Friday, March 12, 1999

Two Nights, Two Skies (Part II)

What a day Friday, March 12 was. If it were the 13th, and were I superstitious, I would at least have something to attribute the events to.

Looking outside in the morning, the sky was clear and promising. I was going to pack up early, work until 2:30 p.m., then beat the Friday afternoon heading out of town traffic, on my way to Fremont Peak. I could barely wait!

My son had developed a cold on Wednesday, and my wife, waking up with her own head full of flu symptoms, greeted me by saying our boy was having breathing problems, and she was mostly useless the way she felt. But, after fighting with the American medical system (trying to get the pediatrician's office to answer their phone and put a real person on the line), mom and son were off to the doc. I was left with out 7 year old yellow Lab, who also demanded medical care, showing me a very large right eye. My wife called from the doc and said they were on the way to the hospital, with a case of pneumonia. I told her the dog had contracted "Big-Eye" and was off to the vet. It looked like a day of problems, and like I would cancel Fremont Peak due to a house full of sick people who would need care. While at the vet, wife and son returned home, and the dog turned out to have nothing more serious than a canine equivalent to conjunctivitis (pink-eye).

Since things seemed back under control (finally, by 2 p.m.), I pleaded my case for astronomy. I had previously obtained a friend's cell-phone number, so I could offer it, saying I'd be home in 1.5 hours if needed. Well, it worked.

Truck packed with the 20" F/5 Obsession and my 10" f/5.6 Dob, I was off to the Peak. Traffic was brutal. A fire engine and ambulance parted the Red Sea of cars on the way out of town on highway 101. It was a long drive.

Yet, arriving at San Juan Canyon Road in San Juan Bautista, I turned off the highway and into a paradise of early spring. The grasses were all growing back after their winter of dormancy. The color were like a leprechaun's dream come to life. Among the greens were a full running stream to my west, as the road snaked upward around farmhouses and boulders. Bright yellow patches of wild mustard, the gold-orange of California Poppies and the lacy pale green/gray Spanish moss hanging of the native oaks bending over the road, the ridge line views sweeping out to the Pacific ocean, Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz to my west, the fertile valley to my east built by California's San Andreas earthquake fault, make this one of the wonderful moments I associate with my hobby. I do love this place.

Arriving at the parking lot, several friends were already set up. Guilllermo Ortiz' 18" Obsession was already set up. Jim Bartolini with his nicely rebuilt 16" Dob, Bruce Jensen asleep in the back of his SUV already had his 18" Starmaster assembled. John Gleason (maybe you saw his great panoramic photo of the Milky Way on NASA's Astro Photo of the Day recently) had a 6" AP at the ready. Ken Head was there with the 8" Ultima 2000, Marsha Robinson and the 10" Orion Premium Dob. Richard Navarrete arrived after me with his newly acquired 12.5" Meade Dob, and David Cooper was there, although I don't know what type of refractor he had along. There were 9 observers, all looking at the sky, crud up top now, and lots of glop off the coast to our west.

My bout with luck was continuing. One of the turnbuckles on my Obsession's UTA was missing. I was sure it had come off at home. I would have tried observing without it, but Bruce Jensen found a 1/4-20 wing-nut that fit. Saved!

As the sky darkened, we all noted that it was not too cold. Temps has dropped from 52 to 44 degrees in a few hours, but it did not seem to be a real "winter" night. To the west was brilliant Venus, with Saturn above and Jupiter below. Already, Capella shown very brightly overhead. The sky was improving. I felt that now, even before it was completely dark, more stars were visible than last night in Los Gatos.

Before I list the objects I observed, let me tell those of you unfamiliar with California history a bit about Fremont Peak. I'll keep it brief. The Peak (as the local astronomical community refers to it) is surrounded by California's Fremont Peak State Park. The place is a historical landmark. Captain John C. Fremont raised the first American flag over the Mexican state of Alta California atop Fremont Peak in March of 1846. The Mexican governor was surprised at the presence of an armed band of men so close to town (Monterey), and demanded Fremont and his men leave. Fremont refused, and instead built a small fort in the vicinity. Later, realizing he was vastly outnumbered, Fremont acceded to the requests of Thomas Larkin, American consul in Monterey. Incidents of this type were the predecessor to the "Bear Flag" revolt, and California's subsequent entry into Union. A plaque commemorating the incident is now atop Fremont Peak.

