Wednesday, August 27, 2003

A Lot of Mars... A Little Figaro. To OSP and Back

I drove to Mars last week, and returned from my trip last night.


Not at all... especially when you consider that where I went, after thirteen hours driving, was at a place only 2.1 light years from M31.

I left home on the 26th of August for Davis California, to meet Jim Ster at Jane Smith's house. I had been invited to join them on a trip to the Oregon Star Party, and having never been to a "big" star party other than the Riverside Telescope Maker's Conference, which is still trying to be something other than an ATM event, I could not resist. I did bargain with Jim and Jane to bring the 30" StarMaster in order that I would bring only my 10" Compact Precision Telescope. The deal was struck.

Jim arrived in Davis and we looked at the daunting job of packing the 30", and 18" StarMaster, my 10", four canopies, three tents, chairs, tarps, books, eyepiece cases, food, cooking gear and assorted other necessities into the back of Jim's 2003 Ford F-250 XLT Lariat King Ranch Crew Cab and four by six trailer. The extent of our advance planning was "sure.... it'll fit".... and sure enough, by the time we were done everything was in. However, I doubt there was room left to fit in a tennis ball. What a sight!

We arrived in Shingletown at nine and found Brad Franzella waiting outside the airport gate. It was going to be a short night there, so the only scopes were Brad's 10 and mine. The skies were soft and cloudy, and we stayed until 12:30 before heading out to the Temple's where we spent the night. After a nice breakfast at the Shingle Shack we were on the way to the mythical OSP.

The drive past Mount Shasta is just gorgeous, if only the rest of the trip were that interesting. After crossing out of California through the metropolis of Dorris, we spent hour after hour on highway 97 enjoying views of rather stunted and sick pine trees. There must be 10,000 pine trees per person in Oregon. We'd pass through a few small communities, but it was pine pine pine pine pine. Until we got to Bend. Then is was pine pine pine pine building. After Bend we went through Redmond, then headed east into the wild unknown country. Scrub forest lead to the town of Prineville, then into large open rangeland with hundred of cattle and deer. It was a side of America I had never seen, absolutely beautiful while amazingly desolate. What a place.

Soon we were tuning off the main two-lane road and onto a side spur - then another, then finally after about 30 miles we left the pavement. The last few miles passed and with sunset approaching we drove under a banner welcoming us to the Oregon Star Party.

What a sight! The road in was gravelled... an enormous shower truck and numerous RV's lined the entry. The gravel runs east-west with a T to the north at mid-point. The T ends in a turn-around out in the midst of a huge desolate field. People had arrived days earlier, and the place was packed all along the roads and in the tree lines to the north and west. We left the road and emptied our vehicles in the center of the large field to the northeast, then drove the truck off to park it near the road - you are not allowed to leave vehicles in the fields.

What ensued was a rush set up of tents, canopies and telescopes. By dusk I was done, and enjoying dinner and a cold Fosters, and taking in the view of over 930 other folks camping in the middle of the Ochoco (pronounced O-cha-cO, emphasis on first and last O's) of Oregon. This place is as far from civilization as I've been in a very, very long time. It was hard to believe so many other folks came to a place like this.

Clouds made the first night was a bust for observing, but it was great for socializing and meeting people. To our southwest we could see occasional lightning, and we all thought about what it would be like to be in a thunderstorm on a surface that, well, it resembled the Pathfinder photos of Mars. We were camped on roundish lava rocks that ranged in size from two to four inches. They were everywhere, literally. These babies took their toll on your feet after a couple of days. By the second day I felt like someone had ball-peen'd my toes. There was also lots of protected sagebrush, without question it was going to be under your tent and make you watch where you walked in the daytime and an ever-present hazard for both foot and telescope at night. You get an idea of what it was like. Oh... and yes, Albert Highe was correct about the bedrock under a few inches of dusty soil. I bent several big steel stakes trying to anchor my tent and canopy. Anyone attending should bring large pails to put rocks into to tie down tents and canopies.

People were saying the OSP site is better than the Texas Star Party's. Listen, gang, you don't know what you have at Shingletown. We have a piece of paradise by comparison.

Friday was day two, and began promising with good skies. I went over to Michelle Stone's encampment on vendor row and saw all the traffic. Michelle suggested I bring my scope over, and I agreed. What a trek! OSP's site is huge.

