by Theodore R. Frimet
two cats enter. one cat leaves.
It’s late Sunday afternoon, the 22nd of December. I am still recovering from 6 hours of evening observations at AAAP Washington Crossing Park observatory. I don’t frequent there as much as I could. Clearly when we arrive at our New Years’, my resolution will be to make more observations, including astro-videography. Our AAAP club sustains me. They provide the nourishment for all Amateur Astronomers.
Two cats enter. One cat leaves. Two cats enter. One cat leaves. Two cats enter, one human leaves. I didn’t see that coming! Cats dominating the homestead, and kicking the human to the curb. Might make a run for it, while I can? Fritz the destroyer is up in his room, while the two dominatrix wait patiently for attention. Both stoically sitting back-to-back, in a more or less random assignment on the time line. Priss decides to leave. I pick up Big-Pussycat, as Fritz and Priss have clearly abdicated their role as Sol-survivor.
Big Pussycat and I look out of the sliding glass door. Door closed, of course. Last night was brutal in the 20’s and this afternoon shall not be a reprise. The sun appears to set, just at the tipping point below someones outside garage. Of course this is an illusion. The sun never sets, does it? It is more or less understood that the Earth rotates about its axis. It gives the illusion that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Big Pussycat purrs on.
I nudge her gently, bringing my chin to nestle about her whiskers. I explain that the glory of the sun that she basks in, provides warmth. Her feline stare suggests otherwise, that it provides Energy. Sol never was that great provider. Here on Earth, and elsewhere, Nature requires many an element to create and sustain life. We have encountered many AstroPhysical moieties that give provision to Life’s Genesis. Today’s number one hit is the front page news of impending Super Novae. Yes, it is those prominent colossus’ that are the requiem of matter sustaining life.
It’s a great private email feed to read and listen in on UACNJ comments. Not to be undone by the history of the time line, we take notice of an alarm! Betelgeuse has dimmed. Well, the red giant found in the Orion Constellation is variable. That is it increases and decreases in luminosity according to its own timetable. This recent dimming is special. It is the preamble to a Nova. The likes, in my own humble opinion, that hasn’t been seen since two thousand Christmas’ ago.
I usually recall my dreams. Perhaps that is because my last stage REM occurs before I wake up for work. I have an uncanny ability to recall my dreams in detail. Yet, armed with the knowledge that most accessed memory is friable; who is to say that I just conjured up the whole imagery? Yet, here I am. Stuck with the knowledge that in one dreamscape, long ago, I recall seeing stars fleeing from the direction of Orion. Wait a minute. That animation is from a movie preamble. And it is copyright! I hope no-one speaks to a lawyer about rights infringement. I’d have to pay every time I have a Cosmological night time event!
I wake up, and nudge the cat once more. I tell her that very soon, in a cosmological time period, that Betelgeuse will slam dunk space-time. The great wave will compress matter and awaken new star formation and birth life anew. The matter that she will spew forth will form the basis of inner planets waiting to coalesce. On her time-scale, those planets will heave and hew until reasonably intelligent life takes hold. Maybe then, we can have a cogent conversation. Big Pussycat meows back. Eyes wide shut. Tail wags. Human leaves the stage. Big Pussycat wants to remind all of her readership that the Red Giants Nova may not take place for another one thousand years. Or maybe next Tuesday. The odds are better, she says, than winning a Regional Lottery.
Roof half open. Handle comes off. Make frantic phone calls. Get superb responses. All post-haste as the handle was reattached, with a little elbow grease, and some common sense. Roof securely open now, and I’m snug as a bug in a rug.
I am early to the observatory. The sun hasn’t even set yet. We open the observatory, and cool down the mirror. Seat. Coffee. Wait. Darkness descends. A star is born of the night sky.
Is that Taurus? Could it be a red star? No, it’s white. Castor is bright. Is it Aldebaran? That one was my friends favorite! Ah, it is Capella. I knew it. Capella was one of the brightest stars, a few out-reaches ago, in a Church parking lot. Due to security lighting, Capella was one of the few stars available to ogle at.
This time of year, Capella is taught to the amateur to be a “guide star”. Find Capella, and you can star hop! This is tough love, though. When there are clouds, and only one star, it becomes a guessing game. We guessed correctly. There’s an app for that.
I relax back in my seat, and await the star show. I casually look up. There I see an array of a neatly formed great square. Oh my gosh! The Great Square of Pegasus. More clouds part. The white wisps dissipate as if on command. More starlight shows the greater portion of those defined by Constellation Pegasus. This is going to be a good evening. My app was right. It will be clear skies, dominated by no moon, at all.