The views from atop Fremont Peak make the short hike a must for any visitor, especially for sunset. Fremont Peak is also home now to the Fremont Peak Observatory Association, and their observatory and 30" Challenger telescope. Stop by for a visit if you're in the area.

So, the sun set, and as usual I was getting called around to look at this and that. Some nice views! But, I could hardly wait to put the new 20 mm Nagler in the scope and go to town. Finally, I did, and at about 45 degrees elevation, the scope began heading downhill. Damn! The eyepiece was too heavy! So, I counter weighted the scope with a pair of Converse tennis shoes an Bunshee cords. Some minor adjustments adding a bit more weight (in the shoes), and all was well.

On went the computer and away I went, looking for the last of the prior evening's targets, NGC 2419. I have to say, I mentioned the NGC number and Bruce Jensen immediately piped up "Oh, you mean the Intergalactic Wanderer in Lynx!" ... I was astonished. Richard whispered to me "Bruce is awesome, he remembers everything"... which I believed more and more as the evening wore on and Bruce ID'd more and more objects overheard in the shadowy voices in the dark. I think he should be called "Data" (ah... but only if he were Seven Of Nine!). Well, with much struggle, like someone getting on skis again after a season's absence. Navarrete got it with DSC's, but I struggled. Finally, I succeeded. It is a very nice globular! I've seen many in Ophiuchus with much less brightness and resolution. This is a good object, and amazing that it is 300,000 light years distant. It much be one awesome sight from a couple ten thousand! So, now, question, Data, is the object wandering in, or leaving our galaxy?

Next problem. The battery for the computer died. Damn. Sometimes you just have to plan for the worst. Out came my Tirion 2000 Atlas. It would not many of the objects I was after, but I still could figure their location off the RA and Dec.

I next move to NGC 2541, a galaxy in Lynx. It was not much to write home about, and was a lot of work. Lynx was dead overhead, which is difficult for a Dob, and especially on a ladder (for the 20" f/5). The object I saw was faint and large, maybe 5' x 5' .

I decided to move lower. Ursa Major was in perfect position, and I had a ton of observing to do there (it is packed with entries on the Herschel list of 2500 or so objects). So, to the Big Bear I went.

NGC 2629 lies a bit less than halfway from Muscide, the tip of the Bear's nose, and Polaris. It is a small, faint, round galaxy around mag 13. While in the area I visited NGC 2633 (mag 12.5, fain, smudge), NGC 2646 (round galaxy, mag 12), NGC 2523 (barred spiral at mag 12.4) and NGC 2551 (faint, small galaxy, mag 13, stellar).

Next target was NGC 2639, an elongated galaxy shining at mag 11.8 just off the front "paw" of the Bear. It is conveniently located north the pair of stars marked by Talitha. It is quite small at 1.1.x .6, but does have close by NGC 2681 (round galaxy, mag 10.3, 3.0' and about 2 degrees away), and NGC 2693, another round galaxy at mag 11.7 but smaller, just half a degree from 2681.

I will mention NGC 2756, since it was close to a nice object. NGC 2756 is about 3 degrees away from NGC 2693 toward Dubhe (the far corner star in the Big Dipper). 2756 is not charted on Tirion 2000 (my older version), so I had to plot the location on my chart by RA and Dec. I placed an X on the spot. The galaxy is elongated with a bright core, at mag 13, and larger by 1/3 than NGC 2639. Next to it, and on the Tirion chart, was NGC 2841.

Gorgeous galaxy! this is one of those surprises that makes working all the faint things on the Herschel list even more enjoyable. 2841 sits just off the line described by Talitha and mag 3.2 25-Theta Ursae Majoris (the point star in the very acute triangle). It is large at 7x3, bright at mag 9.3, and showed wonderful spiral detail, including hints of dust. This one is worth a side-trip (it is a bit of a hop at 3.5 degrees from 2756).

There were several meteorites during the night, bright and sporadic. We all took plenty of breaks, enjoyed views through each other's telescopes. Occasionally, you could hear the plaintive wail of someone crying "I need a bigger telescope"... but that's normal.

I continued hunting galaxies, NGCs 2820, 2880, 3182, 3259, 3394, 3471. It became quite a list. Another break, then on to NGCs 3471, 3478, 3549, 3595, 3657, 3668. I could not find NGCs 3415, 3445, 3687, 3733 or 3669. But I continued with NGCs 3674, 3729, 3811 and 3813. It was a pretty bright night.

