Archive for June 30th, 2012

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My moment of Zen

June 30, 2012

This month has been kind of a blitz, and this week has been a blitz within a blitz. My summer teaching started, I’m still organizing data from a research trip last week, and one of my best friends is moving away. I miss being outside, being alone, having time to think, and having time to not think.

After my evening responsibilities were over, I got out the little Mak and decided to get back to my in-town observing projects: the Astronomical League’s Urban Observing club and Double Star club. I am getting very close to finishing the observations for the Urban club, so that’s where I started tonight. I observed the globular cluster M62 in Scorpio, and the double star Graffias (Beta Scorpii). That only leaves two objects to go to finish the Urban club: the galaxy M77 and the variable star Algol (Beta Persei). Both are up in the early morning at this time of year, so my options are to get up before dawn some morning, or just wait a few months until they’re up earlier. I’ll probably make a Dawn Patrol run one of these mornings to knock them off; now that I am so close to having that list completed, I doubt if I’ll be able to wait very long.

Graffias is also on the observing list for the Double Star club, so it made a nice segue into double star observing, and that’s what I did for the rest of the session. Double stars are great because they don’t suffer much from light pollution. A gray sky background is not as pretty as a black one, but the stars themselves are easily visible, so I have something outside the solar system to observe on nights like tonight when the moon makes DSO hunting unrewarding at best.

It’s easy to get into a rhythm. I made an all-sky map showing the 100 double and multiple stars on the observing list, so I check that to see what’s well-placed in the sky and convenient. Then I pick up the Pocket Sky Atlas and figure out how to star hop to my target star. Once I’m on target, I swap eyepieces in and out until I find out which magnification yields the most pleasing view. Then I sketch the stars in my logbook and make a few notes. I logged nine doubles tonight in addition to Graffias, leaving 31 to go in that observing program.

Our cat, Moe, was outside with me, doing whatever it is he does after dark. At one point I looked up and saw him in the driveway, nosing at a slightly smaller animal. The second critter wasn’t yowling, hissing, or running away, so I figured it wasn’t one of the neighborhood cats. I shined my red flashlight in that direction and found myself staring into the glowing red eyes of an opossum. I like opossums. It’s cool that we have a native marsupial in North America, and it’s cool that opossums are still doing pretty much what their–and our–ancestors were doing under the feet of the dinosaurs. I went over to have a look at our nocturnal visitor, and after a minute he shuffled off to attend to his mysterious business. I went back to the sky.

I did take some time to look at the moon, and shared the view with Vicki and London before they turned in, and later on with our neighbor in the front house.

So, nothing spectacular. And that’s the point. I don’t write enough about the simple joys of stargazing. I spent two hours outside in the cool night air, saw some beautiful stars, got to chat for a few minutes with my neighbor, had a visit from a wild animal, and learned a little more of the sky. If I did this on a more regular basis, I’d probably be a happier, saner person.

I still haven’t blogged about the transit of Venus, which went swimmingly, or about the great observing run I had up Mount Baldy with Terry Nakazono a couple of weeks ago. I do intend to get to those things, as and when. In the meantime, I am going to get some sleep. Clear skies.