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October 2007

October 30, 2007 - Grandbabies, St. Judy's Comet and Binoculars...

Comments: Ah, yes! It's that time again. For many fortunate grandparents, your offspring live close enough that you can visit frequently. In my circumstance, they are not so far away that visiting is impossible - but it does mean a few days stay. With a granddaughter age 3 and a grandson age 4, there's not a whole lot of spare time when they do arrive! It's hectic... It's tiring...

And I love it.

While my intent was to have them here for trick or treat, there's a very stong possiblity that it will be cloudy on Halloween night and that means no telescope set up for my ghoulish little visitors. Why take a chance? It's clear tonight and there's no reason under the stars why I shouldn't try to teach these babies about astronomy!

Uh, huh. You're telling yourself that just now at age 3 and 4 is a wee bit young to get them to understand, don't you? Well, you don't know my natural grandbabies! They've got themselves a very good mama and these kids have never wanted for intellectual stimulation. When she and my oldest son first got together, I was delighted that she was into astronomy and the first Christmas present I ever bought her was a good telescope.... and it's been used! These varmits know the stars and planets and love astro photos. About a year ago, the grandson and I went out and did photos of the Moon with a video camera and when I gave him the pictures you'd have thought I'd given him gold! Anyhow... I digress.

Armed with their little squeezie red flashlights and binoculars we went comet hunting. I had showed them pictures of comets, explained what they were and sang them the song "St. Judy's Comet". A trick I had learned from doing public presentations was use the green laser to point to something and have the person follow the beam with the binos until it ended - then turn out the light. Within seconds, two sets of 5X30s had found Comet 17/P Holmes and they started jumping up and down and saying they had seen "St. Judy's Comet"!

Well, now... Where I live at is mighty rural and there's a big difference between country skies and city skies. Next thing you know, I heard "What's that, Gramma?" and they were looking at the Plieades. Thanks to the laser, I had those kids from one side of the sky to the other and you'll never know just how cute it is to see babies with binoculars so big they swallow their little heads drooling on the stars! Somehow I can see a little dobsonian in their future...

And St. Judy's Comet sparkling in their eyes.

"And I can see you every night... Free... And I do."

October 29, 2007 - Chasing Comet 17/P Holmes...

Comments: Who let the dob out? I did, baby.... and Comet Holmes was simply incredible!!

I was hoping my good friend Joe would take a picture and he sure did! Isn't it gorgeous? With big aperture, the nucleus just knocks your socks off and the soft, golden coma is really something. Last night it was in a chain of stars and you could see the background stars through the coma! That bad boy has got to be spanning at least 30' for the magnitude 1 coma and I'd say the nucleus is popping in about -.5 magnitude! It is really something...

I am so glad you were looking, too!!

"And I can see you every night..."

October 28, 2007 - Comet 17/P Holmes...

Comments: What a rush! Just as soon as the skies got dark enough I was out there and on the comet. The last time I saw it, it looked like this:

My friend John in NJ has sent me this photograph he'd taken and it just about matched the sky the first time I saw Comet Holmes... Now? Now it's so bright it just blows you out of the water! Deep, golden coma and intense white core... When the Moon was full it was visible unaided. Now it smacks you in the eye unaided.

If you haven't been out there checking it out yet, do it!! I spent probably an hour doing nothing more than staring into this comet because I still can't believe how bright it is.

Best since Hale-Bopp!

"You take advantage by... You hang me out to dry. And I can see you every night... Free... And I do."

October 25, 2007 - Fires In California... Observing Comet 17/P Holmes...

Comments: Where have I been? Here, of course. You know that any time I overdo that I tend to pay the price and the last ten days have been regrouping after Hidden Hollow. Feel no pity! I enjoyed every single second of it and would do it again in a heartbeat...

Really, there hasn't been anything to miss except for some mighty cloudy and rainy weather. The past weekend held some clear skies, but the woman knew better than to push. In the meantime, I've been keeping after my new job at OPT ( and anxiously watching the fires that are sweeping across Southern California.

The California Astronomical community is one of the most wonderful group of people I have ever met and I care very deeply about them. It is one thing to sit in cool, rainy Ohio and watch the news.. But it's another to think about what it would be like if it were you. At the back of my mind, I knew how close the fires were getting to my friends and I can only imagine what it would be like if Mt. Gilead, Bucyrus, Marion, and Galion were on fire. When Penny showed me this picture, it really brought it home. Even at a distance you'd be eating ash and breathing hydrocarbons. Imagine yourself here at Palomar, watching as the fire drew closer! Oh, my friends... Palomar images have graced me books... I have friends there! My friends at OPT are far too close...