I had tried for Leo I early in the evening, thinking I (and Richard) could detect a faint glow close to Regulus, but I am logging it as unconfirmed. Later, though, I turned the 20" on Leo II when it was up high and the sky had darkened a bit. We saw a haziness that now, looking on a computer at the position and the star field, makes me feel we saw it. Leo II is listed as UGC6253, a mag 12.6 elliptical and about 12 x 11 minutes, taking up about the center 1/3 of my field of view.

Of the other galaxies I viewed in Ursa Major, the ones I enjoyed the most were where I could make side-journeys to others, close by. With NGC 3657 I was able to easily pick up NGC 3631. With NGC 3811 (round, mag 13, bright core, 2.x1.5), I had a great time hopping around, field to field (as I did with the first one in Ursa NGC 2629), picking up NGC 3769 (mag 12.4, 3x.9 with another tiny object just off it), and NGC 3782 (mag 13 irregular). All these are close to NGC 3811, which is just off mag 3.7 star 63-Chi Ursae Majoris (easy to see, just below the M109 side of the Big Dipper's bowl).

These are all fun and challenging targets for a bright night.

To end the evening, as the orange sliver moon rose at the northeast base of Fremont Peak, I turned the scope on M65 and M66, beautiful structure, the Hamburger was clearly showing between the buns (NGC 3628), M51 had wonderful clear spiral structure, NGC 4565 was huge, M104 was photographic (but earlier in the evening), and assorted other "bright" highlight objects rounded out the evening.

At 4:30 a.m. the three remaining observers (Marsha, who had done 88 Messier's) and Richard (who was having a blast with his new Lumicon Binoviewer on the 12.5" Meade Dob) were all beat. We turned in and slept until about 9 a.m., when I was the last to awaken.

We drove down the mountain, leaving behind memories of what is thus far the best night of the year (there haven't been many!). It was a very good time. Past the farmhouses, the stream, below the hanging Spanish Moss, mustard and poppies. Soon we were back in the fast lane, flying along at 70 mph, leaving it all behind for a while.

We stopped at a restaurant in Morgan Hill, ate breakfast and reminisced about the good night.

Thursday, March 11, 1999

Two Nights, Two Skies (part I)

I had been out observing on Tuesday night, peeking through the haze and intermittent bands of clouds. La Nina has been a relatively dry phenomena here is the San Francisco bay area, but it has sure been cloudy. Oddly, or as Murphy would have it, the rainy days did tend to be weekends, meaning no astronomy or other outdoor family activities. So, here I was, out on Thursday night, in my backyard.

I had set up an astronomy blind on the back fence in my yard. The neighbor's kitchen window, blasting a few thousand watts of halogen laced visual purple bombs had to go. I have two PVC poles and a dark green tarp that gave me about 20 feet of avoidance in my usual backyard setup spot. What a difference a bit of dark adaptation can make!

Occasionally, I post a bit of history about my observing locations, and would like to do so about my home town of Los Gatos. The name is Spanish, meaning "The Cats". In old days, the town was involved in Quicksilver (Mercury) mining, and was a vacation playground to the wealthy inhabitants of San Francisco, with many Victorian summer homes/cottages nestled into the eastern slope and valley floor along California's coastal mountain range. Author John Steinbeck owned a home here. The mountains are beautifully green, with timber of redwood and pine being predominant. On the western side of the mountains is the old beach town of Santa Cruz, about 30 minutes driving time along twisty highway 17. This is the location along California's San Andreas fault that shook in 1989, at Loma Prieta, bringing all of the San Francisco bay area to a standstill for day.

Destruction of home, freeways and even the Bay Bridge were seen on television, from my home town (my swimming pool is now slightly inclined on its northern side) to San Fran and Oakland. Los Gatos is a bedroom community of San Jose, home to "Silicon Valley" and such companies as Netscape, Intel, AMD, Cisco Systems, Sun Micro and scores of other techie giants. This, of course, means people I observe with have pretty good disposable incomes to purchase equipment for their hobbies. As you read some of these observing reports from Fremont Peak and Montebello, you'll note the fine equipment mentioned.

But, back to Thursday night. The sky was fairly clear, but it did seem bright. I was going to continue observing open clusters and an odd galaxy, globular or planetary along the way.