Michelle and I had lots of interest. From a vendor standpoint it was an excellent trip. Others southerner vendors who were there included Joe and Karen Sunseri, Tom Osypowski, Tony Hallas, and the ever-present party boy and sun god of star parites - Bill Dean from Coronado. Rounding out the California brigade were Alvin and Julie Huey, John Bunyon, Dennis Beckley, Ed Smith (newbie), Bruce Sayre, and several guys from the Eureka area who were thrilled to learn about SSP. There were other CalAstros there as well, and they'd swing by to gawk at the 30", but we weren't there to take names.

As night was approaching, I took out my precooked dinner, while others ate questionable ham from the chuck-wagon. Soon, all you saw was the sky overhead, thousands of stars and a glistening Milky Way, which seemed to be held up by a dark band at the horizon with hundred of red fireflies gently moving about. It was really a magical scene.

That night the 30" showed me things I'd never seen before. Jim was showing the NGC 6543 - the Catseye Nebula - to some touristas. I climbed latter and began enjoying some excellent ring structure when I suddenly saw a bight knot out to the west. This is IC 4677, the brightest part of the Catseye's faint outer halo. It was like a beacon in the 30. After I mentioned it everyone else climbed back up to take a look. We also were holding M57's central star with direct vision, and picking out a fainter star near the inside edge of the ring with consistency using averted vision. I played a bit with the Goto System, which is unquestionably contrary to my style of astronomy, and put in NGC 1275 - the brightest member of the Perseus Supercluster. In Jim's Terminagler I counted 25 galaxies in the field without breaking a sweat. It was fun to pump up the mag and see others popping out as we traversed the fields of faint fuzzies. Alvin Huey brought over a chart showing the members of this Abell cluster, but it did not go deep enough for what we were seeing. Object after object found its way onto the 30" mirror - the Crescent showed internal structure that Steve Gottlieb would have given his left, er, thumb for. The Waterfall in the Veil yielded filaments that snaked subtly though the brighter strands. Pickering's Wisp was flanked by other dimmer areas of nebulosity.

We continued on and on until about 4:30 a.m., when the rocks, sagebrush and fatigue just became too much. Dawn was arriving and we finished by viewing so many little pinpoint stars embedded in the nebulosity surrounding the Trapezium, it was simply astonishing. It was a shame the night had to end.

I spent the next day getting a major farmer tan on vendor row. I'm sure the rest of the gang was under the canopy, back at the homestead, sipping cool drinks and talking to the invariable platoon of folks attracted to Mr. Dob - the 30" big gun of the show. It seemed there were a great number of 8" and 10" Dobs at OSP.

I used the shower truck, which was marvelous. This was the most refreshing activity available at our location, there on the surface of Mars. We'll be looking into the feasibility of bringing a shower truck to Shingletown next year. The truck is clean, sparkling inside and out - hot water - private stalls. Nuttin betta.

Late afternoon the OSP committee held their astro-raffle. Everyone got a ticket to this activity upon arrival at OSP.

The tent the raffle was held under had enough room for less than half the crowd. The raffle went on for an hour and forty minutes. The emcee was taking his time and joking. Those in the sun were frying. It was during this monologue that it was stated the Andromeda Galaxy (the prize was an image of M31 by Tony Hallas) was 2.1 light years away. Yes.... Oregon is an amazing place. Mars underfoot, while bumping your head on M31!

Julie Huey won a prize. But several of our group had enough heat and finally left. Jane Smith tuned to leave, handed me her ticket and said "if the ticket wins anything, give it to Mimi" (my astro-loving daughter). I was standing next to Marsha Robinson (Mars) while the raffle continued. I was holding my ticket and Mimi's. A number was called - the last number was one off from mine. Bummer.

Now, all the prized were gone other than the two grand prizes - 10" Dobs. The emcee began calling numbers - 5..... 3...... "okay.... how many of you out there have those first two numbers - stand up - those of you standing outside, raise your hands".....

I raised my hand.

Then he said "7" and Marsha began jumping around. Mimi had a one-in-ten chance.... I looked a Marsha and shook my head "no"..... no way could this...

The voice said "2"...

Marsha screamed. I was temporarily deaf. People were motioning her to go up the to podium.

But it was the ticket I held. Mimi's ticket.

I was stunned. Not until half-way up to the barker did the rush of winning hit me. What a BUZZ. Hey.... let's do this again!!!!!!!

I handed over the ticket and "Gene" the emcee asked my name....

"Mark.... Mark Wagner....."

"And Mark, where are you from...."

Oh boy. I've heard that Oregono's don't particularly appreciate Califoreigners.

