Observational Doldrums

There hasn’t been any real activity in the Astronomy department in about a year. It’s not for lack of interest. I just haven’t been doing any observing lately.

Beyond the metropolitan skyglow and pathetic Clear Sky clocks, I spend as much time as ever “armchairing” the universe through the magazines, internet and an occasional new book.

The last time I set up a telescope, Bob was still alive. I had to have him act as “spotter” as I hefted our massive Orion 10″ reflector and guided it onto the Atlas mount, down here in Phoenix. After dark, the sky didn’t offer a rich selection of targets, but mighty Jupiter shone brightly in the southeast. This was “first light” for the Atlas/Orion, and I got a rough polar alignment on the mount, and tracking seemed to work great.

Jupiter swung into view, and I switched to the highest power eyepiece I thought traffic would bear. I refocused and held Bob steady so he could look through the eyepiece.

“Oh my GAWD!”, he exclaimed, and I was rewarded with one of Bob’s increasingly rare genuine smiles. It was a truly beautiful sight, and a grand way to remember the last time he looked through a telescope.

People who have been together for a long time naturally divide up tasks according to what they do best. I was best at star charts and celestial mechanics. Bob was best at setting up and programming the AutoStar device for our Meade 8″ SCT. The device, which remains a thorn in the side for me, is remarkably similar to a TV remote. That was right up Bob’s alley. In the old days, I would do the mechanical setup, Bob would initialize the scope’s computer, I would find objects like Andromeda when Autostar didn’t seem to, and we would share observational delights.

I won’t pretend that half the fun of observing isn’t sharing with someone else. I still have the scopes. I will set up the Meade again, probably on vacation in October. I’m not confident I have the strength to set up the 10″ Orion without some help. The penalty for dropping an OTA is just too steep.

There’s enough fun in entry-level observing to keep me going for a long time, when I get back into it.

For naked-eye observing, last night was exceptional. I enjoyed a late night dip in the pool (it will soon be too cold for the pool) and saw Cassiopaea, the full sideways “W”. I knew Andromeda is somewhere to the east of that, but I wasn’t trying to identify objects, so much as enjoy. The night sky was fairly crystalline. Sometimes just looking in wonder is enough for me.

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