Remembering Halley, Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake...



I truly apologize for my notes being disorganized, disjointed, and not exactly what you'd call up to "studies". What I am is what I am - a backyard astronomer who struggled to learn things the hard way. My very first telescope came with Comet Halley in 1986. I had toys before then, and little did I know at the time, but the small refractor I had purchased was little better than a toy. But it was one I was determined to learn to use!

These were pre-internet days... Those halcyon times when information came from the library. While the entire public knew about comet Halley there were very few local astronomy clubs and even less local astronomers. One had to learn on one's own... And learn I did.

I remember looking for 1/P Comet Halley in early March. Many happy hours were spent away from my then urban setting with my new telescope, poorly constructed charts and an inexpensive set of binoculars. Halley did not come easy. It took several weeks of getting away at every opportunity before I learned how to tell one constellation from another and how to pick a comet out of the sky! Of course, the view itself wasn't impressive. I don't remeber anything much other than what looked like a hairy star with a short, stubby little tail, but this inspired me more than anything possibly could. I now realized that there were things out there that I might only see once in a life time and it was time to learn more!

In 1996 Comet B2 Hyakute came along in late March. At this time I had met a gentleman whom I will never forget that had what I thought was a big telescope at the time. My memory escapes me as to what it was, but the words Dynascope sure ring in my mind. Although I had little astronomy experience, he taught me when he could and I brought my little red refractor along and was taught to keep at least some notes. At the time, I wrote them in an appointment book, never realizing that some day I would want them again. I show we view Hyakutake on the 18th, 20th, 21st, 24th, 25th, 26th and 28th of March. I remember he taught me about the ecliptic plane and how to hold my hands against the sky to measure.

Then he was gone...

By the time C/1995 O1 Hale-Bopp appeared, I had enough experience to know that my little Tasco telescope wasn't good enough. This was my beginnings with a 4.5 reflector and it was love at first sight. By this time I had moved to rural - very rural - and the year 1997 was spent with amny an exciting evening staring into the beauty of this comet. I remember seeing it first during January and February, talking my fool head off to anyone that would listen by mid-March and just staring at this beautiful visage! By the fall of that year, it was already on the way out, but it left some very lasting impressions on me. It made me realize that I wanted to keep notes of what I did and saw. Thus begain my first crude diaries... Written in marble composition books and left to rot.

By the year 2000, I had graduated a little bit more in notes, but I had no idea as to what was important and what was not. In 2001 I got my WebTV unit and a whole new world opened up... the Internet! Little by little I found people with the same interests and instead of keeping notes in diaries which either fell apart or got tossed, I had a way of storing my observing notes. Again, I didn't know one end from the other - only that it was important to keep notes.

By 2001 I had found a genuine observatory to call home and the real astronomers at Warren Rupp Observatory took me under their wing. I never stopped learning, and I never stopped taking notes. By now, what I had previously written had gained public interest, so I continued in my unorthodox style and kept "weird" things like Dreyer descriptions and field sketches to myself. Most often these were done on scraps of paper, an envelope, whatever happened to be handy. Again, I had no idea the AL existed or that these things would one day be important. They were simply dumped in a box and I was happy with what I had stored on-line.

By 2004 I had really gotten a grasp on the learning curve. I had gone from nobody to the President of Warren Rupp Observatory. I was churning out astronomy articles and writing a weekly paying column. Every single thing I had written had been closely followed and the Observatory Director has kept tabs on me and what I have done now for over five years. About two years ago, I became aware of the Astronomical League and their observing programs. Happy to have meaning to what I do, I began doing a lot of things to become part of their observing clubs... You'll never know how many studies I had to do all over again because I hadn't put in some very critical information like a time... or an eyepiece!!

Of course, you will find as you read what I have copied and pasted here that I am not by "regulations". I know that you don't have time to read back over six years of my reports to garner that I do know what the heck I'm doing. If it were easy enough to draw 30 comets out of the sky, I would simply let all of the old, "unproperly documented" things go, but the represent a learning process. One that I am very proud of.

Because I do not have a scanner, I have had to dig back through all of those old notes to find my field sketches. Quite frankly, I am ashamed to present you with a motley collection of coffee stained, dog-eared, sloppy bits of paper with scratches on them. Again, many of them I didn't know one end from the other on how to make a sketch, but I did my best. In order to present them to you, I have copied them the best I could and added them to only the pertinent areas of my on-line reports. I have no idea of how accurate they are, because a WebTv unit doesn't act like a computer. I cannot run planetarium programs or other software - although it is available at the observatory.

If you feel this work is not of the caliber of Comet Hunter's Silver and Gold, I certainly understand. As an AlCor representative, it is my duty to look at other's notes to be sure they understand what they are doing. Do I? Of course. I know my latitude and longitude of my favourite observing area is 40.66N and 82.91 degrees west... Just as I know the latitude and longitude of the Observatory. Do I know what "power" I use? I know the equations and I know that if you need them to be precise that I will be happy to ammend my notes. (I was taught to be sure to list the eyepiece. The rest depends on focal length if needed.) Am I perfect with my times? If I tripped across a supernovae, you're darn right I would be. It's just another one of those things that "I didn't know" when I first began observing so long ago. While it isn't precise, it's not hard to tell from my reports what time of day that I am viewing. The same is true with sky conditons. You and I both know I'm not going to pick up a 12th magnitude comet with a first quarter moon on a hazy night! (although i have done it. ;)

Again, I am not offended if you feel these notes do not qualify me. I will simply continue to study for several more years until I have everything right. In the meantime, my apologies for taking so long compiling and getting these to you. The notes have existed on-line for a very long time, but it was a matter of cutting out the rest to get to only comet information. Six years is a lot to filter through when you observe as much as I do!! That's why I was incredibly pleased when the Observatory director had told me I had acheived enough to go for Gold. Even I didn't know it!! I've had my head so absorbed in writing my fourth observing book that I haven't even had the time to pay attention.

Many thanks to you for taking the time to go through my things. I appreciate your patience!

Respectfully yours,

~Tammy Plotner