I was going to visit the numerous glowing bodies that appear in the vicinity of the Constellation Cassiopeia. It was mentioned to me, by a committee chair, long ago. I listened then, only to find the courage to come out, and do the astronomy by myself more than a year later. We are in the moment, and the moment is now. It took a right turn due to lesser luminous magnitudes competing for the night light pollution. Change in plans. Look for Andromeda.
Our sister spiral galaxy fills my 32mm 82 degree Explore Scientific (ES) eyepiece. Yet there is no detail I can discern. No structure, at all. I wonder as I gaze at her, if I needed more time to accede to the dimming of the night. No, I said. It isn’t dark enough here, at Washington Crossing Park. I would need to move my kit and caboodle to Jenny Jump State Park, at UACNJ. There, a year back, and in the September-November time frame, I spied not only the structure of this spiral; I beheld the two minor Messier objects that frame her vicinity. However, Andromeda was not my goal, this evening. I changed up to higher magnification, and then dropped back down to 24 mm. I got a good eye-full.
Desperately seeking another galaxy, I crossed the river Jordan. I stood the test of time as I learned advanced functions of TheSkyX software. It paired well with my arbitrary and desperate search for galaxies. I stumbled upon M77, a barred spiral galaxy.
This evening I start up my favorite home based Astronomy solution, Stellarium. I key in “M77” in the search bar. My screen lights up with familiar objects. Aldebaran, we briefly met earlier. Pleiades, aka the Seven Sisters – Subaru. I read off the technical detail that M77 has a magnitude of 8.87, and is reduced to 9.11 by our air mass. Given that the humidity level at achieved peak levels in excess of 85 percent, hindsight now tells me why I had trouble finding faint fuzzies last evening.
Cetus A was difficult to view. Despite the occasional visit to the computer monitor, my night vision had not been compromised. I had learned, long ago, to keep one eye shut. I decided that any magnitude of 8.9 or lesser (higher luminosity) would be my goal for the night. I wanted more. I was stubborn. The night sky, like deer in the forest, only present themselves when the confidence of the hunter has been won.
I keyed in advanced searches for galaxies in the few constellations that met my fancy. I augmented the search for lower magnitudes. Nothing returned other than M33. I could not get a fix on that Triangulum Galaxy. Perhaps this Pinwheel Galaxy is a non-visual emitter of light? Oh woe is to me!
I went to the task of resetting my query, and extended it to the realm of Globular Clusters. None. However there were a plethora of Open Clusters to be seen this evening. I looked at one, and was non-plussed. Despite there being a hot red star in the mix, I didn’t have it in me. I wanted closed clusters, or bright nebulae to be sure! Nothing else would do. And then I saw Uranus in the mix. It was 8:43 PM, and I had a 6.7mm 82 degree ES waiting for the planetary view. I remembered that it is colorful. A gray, pale-blue color – a vestigial reminder that Methane makes up her outer skirt.
I turned my attention onto Uranus. It was my first solo flight at the observatory for a planetary view. Three years earlier, I had found Uranus from my backyard. That was before the verge had overgrown. Here I was. Planet in sight. 32mm, 24mm, 14mm, 11mm, 6.7mm – lost detail. Here, tonight, there was nothing to be gained by over amplifying the visual. I put the 24mm back in, and set for a spell.
Knock Knock. Who’s there? Thump in the distance. The sound gets closer. The next song that plays over the clubs radio is Christmas music.
“He sees you when you’re sleeping”
“He knows when you’re awake”
This is the makings of a bad “B-movie”, when the lone Astronomer gets heisted by a tree dwelling elf. Ok. I watered that down a bit. I didn’t want you to get the willies and have bad dreams. I turned off the radio. Not a good idea. I focused on the silence.
By now it was getting past 10 PM, and I felt it was good goings to park the scope, and start packing it in. I had a few fences that I needed to hurdle, and Rudolf was on my tail this evening. I managed to shake off the elf, in exchange for holiday reindeer.
Roof closed. All secure. I’m on the road and make the nightly call to Janet. I’m on my way. “Home by mid-night?”, she asked. Why, no. I’m on I95 in Pennsylvania. “Oh, I thought you went to Jenny Jump”.
A moment of silence took to pause. I paid my dues, and found my guide star. The heavens rewarded me with an overhead, front row view to Pegasus. I rediscovered a bar galaxy, and remembered how to properly pronounce, Uranus. “Yes, I’ll be home in time for the holidays”.
The bane of your existence
shall be the ones that you love.
If god were my copilot
God would be laughing at me.