I began by looking at NGC 2903 in Leo, to gauge the seeing. About the same as cloudier Tuesday night. I suppose that meant that although there were more clouds on Tuesday, the sky glow was brighter tonight.

Again, as on Tuesday, I was using my 10" f/5.6 dob with a 20 mm Nagler, 6x30 finder, Telrad, Tirion 2000 chart and the Companion by Robert Strong.

I returned to Gemini, to re-check NGC 2304. I felt that the last time, I was guessing at seeing it. 2304 is a dim open cluster, about 5' in size. It was not very dense, and all the stars appeared to be in a small range of brightness. I did a drawing, which now looks like a wrist and hand. The wrist being several stars in a line, which then branches out into "fingers" of perhaps three other chains of stars spreading away from "the wrist." I had to use the 6x30 finder to hop to this object. It as dim, I would have missed it without star-hopping. Overall, it seemed to take up about 1/3 the field of view, with some hint of many dimmer stars involved.

I moved to NGC 2311, which contained many bright components. The open cluster filled about 2/3 my field of view, and was very easy to identify in the surrounding star field. My drawing shows many stars in a slim horizontal line, with an inverted pyramid of stars handing below the center of the line, and another bunch also extending downward off the right end. It was an interesting view.

NGC 2324 looked like a running-man stick-figure, an inverted V for legs, a fuzzy patch at the left side foot, a string of stars extending off the right leg and going "forward", and two arms off the top of the V. This was a very attractive cluster, with most stars being about the same magnitude. There seemed to be many dimmer components embedded between the legs. The group is shown as mag 8.4 nd about 8' in size.

Next was a really nice looking open cluster, NGC 2353 in Monoceros. In the bight sky, these clusters in bright-star poor areas are difficult to located. I was relying more and more on the optical finder to hop stars below naked-eye threshold. 2353 is listed as 20' in size and mag 7.1. It has two quite bright stars in the group. The shape of the cluster is interesting, being a long, extended up from a wide-based triangle of stars, sweeping up with two branches of stars extending off in the same direction.

The lower extension was bulbous, making me think of a chicken embryo and yolk sack, while the one at the top was thin and long. The yolk extension had a bright star at the far size, the other bright star was at the bottom and just left of the cluster. I did a quick sketch. There were few bright stars in the group, but the shape and number of dim stars was easy to detect.

I star-hopped to NGC 2343 next. My book said 20 stars, but some of them must be very dim. I counted about 11 or so. This cluster appears as a triangle of three brighter stars, with the base of the triangle at the bottom of my field of view. A line of perhaps four crosses the center of the triangle horizontally between the top star and base stars. On either side of the top star are a pair of dmmer stars, parallel to the line of four crossing the center of the triangle. There were hints of a haze to this cluster as well. I consider this one a poor cluster.

This was work. I loved being out back, in the crisp winter air. I had started off without a hat, but temps must have been dropping, and I zipped up my winter coat and put on a Soviet Ushanka, which kept me plenty warm. I also wondered about the seeing, although I had dealt with my neighbor's kitchen light, they'd put a fire in their fireplace, which I could smell, and see some sparks from their poorly capped chimney, and I wondered how much additional distortion and smoke I was getting. Oh well. Urban Astronomy.

I took up again with NGC 2335, a hard to find stubby "T" of stars in Monoceros. This cluster measures about 12' in spread and shines at a combined mag 7.2. That mag must be photographic, as this was dim, if this was indeed the cluster... I can't be certain. There may have been some haze there, but again, not sure. If that is the cluster, don't waste your time.

Now I moved on to NCG 2354 in Canis Major, which was quite low. All I could see was a large haze. Maybe again from a better location.

NGC 2355 in Gemini took up about 1/2 the field of view, but was only a dim haze shaped like a wreath or letter H. Tough object for in-town.

Finally. A WINNER! NGC 2360 was beautiful. It was large, taking up over 1/2 the field, contained may hundreds of stars, and looked somewhat like a globular cluster. It is also quite old for an open cluster, at 1.3 billion years. This is easy to locate. Looking longer at the cluster, you begin to see an hourglass shape. The book says it is in Canis Major, is 13' across and a mag 7.2 object. I find those numbers deceptive, for after looking at some very dim almost-not-there clusters, this one was big and easy.

