Thursday, May 18, 2000

Full moon fuzzy fun...

My 10" Dob had sat in the back of my Suburban all week, since Houge Park last Friday night. Eyepieces, ladder, the whole deal, out in the truck. Why not... lousy skies, in fact rain (we did have rain, remember?)...

But today, well, summer paid us a visit. BBQ out back, patio screen door letting the outside come in, windows open. What a change. So, about 7 o'clock, I unloaded the truck, bypassing the garage and taking everything out back.

As expected, the scope was hot. The eyepieces were hot. So, there I stood, out back, watching the sky begin fading in the east, looking for the first star of the night. Mimi came out, drawn by the lure of a clear night. I explained this was a full moon night, but maybe we could try a bit of bright sky observing. "What are you looking for" she asked as I squinted eastward. I told her I was watching for Arcturus, which I expected would be the first star visible. Showing her about where it might be, we stood and talked. She is studying astronomy in her 6th grade science class, and was able to identify a slide of the Beehive in class today. She's revelling in her knowledge. Other kids haven't a clue, but at least some are interested. She talked about seeing a Stephen Hawking movie about black holes in class. She talked of the insignificance of humanity when compared to the great mysteries of the universe. It was amazing, and inspiring to hear the growth toward maturity and depth of understanding she is gaining. Children are wonderful teachers.

While all this was going on, she spotted Arcturus. Keen eyes.

We looked at the golden star.... nice images, although lower power, using the 19 Panoptic. Still, the view filled me with a feeling of peace, relaxation, wonder. I think it was the same for Mimi. She talked of observing in terms that I told her were meditative. She equated it to becoming absorbed in a great book, losing the world around you. Like I said, quite a discussion.

The sky continued to darken. She spotted Regulus, Procyon.... I beat her to Spica.

I pointed the scope at Izar in Bootes. The double split but the image was fuzzy. I collimated, and the star was a tight but good split, one component much brighter than the other. The mirror was still cooling too, but the night would be short, so we decided to move on.

Mimi wanted to find things. So, the scope was hers until her school night bedtime. She put Alcor and Mizar in, and enjoyed the bright pair with other nice white stars in the field. I described where to find M3, and in the 11x70 finder she spotted a fuzzy. In the eyepiece, the cluster was easy to spot, even in the bright sky. I said I could see individual stars, that it looked like sprinkled sugar. Mimi was not so sure, saying it was powdery. I suggested she try M65/M66, and soon she said I could see them with averted vision (cracks me up to hear her say that, don't know why.... just does). She was right, barely there, but there. I popped the scope up into the heart of Virgo and saw either M86 or M84. Then over to NGC 3608 (guessing) in the tail of Leo. This was fun. I was thoroughly enjoying being out.... it felt like summer.... I could feel the approach of wonderful nights, warm weather, friends. Its not far off.

Mimi had turned in. I was alone out back... the moonlight was washing out the east. I thought perhaps I'd work some double stars for a bit. Up to Gamma Leonis.... what a wonderful sight. Two bright suns glowing, easily set apart from each other in my 7mm Meade. I stood looking. 125 light years from my eye, so bright and warm. Summer in the eyepiece. The combination of warm air, clear sky and the perceived warmth of the golden double... this was enough. I thought of what Mimi had said earlier in the eveing, huggin my telescope to push it around.... "I'm hungry for photons" ... I knew how she felt. Gamma Leonis was gorgeous, and the perfect way to finish off a short night with a rising full moon.

Get your scopes ready... observing season is here.

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