And, I am an organizer of SSP.

And I make 10" Dobs and am a vendor.

And my daughter has an 18" Dob....

So, quietly, I uttered "Los Gatos.... ..... ............ Cal-if-or-nia"

It sure was quiet under that tent.

But there, right up front sat John Bunyon - my tie back to the SJAA and home. John was beaming - showing me his thumb held high as in "way to go buddy"....

But it sure was quiet. The look on Gene's face was something you'd want a picture of. Disbelief.

What a moment.

Then I thought - how are we going to get this thing home?

I began hauling the scope out and a very surprised Jane Smith showed up. I told here "Jane - your ticket - your scope" .... she wouldn't hear of it. She made a counter-offer than was very nice and generous.

Anyone want to buy a new 10" Dob by Hardin Optical? :-)

That night the smoke moved back in. We were hosed. It was just darn depressing. Still, we had fun with the locals, and our own out-of-state contingent. By 12:30 though we had formulated a plan for the morning. We would pack up, bail out, and try to hook up with James Edwards at his family's 600 acre ranch east of Klamath Falls, in the Po Valley.

And that's just what we did. I was a long drive, but we were there by dinner time.

What a reception. Family members arriving, the Dobs being set up. Jim, Marsha, Mags, Jane and I being invited to join the family for a tri-tip BBQ dinner with all sorts of other great fixins. We sat at a big table outside eating while the sun was setting, looking down the 1/4 mile driveway to the main road down the hill, cows, trees, hoses, emerald colored mountains. What a scene. After a bit of good wine, Lanny, who is a friend of James stood up and serenaded us. Turns out he sings with the Sacramento opera. So, with the beauty of southern Oregon decorating our dinners, we sat, drinking wine, listening to the Marriage of Figaro. I looked at Anna, our host, and told her this was one of those moments like the scene of Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams asking "Is this Heaven".... but that night the reply was "No... its the Po Valley".

The observing was not great that night, but the company, and the hospitality shown by shown by James Edwards and his relatives will never be forgotten. One of the best astronomy nights I've ever had. Thank you, thank you, thank you.... James!

We had a big drive the next day, so with the smoke of Oregon's fires overhead I turned in early. I slept in my sleeping bag outside, in back of the house. In the morning I woke to my face being washed by the farm's nice female Rottweiller. I scrambled to get the wet tongue off me, succeeded, and then enjoyed seeing the dog head over to Jane Smith. Jane buried her head in her sleeping bag after the first lick.

We packed up and headed south. Past some gorgeous wildlife refuges in extreme northern California, then down to Mount Shasta. It is a beautiful drive.

Before we knew it we were turning off I-5 into Davis, and the end of the trip.

We had sure had a great time. Friends sharing great experiences is really the spice that adds flavor to astronomy and makes it fun.

Next year, we'll return, better prepared. I hope more TACos will join us, at OSP, and at Table Mountain. We'll set up our own enclave with the big scope. It is worth the time, sky or no sky, it is worth the time.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Observing at Coyote 8/23

Coyote Lark Park is a nice place to observe. The parking lot at the boat ramp is large and paved, there are flush toilets, pay phone, garbage cans, picnic benches, and of course, a beautiful view of the lake and surrounding oak covered mountains. The short drive down the Gilroy Speedway makes it a snap to get to, and there's even an all night Denny's at the freeway on the way home, should you need a cup o' Joe to keep 'em peeled if you're nodding off.

I turned down an invite to help docent at Lick as I have much to do before heading to the Oregon Star Party on Wednesday, and opted for Coyote due to the easy drive and that I'd planned to leave by 1 a.m. When I arrived I thought I was alone, with nothing but boaters who were preparing to depart. Then up drove someone wearing an orange vest, pulling in next to me, and waving as I was setting up my scope. In the back of his car a blanket covered something.... the blanket had images of planets on it. Another amateur astronomer.

Out stepped Rev. David Crabtree. I'd never met him before, and I guess I expected someone in some sort of church garb, which is a silly expectation of course, but still, he introduced himself. I'd known him by his postings on the list, and I introduced myself. About that time Bob Elsberry appeared. Bob was a board member at the SJAA when I was, I'm sure he remembers those fun times as well as I do (and others on this list). I hadn't seen Bob in maybe five years, so it was fun just to say hi. Bob had been the club's treasurer until work duties curtailed his club volunteering.