My prayers and best wishes go their way.

Even though I have been in a bit of a slump, I don't disregard the news. Just before I signed off working for the night, I got a frantic email from Jason Shinn about the comet and - even though I could see clouds and a bright Moon outside my office window - decided I'd get my butt out there. If I knew more about Phil Creed's work, I might know if all those high hazies were a result of the CA fires, but even despite them and the Moon, it was impossible to ignore Comet 17/P Holmes. Even the most minor pair of binoculars picked it right out of the overbright sky and revealed a beautiful - and very orange - apparition of a comet that's brightened a million times over in the last few days. I watched it for a good 30 minutes, enjoying ever second of it... Before the clouds swept back in again. By the time I came back indoors the phone was already ringing and the email box full of reports. Seems I'm not the only one to have been socked in by clouds!!

Go find it and send your best wishes to California. It's beautiful.... And so are they.

"Now I'm standin' in your line... And I do hope you have the time. And I do take a number, too... And I do feel I'm here with you."

October 11-14, 2007 - Hidden Hollow Star Party...

Comments: Ohio weather. One day it's so bloody hot you can't stand it. The next day it's cold. It rains. It's clear. It can never make up its mind... But will the Hidden Hollow Star Party survive Ohio?

Yeah, boy.

By the night of the 10th it was raining again and definately getting cold. Packing the truck up with the heavy things and throwing a load of firewood into the back, I headed to the Observatory to begin set up for the Hidden Hollow Star Party. There's a certain charm to a big stone fireplace and I've lived with wood for the last 17 years. To me? Well... I'm used to feeding a fire and I just want to be sure everyone stays warm!

By the next morning my internal frenzy had started. I was expecting a very dear friend to come in that morning from out of state and we had lost touch with one another. I packed my things and prepared as slowly as possible, but when I didn't have any word by a certain hour I just got anxious and left. Thank the stars! I found him asleep in the ClubHouse, and I am eternally thankful he made a safe trip.

Within hours, other club members had started to arrive and set up their own camp for the weekend. It was a wonderful time as we laughed and worked together to create a star party out of thin air. A year's worth of planning goes into one of these events and when things begin to happen, they happen within hours. Although this night is also rainy, it was still a great time to sit around in the ClubHouse stuffing weekend packets and laughing. The next day is about to begin!

By Friday morning the folks were beginning to arrive and we were about as ready as we could get. Speaker halls were set up... Prizes were arranged... Everything was a go but the rain. No matter. We have all these beautiful buildings to work with and by late Friday afternoon our programs had begun and folks were having a wonderful time.

And then the skies cleared...

The sky gods smiled upon us! Although the clouds wandered in and out periodically, it really didn't much matter. Can anything matter when you see Stephen's Quintets looking like a picture in the eyepiece? By dawn the skies were crystal and heartbreakingly beautiful...

Saturday was a three-ring circus... But in a very good way! Every where you looked there was activity and folks having a wonderful time. I'm always going in 18 different directions at once, but what fun! Here's my highlight...

After a day filled from dawn to dusk with speakers, raffles, planetarium programs, workshops and more... This was the one fellow who made everything have that extra special touch. I have had ties with Phil Harrington in the past, and I knew he was a super guy... But not just how super until I saw him in action. Folks? He's one of my heroes and I hope I grow up just like him. He's got time and an ear for everyone and you'll never meet a nicer fellow. Not only is he astronomy smart, but he's a very awesome individual and I thank Phil deeply for joining us this weekend!

Of course, the old Beatles tune "I get by with a little help from my friends..." is so perfect for this. Ron Ravneburg, Mark Friedman, Tom Whiting and Phil Creed did a tremendous job with their programs. Certain people are like rocks for me, and when I get tired, it's folks like Jason Shinn, Terry Mann and Brent Archinal who are there to give me hugs and laughter right when I need it the most. Yeah. They might be guest speakers, but they are also incredible friends and I love them very much!

