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May 2007

May 29, 2007 - Hazed and Confused...

Comments: Did ya" figure I was lost? Nah. I understand. I'm only another voice in the night... Words on a screen. I'm here.

But even I'm not sure where I'm at.

Right after I got back from Indiana, I got slammed with a huge job - the revisions, proofread and corrections for the latest book. Wanna' take a peek? Then look here. You know, all in all it wasn't so bad reading it back over and spotting where a caption didn't match a picture or where something needed changed. That wasn't bad... It was a two-day ride, but not bad. What really hurt was when they told me they'd like an index!

Now, folks... I might be technically dumb, but I'm not stupid. I know there's programs on the computer which creates an index, but what it does with 700 pages of text isn't acceptable by anyone's standards. Yeah. Their advertising blurb says 200 some pages, but even they couldn't shut me up! Fortunately... They didn't want to. Do you know how many times I said "Herscel" or "Messier"? Can you imagine the references to a binary or variable star? How about star hop instructions that use the same stars over a period of a year?

Aaaaaah. You're getting the picture.

So, I set up to write a comprehensiive index. One that could be used - not just a computer generated reference to words. That means writing it... and then globally searching the entire document for each place I referenced it and then choosing whether or not it was relevant. That, my friends, was a four day, 16-hour a day job. We aren't talking about... Oh, I'll do it here or there. We're talking about carry my food to the desk and eating between each "hit" on the search. We're talking about four different chairs, multiple pillows, fans to cool my small office, overflowing ashtrays and enough coffee to revive King Tut. We're talking about rolling on the floor praying for my back to crack and popping pills to keep the muscle spasms down.

And then we're talking glossary.

I was kind. I didn't use all my astronomy slang like "fubar" or "TFC". I was polite and scientific just they way they wanted me to be. And somewhere along the line around 11:00 or 11:30 each night I'd walk outside, splatter on a deck chair and stare up at the sky.

Hazed and confused...

I'd do stupid things like watch Venus set or Jupiter rise. I'd stare at the Moon and sing songs. I'd go out at 4 in the morning because I couldn't stand to lay down and marvel at how Sagittarius is high in the south already. I go out before dawn before I sat down in the dreaded chair and water my garden and talk to my aspen tree and wonder where all the daze just went.

Am I complaining? No way. It's one of the biggest honours I've ever had in my life to be recognized by the Sir Patrick Moore series and the only thing I've been missing is a little moonshine. Last time I checked Plato, Copernicus, Gassendi and Grimaldi will still be there when I get back.

Last time I checked...

"Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting. Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear. Here comes the sun, here comes the sun...

And I say it's all right. It's all right...."

May 19, 2007 - The Moon and Venus...

Comments: Well! Where the heck is the promised rain, eh? I was all set to go to the public night tonight at Malabar Farms, but the weather report spells out clouds and rain. As always, I check email before heading out on a trip and the public night was called.

Clear sky clocks lie, Stuart.

Although I am only teasing, it really did clear off after the Sun set and it's a shame we didn't get together and enjoy what turned out to be a very beautiful night. Even a blind person would have had a hard time ignoring the breathtaking sky scenery!

Venus and the Moon...

"Sun, sun, sun, here it comes... Sun, sun, sun, here it comes... "

May 15 - 18, 2007 - Indiana Retreat...

Comments: As you may have guessed from my absence... Well, I've been absent. AWOL, sir. And proud of it! It was the time of year for me to take a road trip and join my good friend and editor and our log cabin retreat. Time to celebrate all the hard work we've put into this last year's two books, to take a look a future books and to generally just actually talk to one another instead of communicating through email.

As you can see, this might be rural but the luxury is very real. The moment you unpack your bags you can feel yourself beginning to unwind. The quiet woods, the peaceful water, the sunshine and the birds... All of it makes for an incredibly relaxing environment where no detail is left undone and no extras left unappreciated. The weather is cool - yet warm - the woods are green and the pleasure of my friend's company is very real.

It is hard to express how beautifully laid out these cabins are. Even photographs do not do them full justice! A far cry from a motel room is a cozy, warm, inviting home that is amply large enough to provide for personal privacy and yet together enough that you truly are spending time with a valued friend. I think when a lot of people read these reports or read my books that they truly don't have a grasp of the kind of time and energy that goes into them. Sure, I type at the speed of the wind... But I can't type at the speed of the mind. I can have an idea or a vision, but it doesn't just pop up into the pages without one heck of a lot of help!