I brought my 10" CPT again, and this time stood the scope up next to my car, sitting on the collimation bolts. I decided to clean the mirror. A little distilled water, a few cotton balls, and my mirror was ready for action. Folks I've never met before began pulling in. Ah... the gravitational attraction of a Big Mars was working. Other TACos I, ones that I knew, pulled in... Kevin Roberts, Rob Hawley, Geroge Feliz, Jerry Elmer, Robert Armstrong, a visit from out-of-town TACo Archer Sully, this was turning into a good group. The Reverend earlier had chuckled at me for posting on my OI that I was going to Coyote, but the "place to be" (in the note section) was The Peak. I was attempting to keep the group at Coyote small, but I failed.

Once I could see Vega, I began observing. The Double Double split nicely, very clean at 206X. Wide gaps, visitors at the scope enjoyed the view.

I have to interject here that TAC's web-page and OI calendar are a real asset in getting people out to observe. A husband and wife last night told me they found the web-page, saw the OI calendar, that people were going to Coyote, that there was a detailed map available right from the web-page, and it was an easy decision from there. Good job Steve Sergeant, and good idea Jim Bartolini!

I didn't really have an observing plan. In fact, Kevin brought a big English beer, which I enjoyed, and then reclined the seat in my car for a while to recover. When I rolled back out it was dark, except for Mars. I asked Kevin what he planned to do, and decided to tag along with him as he logged a few Messiers.

We visited M55, M75 and M70. These were all down in the Gilroy Nebulea, but still they were fun to hunt. I shot up to NGC 7331 and peeked around for the smaller galaxies nearby, found none, that stupidly looked for Stephen's Quintet. Nada.

Went over to 52 Cygni, the "Veil Nebula" star and split it. Nice split again at 206X.

I went over to the Helix Nebula, at 72X it looked quite large, but not a lot of detail. I used the Orion Ultrablock 2", then the Lumicon 2" OIII. The "hole in the doughnut" showed up best with the Ultrablock, but the OIII really showed the nebulosity much better.

Then I asked Kevin if he'd like to chase some NGC's on the Herschel list with me.

I opened the Night Sky Observer's Guide to Cepheus, since it was up high in a decent part of the sky.

We began with the nice combination of NGC 6934 and NGC 6946 in our low power fields. 6934 is a nice obvious open cluster of perhaps a couple dozen or so stars, really kind of a rich cluster, but in Coyote's skies 6946 appeared to be a rather muted galaxy. I am really used to looking at this pair in my 18" scope under dark skies, where they are spectacular. And, these are easy to find, jumping form Alpha Cephei to the red star Eta Cephei, then to the pair of deep sky objects.

We moved next to NGC 6951, since I decided to pass on the dark nebulae in these bright skies. This one too had a decent landmark to find it from, sitting close by to mag 5.6 4-Cephei. The galaxy was faint, but quite noticeable. A dim star sits just off its eastern edge, with several bright stars to its northeast. Once we saw this one, a 3-star in the NSOG, I knew the transparency was good enough to make deep sky worthwhile. This one was listed with a surface brightness of 13.2, so really, not too bad.

NGC 7023 was next. It is listed as and open cluster and reflection nebula. I believe it is a reflection nebula, at least that's what it is from Coyote. The mag 7 star that seems surrounded by an evenly dissipating glow is easy to find. Two other stars near the same magnitude frame it, almost equally far but forming a bent line. I tried and tried to convince myself I saw a cluster, but I can't lie, no matter how hard I try.

Then I went to one of my favorite couple of stars. I pointed the scope at the Garnet Star, Mu Cephei, and just enjoyed the color. Copper-red, bright, dominating its field of view. What a color, like a tiny bright rich Mars. Then I moved the scope over to IC 1396, which was our next target. This IC is a large reflection nebula embedded in a very rich star field. The field is very large, overflowing my 20 Nager, and ever so faintly between those stars was haze. I can't wait to go to OSP and look at this! Not that that view was not enough reward, but I then enjoyed seeing Struve 2816, the nice triple star so obvious in the field. Blue and two gold. Alberio with a bonus!

By now Mars was up high enough. I have to admit to looking at Mars more than any other planet. I rarely look at the planets, there are so few of them and so many other things to see :-) But up I went to Mars, again, and as soon as the view looked mushy, returned to my usual quarry and looked for the next deep sky target.

I think we poked around at some other open clusters, boy, there are a lot of them in Cepheus. But then, with a chill on the air and the hour getting late (with all that work waiting the next day) I decided to try one more object.