Just for fun, at that point I swung over to M65 and M66, which were now up high. They were obvious fuzzy spots without detail. The Hamburger (NGC 3628) was nowhere to be found. Not a galaxy night.

Next, my list, generated from Gary Dean William's NGP freeware, showed NGC 2392, a planetary at mag "0"... mag zero? This had to be a misprint. But then the number rang a bell. It was the Eskimo or Clown-face nebula. This one, at lower power (74x) did the "Blinking Nebula" trick... appearing as a dim blue star with my most direct vision, and them brightening very noticeably with a halo around it as soon as my fixed stare broke. Try it.

I move to NGC 2395 - which I note as a "nothing cluster" from in town. The only thing that might reveal it is a smudgy haze, like a large dim galaxy.

The next object intrigued me. NGC 2419 in Lynx is called the "Intergalactic Wanderer"... the furthest known of our globular clusters. Its distance is estimated at 300,000 light years, whereas most such clusters we are accustomed to viewing at maybe a couple tens of thousands of light years distant. Well, this one put me to the test. It is in a star poor area. I tried every possible method I could think of to triangulate to it. I used my 6x30 finder to star hop. I was sure I was on the right one or two stars to view it. Then, I saw a smudge, barely. Out came the 20 Nagler and in went the 12 Panoptic, to see if I could get more contrast. But the object was gone. I could not recover it. I spent up to an hour. What an idiot! Finally, beaten, I gave up. I thought I'd seen it, but it got away.

It was. all-in-all, a decent backyard night. I was hoping the sky would stay this clear for the next night, as I had clear sailing to get out of work early and head up to Fremont Peak for a Friday night with the gang.

Who knew what a challenge the next day would be.

Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Today's halo, with ears and hat

Did anyone else notice the bright ring around the sun today? I'm used to seeing complete rings around the moon, but this was a circular rainbow. Additionally, at (thinking of a clock face) 10:15 and 2:45, were bright Sun Dogs, extending out a good 20 degrees, like a pair of ears. With averted vision the "ears" extended even further out, with some hint of extending inward from the ring as well. Atop all this, was a horizontal Sun Dog sitting on top of the ring, like a hat. Really an amazing sight!

I did some reading last night, about lunar and solar halos, sun dogs and other atmospheric phenomena. What I (and John Hales) saw yesterday was a 22 degree halo. Most people notice this around the moon, but they are much more common around the sun. The lunar halos are just colorless, but the solar ones are usually sharply defined at the outside, where they are red, and hazy on the inside, where they are blue. In some cases, other colors are seen. I saw other colors too... this was a really outstanding halo.

The "sun dogs" that I saw are also known as "mock suns"... many of us have noticed these up a Fremont Peak as the sun is low in the west. These two sun doggies were very bright, extending away from the outer edge of the halo. They are, according to the book I read, to be found at the solar altitude, which matches perfectly with what I saw. The long extensions I noted on the dogs are "tails".... and these were very good examples ot tails on sun dogs.

I also noticed that inside the halo, the sky was darker than outside. This phenomena is also clearly described in my reading. What a sight!

Finally, the most surprising sight was the "hat" I described. It is known a cicumzenithal arc. This one was slight... as my book states that the arc can be the most beautiful of halo phenomena, being heavily color saturated. I feel lucky to have seen it... it is usually visible only a couple times a year, to those who know where to look. The view I had was subtle, appearing to be an updward bowing slight arc atop the 22 degree halo, but my wife Pat noticed it too.

Fun stuff to see.

Tuesday, March 9, 1999

Backyard observing. Better than rain.

Last night (March 9), I took my 10" f/5.6 out back to cool down, owing to a very nice sky at sunset. Back indoors, I finished some late work, then began putting on the warm layers of clothes I'd need to be outside on the cold winter night.

I decided to pursue my Herschel 400 in-or-near town list, which is my latest project with the 10" Dob. The targets for the night looked to be almost exclusively open clusters in Gemini and Monoceros. Opens are good in-town targets, as their brighter components are easily detectable, and indeed, some of the dimmer associated stars glimmer in the background tantalizingly, at the edges of perception.