Therefore, it is very important to at least take one time a year to turn off all the busy circuits and make each other understand how very much we appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to make things work. Just one look around this great cabin is inspiration for that very thought... For a lot of hard work and dedication went into making this place of retreat what it is. Although the first night was cloudy and rainy, it really didn't matter at all. I don't think we would have looked at the stars anyhow... It's just so great to see each other in person again!

By late the next afternoon, the Sun was out and shining. Sitting on the floor beside the bookshelf was a wonderful Coronado solar scope and I have never had a chance to use one with my own two hands. Even though the mount I had brought with me was incorrect for the scope, I make my livin' off makin' do and a few technical adjustments here and there was all it took to have it secure and ready to aim at the Sun. While my friend was napping (woods have a way of doing that to you), I took it out and aimed it. It ain't easy with the wrong mount because the shadow aim won't work, but hey... We're talking about the daggone Sun! Sooner or later I'm going to hit it... Fortunately, it was sooner than later and I'm sure I made enough noise to wake the dead. We both enjoyed the h-alpha treat!

Next up? A trip into town and a chance to walk the beautiful old campus. I have pictures galore and was just exceeding happy to see the stomping grounds of a treasured friend. One of the best parts about our walk was an interior park with brick pathways... and a hidden treasure. Deep inside the leafy green-ness was Kirkwood Observatory! What a magnificent old facility... I truly have a soft spot for antiques and timeless things... and Kirkwood fills the bill. Even with my limited imagination, I can easily picture young astrophysics students rushing from their stately classrooms to spend the night viewing. This grand old place still holds public programs!

After a sumptuous dinner of Indian cuisine, we retired back to our own woodlands to rest and wait for the dark to fall. It's time to go observing! Of course, I always forget something important and this time it was my starcharts. Thanks to a few quick phone calls to Dave and to Joe for pinpointing it, I had the instructions for Comet Lovejoy and was ready to head out to an open field away from the woods. After having toyed with the Sun today, I knew a computer driven slew was going to take me forever to find the comet without a little "virtual" help!

So, here we are. At the edge of a superb field (yes, we had permission), scope set up, chairs, the whole nine yards. We did Venus, Saturn, M44, all the usuals and along comes the clouds. Time to wait it out? You bet. And as we sat there, in came a car...

Complete with red and blue flashing lights!

Ah, yes. This is indeed the first time I have been clocked for doing light speed while standing still! Needless to say, the Indiana State Highway Patrol was amused if nothing more. We certainly were! After a few more, the clouds came back and it was time to head back. Time to just relax, unwind and have a good laugh at our adventure!

And so our time has all too quickly come to a close. We have very much enjoyed reviewing photo possibilities for upcoming books, watching the Carl Sagan series "Cosmos" and entertaining ourselves with campy old science fiction and good food. While I am not much of a gardener, while I walk in the trees I am struck by how many little aspen seedlings there are growing on the forest floor. Perhaps... perhaps I can liberate one? You would laugh at an old woman on her hands and knees digging up a small tree, oh so carefully. It was quite at home in its cardboard soda box and is now quite at home in my backyard. All it needs now is a little water... A little lovin'...

And a little Sun.

"Sun, sun, sun, here it comes... Sun, sun, sun, here it comes... Sun, sun, sun, here it comes..."

May 11, 2007 - Tracking E2 Lovejoy...

Comments: Southeast!! Southeast! We got that bad boy and it's running about a degree every 24 hours. Tonight it's in the field with a triangle of 9 magnitude stars and easily brighter defocused than the stars. To the north is a wide double and while the primary of the pair is a bit brighter, the secondary is really close to Lovejoy's magnitude.

Thanks to some sky haze tonight, I didn't get to see much tail action going on so I could take a guess at how long it might be, but I'm just thrilled to have caught it again and got a hook on the direction! I hope it stays this bright for a few more days yet. There's a certain friend of mine who has got to see this!

Do they make a Comet Hunter's Diamond certificate? ;)

"And I say... It's alright."

May 10, 2007 - Chasing 2007 E2 Lovejoy...

Comments: Yahoooooooo! Just like a big ol' awesome birthday present from the sky, there's a hot new comet in town and it isn't hard to find! It's name is E2 Lovejoy and all you have to do is known Beta Draconis to find it. Start sweeping east/northeast and you can't miss the little green monster!

First spotted in the larger binoculars, I knew I had to nail it with the big scope to be happy. It has a slight tail that points north, a small compact coma and a bright nucleus. Magnitude? Well, poop! Go look at M92. I'ts almost due south and while its not as diffuse as the comet, the brightness is factor is only off by about a magntude. My guess is that E2 Lovejoy is coming in there at around magnitude 7.5 and shining!

