, not just any comet, This is periodic comet Faye and right now it's in a prime position and very easy to find. Tonight it's located about 1/2 a degee east of 93 Taurii and that's a sweet and easy finderscope star south of Aldebaran. Right now 4/P Faye doesn't have any tail and it has a slightly brighter nucleus - but mainly looks like a diffuse, round area. A quick check of the neighborhood shows absolutely nothing even remotely close to it that my telescope is capable of. So... It's gotta' be it!

A quick spot check on the ol' M1 shows me that 4/P Faye is considerably dimmer. My next "close bet" was M95 and M96... And still they are marginally brighter. (it's really hard to compare a galaxy to a comet - especially when you have to go off the comet to hunt the galaxy and then hunt the comet again!) Despite my fumbling around in the dark, I would judge 4/P Faye to be a little fainter than magnitude 11. It's just good to see it!

And be chasing again...

"And she'll say to him... She's saying... I would fly to the moon and back if you'll be... If you'll be my baby. Got a ticket for a world where we belong. So, would you be my baby?"



March 5, 2007 - Just Hind's Crimson Star...

Comments: I was in one of those strange kind of moods tonight. Once upon a time I used to look at the stars - not much caring about what they were or how far away they might be. I liked them because they were pretty. But having an attitude like that is kinda' like looking at a leaf and not noticing there's a whole tree there.

Tonight I chose Hind's Crimson Star. It's real name is R Leporis and it's perhaps one of the most dandy carbon stars on the celestial block. I'd been thinking an awful lot about it since a friend of mine, John Chumack, sent me this image:



You know, it was discovered in 1845 and it was one of the first long-term pulsing red variables on record. Right now my guess is that it's close to minima because it can't be seen unaided and it's around a magnitude 8. For that reason, it doesn't give a spurious look in the eyepiece and it just sits in the sky glowing like a red gem. I know it's around 1500 light years away - maybe as much as 2000 - and it slipping slowly away from us around 20 miles for every second I look at it.

As I dream, I know R Leporis is smoking up its photosphere with carbon, like an old hurricane lamp will smoke up the glass when the wick is too high. I also know that one day soon it will go critical and all that carbon will just slough itself off and R Leporis will zoom up a hundred times brighter than it is tonight. All of these things I know... Yet when I look at it? All I can think of...

Is how beautiful it is.

"They're saying no man ever loved her much, and old friends never keep in touch. That's why she shies away from human affection.

But somewhere in a private place, she packs her bags for outer space... And now shes waiting for the right kind of pilot to come."



March 3, 2007 - At The Observatory: Eclipse Night!

Comments: Eclipse? What eclipse? The only eclipse we got here in Ohio was the Moon being eclipsed by the clouds!! But, it really doesn't matter because we had a fantastic turn-out at the Observatory for our opening Public Night.

For a change there were so many people there tonight that it was hard to keep track of just how many. Over a four hour period we were treated to at least 90 visitiors and although it was totally cloudy, snowing, below freezing and a wind that would cut to the bone - we all had a great time! We gave our program several times of the hours because the people came in spurts, but it didn't matter one bit. Here you can see Robert doing a small presentation on why Venus and Mercury seem to go through "phases" and I did a program on the mechanics of eclipses - with emphasis on tonight's total... total...

Yeah.

Ken also gave a program on Saturn and a brief showing of the eclipse that turned out very, very well. The dome was full of people all evening and it was great to make them laugh and enjoy their visit. Dan would spin the dome and John N. would give rides in the lift and talk about the telescope. Me? I'm always making jokes and keeping folks both entertained and learning. I am so proud of everyone and the things we are accomplishing!

Although it was fairly an early evening, I had trouble winding down after I got back. Guess the cold and I don't get along too well, even though I don't much feel it until later. Of course, in the process of trying to settle down, wouldn't you know the Moon would make a grand appearance? I had to laugh when I let the dogs out and saw it peeking in and out between the clouds. A little late, aren't you, old friend?

Ah, well. Even though I didn't get to see it first hand, it was still wonderful to know that somewhere out there in space it really was happening. It's that way with the sky. You never hope for anything and just enjoy what you can get while you can get it.

So goes life, huh?

"Guess she knows from the smile and the look in their eyes... Everyone's got a theory about the crazy one."



March 2, 2007 - What a Moon!

Comments: Of all the nights in the world for it to be clear, why does it have to be tonight? Tomorrow we're expecting a total lunar eclipse and all I can do is hold my breath and hope the skies are even half as clear as they are tonight.

And then I notice Saturn...

Geez! Of all the people in the world who should know what's going on in the sky - why didn't I remember this close conjunction?! No matter. I am here now to enjoy it hanging near the limb of the Moon and shining like a grey pearl.

I hope you were looking, too...

"She's taking her time making up the reasons... To justify all the hurt inside."