So, out back I went and, as I have become accustomed to, found myself staring directly at my neighbor's brightly lit kitchen window. I began to curse Mike Shade, and his reports from southern Arizona. I recalled how my backyard was an in-town observing paradise, until the neighbor's gardener destroyed my 20 foot tall oleanders with some agent orange derivative. Out front, the neighborhood, one of the safest in the city, was now sprouting garage-mounted floodlights... not motion-detectors, but flood-lights. I was feeling trapped. I have to start looking for a better place.

Still, after deciding I had to do something, I located a spot in the backyard where the lighting was not direct. What a difference 15 feet can make! By this time, overhead, just north of zenith, running northwest to southeast, was what looking like a well spread out con-trail. Amazing, one long cloud. It seemed to stay overhead, changing orientation like a spinning pointer on a board game. I thought I could work around it.

I first looked at M42. It was okay. I know I'm jaded, but I needed a bigger "kick".... since much of the nebula was just not there. I decided to check the seeing by pointing at NGC 2903 in Leo. I can usually get a definite "yes" it is there on this object, on a good night. This night, it was yes, I can barely tell I'm looking at it. So, off I went into the opens of the southern winter sky.

But first, for the record, along with the 10" f/5.6 Dob, my tools were a 20mm Nagler, yielding about 74X, a Telrad that dewed up, a pretty poor 6x30 finder, Wil Tirion's SkyAtlas 2000 and the Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion (by Robert A. Strong). The list I was using was generated off NGP (DOS shareware) and Excel.

The first open cluster of the night was NGC 2244. Many of you know this cluster, as it is home to the Rosette Nebula. No, I didn't see the Rosette, but the cluster itself is easy to find, bright at mag 4.8 and 24' in size. It was large, and well placed in Monoceros just nearly mid-point between Betelgeuse in Orion and Canis Minor's dimmer star Gormeisa. There are some good bright guide stars nearby, so it is not difficult to locate. It felt good to find something!

There are three bright stars in the area, which describe a line right toward the eastern most bottom star in Gemini... mag 3.35 31-Xi Geminorum. Moving up toward that star, just past the middle of the three, you come across NGC2251, a rich open cluster that is very attractive. I had to keep looking at this one... it was elongated.... a beautiful condensation of stars stretched out.... glimmering at mag 7.3. This one is easy to find, and very nice to view. Worth a side-trip from the Rosette and Christmas Tree clusters that draw people to the area.

Speaking of the Christmas Tree, that was my next object. But, I noticed Hubble's Variable Nebula was in the area. In vain, I scanned over and over, but to no avail. Looking up, I noticed the sky was now becoming milky. Hey, what is this, are my 15 minutes of observing this month up already? ;-)

But NGC 2264, the Christmas Tree, was so bright there was no trouble finding it. It is very large, according to my atlas's companion, it measured 35'x15'. On a dark night with good aperture, at the right location, I'd be hunting the Cone Nebula during the visit. The cluster is mag 3.9, and very easy to see. Doing a bit of reading, I noted that the age of this star group is thought to be 20 million years. A mere pup. I could not help but relate that to NGC 2903, the galaxy in Leo that I looked at early during the observing session. The light I saw from that galaxy traveled 20 million years before striking my eye. NGC 2264 was just being born when the light from NGC 2903 began its journey to my eye.

Looking up again, I thought the sky was improving. I pointed the scope back up at the Leo galaxy, and no doubt, there was a nice form to the object. I could tell the morphology (of course, it helps to know in advance what it looks like.

So, I went after the next object on my list, NGC 2286. All I can say is, find this object. It is gorgeous! Hard to believe I'm so excited about open clusters, but really, after a while their personalities, the shapes, the subtleties, began to come out. This cluster is listed as moderately rich, but not well detached from the surrounding star field, with a large range in brightness. It is mag 7.5 and is compressed. It sure does not look like much in photos, but I was quite taken with it. It was not difficult to find either, and in fact, due to dew on my Telrad, I used the 6x30 to sight in a wide group of fairly bright stars nearly halfway between Sirius and the previously mentioned star at the base of Gemini. This method of "locating" will almost drop you on the object!

Now, the sky was getting milky again. I was having trouble seeing the star in Gemini. I became disoriented and began using Procyon instead, which made finding NGC 2301 impossible. Finally, I realized I was looking in the wrong place. I used the optical finder to located my friendly star in Gemini, and soon was on the cluster. NGC 2301 is a dense cluster. It is fairly bright with a wide range in brightness among its components. I like this, as, with some study, the fainter components begin to shimmer in... I keep relating the appearance to the very first hints of frost on a window in winter. But, moving the scope and averting vision, you know there are dozens or hundreds of stars mixed in with the big bright ones. Interestingly, my computer planetarium program says the size is 12', while the atlas companion says 6'. I thought is was larger than either of those figures. As I recall, this object also has an unusual shape, giving it a striking appearance.