Now... Just give me clear skies for a couple of days so I can track it!

"Here comes the sun... Here comes the sun..."

May 7, 2007 - Here Comes The Sun...

Comments: After pizza parties, visiting, running, flying kites, making candy, special foods, reading, making music together, playing games, examining bugs, drawing, creating, and lotsa' imaginary play you'd think things were winding down, wouldn't you? No way.

They're just heating up!

With such a beautiful day it's not fair to young'uns to live a grandma style. They wouldn't understand being cooped up inside while I wrote reports on worked on a manuscript. No problem! Why not do something cool like look at the Sun, huh? So we did. (still no PST. it just cost too much for me to experiment with around little ones. the celestron and white filter is just fine.) Of course, they were very impressed and thrilled with the SOHO 3-D postcards and activities. They started associating and realized the Sun was burning and that's why we got both light and heat. If you showed them an Fe image, they'd tell you why some places look different than others and how stars are other suns!

And when kids have been so good, you know you've got to pack a picnic lunch and go to the park! When my sons were young, the park was a few swings, a slide and maybe a merry-go-round... Now they're wonderful wood concoctions with everything an imagination needs. I don't know what happened to the monkey bars and the teeter-totter... But who cares? I'd give anything if I was kid size again so I could climb and run and play! So who says I can't? ;)

Of course, hotrod climbed every rope, hung from chains, slid down poles and fearlessly leaped into nets and went down slides head first. Worried? Heck no. I let them have the time of their lives. Little sis was only a half a step behind them and although she wasn't as strong she was every bit as fearless. When they bit the dirt they'd get a funny look on their face and then jump up and yell "I'm OK!" and go right back to playing. Three hours later?

We were still playing.

Despite having spent the whole day outdoors, they were still going strong when we went to visit great-grandparents. You give a kid a green field and a ball and you've got a soccer game on your hands! Why not? It's a beautiful day!! It's been a few years since I got grass stains on my jeans, but half the fun is in the play. And the other half is getting an ice cream cone on the way home, eh?

Later than night after we soaked the dirt off in a bubble bath, had a fine supper and watched the stars come out. The skies were clear again but grandma was just too daggone tired to get out the telescope. We sat in the dark and watched the dogs run while we talked about the stars. They used their toy binoculars and looked at the things I pointed at with the green laser and talked about how fun it would be to see these other worlds and how the stars were like music. I was really touched when they asked if I would play my guitar for them. No one has asked or even cared in so very long. One played the harmonica and the other the tambourine while an old lady strummed the guitar and sang bouncy old folk tunes. It didn't matter if I was out of practice, my voice still is pretty clear and it wasn't long until "Brand New Key" and "Yellow Submarine" became our theme songs.

They fell asleep looking at Venus set in the trees outside the big window and it wasn't long before I followed them. The years have a way of going by much too fast and sometimes pictures and memories get lost or left behind. Maybe one of these days they'll see my old diaries and remember the good times. I guess ya'll didn't really want to see baby pictures nor really want to hear about my grandchildren, but in the busy, sometimes sad and stressed world we live in, it's good to know that we can still take time to be a child again...

And see the stars through their eyes.

"Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces. Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here."

May 5, 2007 - The Sun, At the Observatory and the Eta Aquarids...

Comments: Wahooo! Here comes the Sun! You should see giant 963... It's been awhile since I've seen a sunspot and although it isn't terribly complex looking, it's definately supercharged. Shame on me for being afraid of this Coronado PST that's currently in my custody... I'd love to just have all the time in the world to enjoy h-alpha, but I've got a very busy day ahead!

Grandbabies are coming...

Tonight is also a public night at the Observatory and time for a program! Of course, wouldn't you know the skies were clouded over by the time we opened for the evening, but it was still great to do the latest Night Sky Network presentation. It's been a lot of fun beta-testing this kit and even more fun watching others learn. Tonight was the first opportunity that I've had to use the plotting board and I'm a little hesitant because I just haven't "talked it out" yet. I guess giving presentations are things that take practice and the more you do something the more comfortable you become with it.

Of course, one of my very favorite presentations is the pocket solar system. It's just one of those cool gimmicks that teach folks easily and it's fun to do. We really didn't have any youngsters tonight - but what good am I if I can't get a bunch of oldsters to fold paper and play with crayons, eh? Giggle... It really is a neat trick and it explains things so simply.