We looked next for NGC 7354, a nice planetary nebula in an easy location. Off the southeast leg of the constellation line, about the middle, I put the edge of my Telrad. The bullseye was outside the constellation figure, to the southeast. Looking in at 72X I could see a faint small round glow. No problem seeing this, its small size makes its mag 12.2 glow present a high surface brightness. I tried the Ultrablock here too, and it did help, I even pumped up the power to 206X, and yes, that seemed to help, but nothing could overcome the chill, the late hour and drive home.

I began packing up at 1:30. I was not the first by a long shot, and it seemed that everyone except Rob and Bob were packing up. It was a fun night. I was on the road just after 2:00, having waited for a few friends, and in bed by 2:45.

I slept in. My wife is so nice to me. I had a great night out, and look forward now to a trip with friends to the Oregon Star Party with my 10" CPT, an 18" Starmaster, and the BEAST, the 30" StarMaster.

Have a good week observing, everyone.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Martian invasion last night

Were you at Houge Park last night?

There was a Martian invasion.

I pulled into the parking lot around 6:45 p.m. and found most of the parking spaces full. There was some group there for "Mars" gathered by the playground, over 100 people having an al fresco Chinese food dinner. As darkness moved from east to west, the lot became nearly a gridlock, cars parked in every space, in every non-space, along the driveway in, double parked along the driveway in, and along all the side streets.

I have never seen Houge Park so packed.

People who never bring out their telescopes were there.

People who never looked through a telescope were there.

Did anyone do a scope count?

Some scopes had lines of 20 people or more.

I was showing deep sky targets and double stars until Mars was up high enough. Near midnight the seeing steadied up very nicely and lots of detail was popping out on the Martian surface.

I have never had such a busy night at Houge. It was a Martian invasion, but in this case, as Ray Bradbury said, we are the Martians.

At 12:30 a.m. countermeasures to disperse the Martians were implemented, when the sprinklers came on, scattering the crowd.

It was a fun night, from start to finish.

Next month, we're bringing shower caps along ;-)

SJAA... great job hosting a really fun event!

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Planet night at Montebello: Discovery of Uranus

Last night at Montebello several of us looked at Uranus and Neptune while waiting for Mars to climb into steadier skies. I mentioned that Uranus is a naked eye object, although down in the soup to the east from our location it would be very difficult. The views through telescopes led a few observers to question my remark, and indeed Uranus did look pretty dim. But today, after a bit of browsing web-pages, I find its magnitude listed anywhere from mag 5.2 to 5.8, challenging from Montebello.

When I mentioned the planet is naked-eye, a discussion ensued regarding the planet's discovery. Who first noticed it? Well, it was Carolyn Herschel and her brother William, on March 13, 1781.

But the real question last night was, if it is at a visual magnitude that can be seen naked eye, why didn't the ancient Arabic, Greek or Chinese astronomers/astrologers discover it? Certainly the other five naked eye planets are brighter and move more rapidly against the stellar background, but I find it amazing that it took until the Herschels visually detecting Uranus' disk in a telescope for the discovery to be made.

Friday, August 8, 2003

Lick Observatory, Friday August 8-9, 2003

Last night I was fortunate enough to find myself unexpectedly at Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton for the Summer Visitors Program. I saw many familiar faces - among them James Turley, Rich Neuschaefer, Paul Mortfield, Alan Adler and Jeff Crilly..

I have to mention Jay "Count Dracula" Freeman - with his nice brass 80mm refractor. Jay is always entertaining, and had the longest lines of summer visitors waiting to view through his small telescope.

Must have been the blood color of the planet, and Jay's cape, that was the big draw.

Before dark, in fact, before sunset the moon was a washed out but interesting target. Early arrivals were enjoying views through my 10" f/5.7 CPT, which I had tracking on an Equatorial Platform. This combination of telescope and platform performed wonderfully during the evening.

We were set up behind the hallway leading from the central corridor in the main building to the 36" Clark refractor. You could look out over the valley to the east and see the mountain's shadow cast onto the more eastern slopes. Some folks who were looking sooner than I could see the shadows of the domes on the far hillsides.