By now, the sky was really getting bad. It was whole milk, and I was feeling some intolerance. But, for one last object, I tried, and tried, and tried NGC 2304 in Gemini. This one is in Gemini, just south of the line described between Alhena and Mekbuda, the inner leg of the eastern twin (Pollux's leg). The atlas companion list this item as mag 10, my printout says dimmer than mag 11. It is also small at about 5'. The cluster's lack of density also did not help. I spent about 20 minutes, maybe more, checking and rechecking charts, but, although I thought I detected it that night, I now think not. Maybe next time.

Looking up, frustrated at the sky, I decided to pack it in. All in all, it was good to just be out in the cold crisp air, with nothing but the stars and my scope as company.

Monday, March 1, 1999

Full moon fun...

Last night, after we got the kids in bed, and was able to fix Pat and myself a warm evening drink to take outside, the two of us spent some time out back in the hot tub enjoying the views of a mostly clear sky, bright constellations and nearly full moon.

I was looking at Orion, and comparing the brightness of Betelguise compared to Procyon and Aldebaran (the former seems brighter to me naked eye, with the two latter being of about equal brightenss, at least last night), when I kept finding my eye wandering back to the moon, then back down below Orion.

It dawned on me that I was looking at the shape of Lepus, the Hare, and that I was also seeing the Lunar Hare.

The Lunar Hare? Some of you know this creature. No, Jay, it is not Harvey (and I would think you are familiar with the Lunar Hare).

We all grew up knowing the Man in the Moon. But, there are other faces of the moon as well. There is the Lady in the Moon, the Lunar Crab and the Lunar Hare. I clearly saw the Lunar Hare. Let me describe it for you:

The Hare's back feet are comprised of Mare Fecunditatis, furthest to the rear, and Sinus Asperitatis along with Mare Nectaris for the fore of the hind feet. Mare Tranquillitatis and Mare Serenitatis make up the hind quarters, and Mare Crisium the puffy tail.

Its main body is Mare Imbrium, Sinus Aestuum and Mare Insularum, with Copernicus perhaps being the rabbity heart. Mare Humorum, Mare Nubium and Mare Cognitum make up the front legs, with the large Oceanus Procellarum being the animal's head. Extending along the northern limb of the moon, back from the Oceanus, is Sinus Roris, extending back through Mare Frigoris, making the recognizable shape of the bunny's ears.

It is unmistakeable once you notice it.

Well, where did this vision of the moon have its origins? Sure, we can see a rabbit up there, even though we do not see it as we do a man, due to our cultural view. But, certainly, other cultures saw different faces of the moon.

The Hindus called the moon "Cacin, or Sasanka"... marked with the Hare, from the story told of Sakya muni (Buddha). This holy man, in an early stage of his existence, was a hare, and when in company with an ape and a fox, was applied to by the god Indra, disguised as a beggar, who, wishing to test their hospitality, asked for food. All went in search of it, the hare alone returning unsuccessful; but, that he might not fall short in duty to his guest, had a fire built and cast himself into it for the latter's supper. In return, Indra rewarded him by a place in the moon where we now see him. Other Sanskrit and Cingalese tales mention the palace of the king of the hares on the face of the moon; the Aztecs saw there the rabbit thrown by one of their gods, and the Japanese, the Jeweled hare pounding omochi, their rice dough, in a mortar. Even the Khoikhoin, the Hottentots of South Africa, and the Bantus associated the hare and the moon, and connected them in story, asserting that the hare, ill treated by the moon, scratched her face and we still see the scratches.

The moon is full of lore. As are the stars. Go out tonight, if you can, and try to find the Hare. It amazes me how cross-cultural this view of the moon is.

BTW.... does anyone know why the moon is made of "cheese"? C'mon Hales and Shade, you two should be the experts here...

(How to see the Hare in the moon reference from: Seeing The Sky by Fred Schaaf. Cultural references to the Hare in the Moon from: Star Names (Their Lore and Meaning) by Richard Hinckley Allen.)