I am so proud of our Club for pulling together. Gents we rarely see were there to lend a hand at the wire, and I cannot thank Terry.Robert, Carl, Barb, Ken, Bubba and both Dans for all their help! Joe, Keith, Dave and John were also on pointe and Bruce did an awesome job of keeping the 31" open all night and rockin'! Very special people, like Mike A. gave things a touch that were beyond my capabilities and how fun it was to see folks faces when they won awards! Oh, my... where do I start? Even our friends at the MVAS and ones from AFY are such a part of all this... Guys? Words cannot express my appreciation. Know that I am always at your service!

By dark on Saturday I thought I was a goner. So very tired.... I hid away and made myself a sandwich, intent on taking a nap. People find me and it's not long until I am talking and refreshed again. I hit the starry fields in search of my friend Vic whom I also deeply enjoy and to spend some time with Tom. The next thing you know? Venus is rising and dawn is soon to follow. I head back for a couple of hours of sleeping, laughing with Charlie and grinning like a fiend when I see the bodies on the sofas the next day. We are tired... But we are happy.

When things wake up, it's time to head out to breakfast with a few very special friends and then back to break down camp. The time has passed far too quickly and folks have slipped away without a goodbye... It's the way of things. We had a fantastic Hidden Hollow Star Party this year and it will be days before I recover.

But I did. ;)

"You take advantage by... You hang me out to dry. And I can see you every night... Free. And I do."

October 6, 2007 - At The Observatory: Public Night...

Comments: And what a public night! For quite a few days now we've been plagued with high heat, snap showers and nightly haze. Sure a sunny day, is great.. But it doth not make for clear nights.

There early to perhaps try my hand at a little h-alpha solar observing with our new Coronado scope and Cemax eyepieces, the weather held true to form. We set a record on high temperatures for the day and being in the Sun was simply blistering. After a touch of cold weather, we Ohioans had began to shift into winter mode and jumping back to summer high heat is devasting.

No matter. My hair was wet when I started out, anyhow.

Well before sunset our troops had began to arrive. Not only did we have an extraordinarily large boy scout and cub scout troop scheduled for the evening, but Hidden Hollow also had a class reunion going on at the same time. Add those equations together and you get more than 100 people at any give time! It was awsome...

Once we were pretty sure most everyone was there, it was time to begin the evening's activities. At the door of the dome, they stood ready to pile in and what you cannot see is the other 75 of them that are out of camera range! Very well behaved, they filed in to listen to me give a short presentation on supernova events and then they were off again. I am so proud of our many guest speakers now and Keith Hughes was up next to give them the lowdown on the Moon. When he was finished, it was time for Dan Everly and a meteor presentation. After that? Charlie Cotterman gave a super presentation on binoculars and easy observing tricks found around the home. The whole line up for the evening was great! Afterwards, it was time for the monthly door prize drawing and how we love to see these folks win something cool to take home!

The night turned out beautiful and a big round of applause goes to John Neumann for manning the 31" and keeping them flowing through. Ken Hubal set up his new 16" reflector and Barb had her 10" LX out. Terry had his 12.5" dob going and Aaron also had his big Meade scope. Robert entertained them with sky stories and everywhere you looked was more and more telescopes aimed at the stars! As the temperature dropped, so did the hazy clouds and the public was treated to an outstanding Milky Way, lotsa' Orionid meteors and even an ISS pass!

Oh, they rallyed. They ralleyed around late, folks. During the evening it was my unique pleasure to have a considerable amount of free time with Charlie's giant binoculars (He left me in charge while he did programs with kids and smaller ones). Can you imagine a twin set of 4" APOs strapped together? If I've felt astronomy denied, I sure didn't for long. Thanks to the great data base in my head, I swept from one side of the sky to the other several times during the night... Enjoying all the riches from the fast fading Ophiuchus globular country, Sagittarius nebulae and star clusters, Hercules globulars and planetaries, Lyra nebula and doubles, Ursa Major galaxy fields and Cygnus clusters and dark nebulae. As skies shifted, my breath was taken away by all the things I remembered in Capricornus, Aquarius, Pegasus, Cassiopeia, Perseus, Triangulum (M33 was killer!) and Andromeda. Later still came Taurus clusters, doubles and supernova, Gemini's clusters and Mars, and how can you resist Orion's riches?! It was truly a glorious night! The realism of exploring the stereo Cosmos with both eyes - and sharing the view with others - is quite a unique experience.

It doesn't get much better... It doesn't get much better...

"Hand me down easy, friends... I'm here with an ear to lend. I do think you have a clue... And I do think you fit this shoe."