Afterwards, we went up to tour the dome and little by little those clouds began to clear off. Of course, Venus was the first thing to appear and it didn't take long to get a scope set on it. Soon enough came Saturn and a few other things.... But my mind is a bit further away because I know my grandbabies are on their way. I thoroughly enjoy Robert's company, Terry, Joe, Dave, Barb and Ken... plus our guests... but its been since Christmas since I've seen these kids. Thanks to Greg, I haven't laughed so hard in a long time - and I was ready for it!

(Greg? When I was driving home, I just got this overwhelming urge to enjoy my little sportscar. I wasn't breaking any speed limits, just groovin' on the tunes, downshifting and hugging turns, etc. Dude... I had every cop in 6 counties following me! You know what? I laughed all the way and kept right one enjoying driving my car. Last time I checked, there wasn't a law against having a good time. ;)

Thanks to the little miracle called a cell phone, there were two little faces pressed up against the window when I pulled into the drive. Screamin' and huggin' and kissin'... It was just nice, you know? We opened belated birthday presents, played musical instruments together and finally got around to eating the Taco Bell that followed me. (can't resist.) Afterwards, I had to take them outside because it's just so beautiful. These kids are very well treated and (go figure) scope trained, but they live in a very large town and you just don't see the stars like you do out in the country.

They were blown away when we went out...

Don't tell me that 4 years old and (almost) 3 can't be bright. They knew Jupiter and Saturn when they saw it and thought my green laser was the coolest thing without wheels. Needless to say, the excitement got to them quick and by midnight they were down and out.

And out I went.

Yeah. It's more properly the 6th of the month, but it's still the same night. All is quiet now and it's only me, the Moon and the Aquarids. Despite predictions, the fall rate was still about 10 an hour with exceptionally bright ones around 3:00 a.m. I remembered family members that have gone on before me and rejoice that all of our blood flows through the veins of these two sleeping angels. I see my oldest son somewhat in the boy and I give a whole lot of secret grins when I see the retro-genes of myself in the girl. About once every other generation one of us gets blue eyes and blonde hair out of that dominant brown/brown gene pool. She may not keep that blonde hair - but what the hey - I did. Around 4:00 and after a total meteor count of 37 for about 4 hours, it was time for me to go in a grab a little shuteye, too.

Add myself to the pile of sleeping dogs and babies...

"Here comes the sun, here comes the sun ... And I say it's all right."

May 4, 2006 - Hubble's Variable Nebula, Ring Around the Rosette and Chasing the Cone...

Comments: Wow! I cannot believe how nice the weather is finally getting. It is just so great to be outside and night with no coat on and the hear and smell the world coming back to life again. Thanks to my "enforced retirement" I've even began to plant flowers again!

Let's just hope the young mutt doesn't disenter them, eh?

Tonight I chose to take the big scope out to do a little nebula hunting. Eyepiece of choice is that great 2" 32mm and my first target of choice was Hubble's Variable nebula (NGC 2261). For those of you who don't play nebula often enough, this one is such an incredible color that you really need to go look it up. Just as blue as the skies were today and just as equally astounding in its comet-like appearance. Tonight there are two very visible bright patches withn the structure and it will certainly stand watching in the dark nights ahead!

Next I took a drop by the "Rosette" nebula (NGC 2237, 2239 and 2246). There isn't any color here, just a soft, almost mackrel-scale appearing ring that surrounds a bright open cluster. It's one of those odd ones you don't look at very often and it's a pleasing sight!

Now, on to the "Cone". My telescope probably doesn't do this one justice, but it is visible. I remember the first time I ever looked for it - not realizing the cone portion was a dark nebula. I couldn't figure out why my email friend was so excited that I could see a thread around this one star - because it was a thread and not a cone! Well, the joke was on me because I was looking at my first dark nebula and not even realizing it! S Monoceros lights up the whole picture along with the infamous "Christmas Tree" cluster as well.

By now, it's getting close to time for the Moon to begin lighting up the sky again and time for me to wheel a certain big ol' dob back indoors. If you can't get your butt of the couch to do anything... Go do the Hubble Variable!!!

So blue...

"Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here..."

May 3, 2006 - Racing the Moon...

Comments: Hey, hey! Still alive and kicking here. Although the first few days of May have been filled with storms, there have been some fairly fine clear nights!

Tonight there's not a lot of time before the Moon rises, so binoculars and a bit of galaxy hunting were just the ticket. As always, I am blown out of the water when I see that M65 and M66 are easily visible. M81 and M82 are also old favourites and I sure miss taking the scope out to view others.

But, it's ok. Open clusters are always grand and I run the gambit with M44, M67, M50, M35 and Melotte 111. By that time, the sky is beginning to light up and you know why...

Here comes the Moon.

"Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter..."