As sunset approached the sky colors to the east took on tones of amber, turquoise and deepening purple. The edge of night was easy to discern as it climbed higher in the sky. As this was occurring I walked around the building to see the sunset. A low layer of fog butted up and slightly crested the peaks to the west, and the sun sat atop this, orange and flattening, to the northwest. The bay was very evident as were the wetlands at the south end of the bay. Light glistened off the wetlands - shimmering bright. The sky took on a yellow-orange-green neon hue as the sun dropped. Some think they saw a green flash, but if there was one, it was not the "strobe" described to me at Fremont Peak a few weeks back. 10 years of astronomy and I am still waiting for a "real" green flash.

After a quick dinner the sky darkened sufficiently to pick out the Double Double off of Vega. The public was quite fascinated by the view of this pair of binaries. They split quite nicely, when the seeing steadied, even at 207X. I moved next to Alberio, also at 207X, and found again that asking people who looked to describe the colors in the pair resulted in a wide range of answers. I think the most unusual was green and purple.

Once the sky darkened more I moved to M5. The globular broke up very nicely into pinpoints at 95X, although washed out by the brightness of the moon. I stayed on M5 until it was down close to the roof of the building just north of the 36" dome. I then moved to M13, which put on a nice show for much of the rest of the evening, until the "star" of the night was in position to be worth viewing.

Mars continued to improve to the point that I was finally using a Takahashi LE 5mm with the Tele Vue 2X Big Barlow, increasing the magnification to 579X. The planet was holding up nicely, even at that high mag, although seeing was still a bit spotty. But when the image snapped in, it was a great view. I also learned that the seeing we experienced at Fremont Peak on July 26th was shared by observers all over the bay area. Last night's seeing was not nearly as steady, but still, in those moments of "still" the view was marvelous.

During the later part of the evening, once the Summer Visitors were dwindling down to a small handful, a few of us went in to look at M92 in the big refractor. Overmagnified and swimming, I looked briefly and went back out to my telescope. Later, we were offered an opportunity to view another interesting object, so a few of us "hustled" back to the scope.

While waiting in line, standing on the floor to the north of the telescope, I was able to look around and just take in the whole scene. It was more than just a visual experience. The aroma of, well, I almost want to call it "history" permeated the place. It was actually the smell of the wood floors, the metal of the big scope, and probably grease in the gears. But the view of the dimly lit dome interior, the elevating floor of inlaid woods, the slit revealing a starlit sky set off by the sharp edges of the dome opening, the long tube of the 36" rising from just to my right where the eyepiece was --- up, up, up and appearing to breach the dome, which of course it didn't, all this was a view, a visceral experience that oozed into me through all my senses. Just off the tip of the scope, set against that starry background, was the object we'd view - sitting still and bright, and red-orange.

Like smelling the wine before sipping, anticipating a fine dining experience in the finest and perhaps most exotic of locations, Mars waited. What a place to be, with the planet so big and bright, so close that we'd joked with the public that if the "Martians" were to launch an invasion, this would be the month to do so. I climbed the few steps up to the eyepiece and looked in.

Bright light. White/yellow bright light.

It reminded me of a time years ago when I took my first look at Jupiter through the 36". It was overwhelming.

So there I stood, wanting the detail, but literally blinded by the light.

Then my eye began acclimating, and the south polar cap came into view. Shortly the color of the planet changed to a white-orange and dark markings started to reveal themselves. A few more moments and the entire planet was in clear view, good detail, but somewhat soft. Honestly, the views through my 10" CPT, Rich's 180mm AP and Alan's 8" equatorial mounted Newtonian were sharper.

But none carried the feeling I got standing at the eyepiece, in that dome that was saturated with history's smells, and the thoughts of Keeler, Barnard and other famous pioneers of astronomy standing where I was, looking through the same enormous instrument.

Back outside, the pubic was gone. It was just a few of us, Mars, and the seemingly ancient dome rising up just south of our telescopes. To our north a beam of light was piercing the sky. It was one of the new tools, something Barnard and Keeler never dreamed of, slicing through the night from the big slit of the 120" dome - a bright amber yellow laser shining into the upper atmosphere, providing a false star for computers to view, and average out the atmospheric instability that played with the views at the 36, and in our own telescopes. It was a trip from the early days of the observatory, inside that 36" dome, to the latest methods - shining into the heavens with laser precision and utility. It is amazing, looking at the dome and seeing "1888" cut into the facade, then looking at that beam of light helping make today's ground-based astronomy so much better.

I could not have had a better time.

I was back home and in bed by 4:45 a.m.

But, before I walked in my front door, I looked high to the south to the big planet, remembering the wonderful night with the public looking through my telescope, and the feeling I took home with me after viewing Mars while immersed in the history of that big dome and famous instrument.