my longest yard

by Theodore R Frimet

a stitch in time saves nine

Behold! A true moonless night, low humidity and no clouds. Unless you are the astrophotographer to my left. He kept on getting red smears in his semi-finished product, on screen. He had been working with a Canon T1 throughout the night. Truth be told, I couldn’t remember if it were his expletives or mine that were aurally sampled throughout the night. Maybe not all mine?

Janet, should I go to Washington Crossing Park, or out to Jenny Jump State Park? “Go To Jenny Jump”, she quipped. Not even tongue in cheek. This cherished astronomy widow drew from her experience. The cloudless, low humidity, moonless nights were as scarce as hens teeth. Yes, work thru the travel anxiety and pack up, and go!

Never skip lunch, I told myself. Get it on the road. A burger, maybe? Drive on thru. Keep to the speed limit and avoid the Route 31 speed traps. Plenty of time to take to the right side of the road. Let the local traffic pass you by. Most don’t, though. They are equally respectful of the ordinances in place to keep all travelers safe. See? It isn’t true what they say about Jersey drivers.

It’s already dark at UACNJ by the time I arrive. I close the gate behind me. I remind myself of the sign the committee placed on the gate. Outsiders should remain cautious as we are not open to the general public. Soon, though, we will be showing the night sky on Saturday nights for public outreach.

I turn the hair pin corner, at the speed of slug. Lights on for safety. Outside the house, a line of amateur astronomers appear on the hill. I silently commiserate with them. My car headlights are reminiscent of a late comer to the movie theatre. This ticket holder pardons his way thru the seats to the empty one in view. Hooded gentry of the cloth stand stoically about their astral machines. Heads bowed down in mercy, as they avoid the pitfall of headlights.

I park across from the house. No cars there. No wonder. Who wants to port a hundred kilograms of gear across the gravel, up the hill, and to the scrimmage line? No one, ‘cept the old timer, here. Not wanting to drive off a minor cliff, I cautiously pull into spot number one. I am careful not to go beyond the concrete barrier.

I make quick sport of my personal belongings. A huge go-bag has all of my cold weather gear. The translucent storage container holds my artifice. I spy my suitcase with pillow and sleeping bag. I make a quick check for the astro-seat, eyepiece case, field tripod, and JMI. Yes, didn’t forget a thing, except lunch. I have an emergency granola bar to munch – so I’m prepared for the long haul. Thank goodness I remembered a couple bottles of water. So very important to stay hydrated in cold weather!

I do the dance to the front door, and let myself in. Membership has its privileges, and key holders have house access. I make my bed, and decide what layers of clothing to wear. I settle on two layers of socks to ward off the nights chill. The first can wick away moisture. I choose polyester top and bottom long john. They will keep my body warm and dry. I decide to wear my stretch blue jeans, mostly because I am bashful. And put on the RefrigiWear Iron Tuff Coveralls with Hood. I am protected down to -50 F. Yes, that was a minus sign. I don’t overheat. This is brilliant textile engineering. I cap my toots off with Baffin footwear. Bragging rights, here. Does minus 148 sound posh? Mittens, hobo style. Check! I remove my $7 faux fur hat, and cover my noggin with balaclava. I solved the breath fog by choosing an open face version. My last balaclava, although performance based for skiers, clouded out the lens before dew point ever had her way with me.

Back out to the SUV, and hand carry the tripod to site. I step up the minor grade, only to find my feet sinking slightly into terra firma. It holds well. I muse to myself that the soft grounds should be good for tripod stability.

The line of amateurs greet me with grimaces hidden by the dark of night. Only the pale shine of the horizon skirmishes the evening veil. I silently listen to conversations being held and try to take stock of who is present. My ears play tricks on me, as I vy to ascertain only a few well known club members. I site the tripod, and level it. And re-level, and again, level. Back to the car.

Bring out the tub, with all the astro goodies, and particulars that make the night operate smooth as silk. You can’t learn enough from club members. They have learned all the best rules of the road. The storage tub, neatly confines all that is required for the evening view. Less to lose, and everything at your beck and call.

I transport the astro-chair. What a back saver. Best investment, ever! Eyepiece case comes next. Followed by the JMI. Two amateur values that were an add-in for my recent purchase of a Meade LX 200 GPS were the JMI case, and an engineered table. The aircraft aluminum table stays permanently affixed to the tripod top. It effortlessly guides my scope into place. No need to wreak havoc on my back or worse – drop a scope into the black abyss of the night. I place my gerry rigged center bolt up, from underneath the tripod head, into the LX bottom. Careful not to over insert the threading, we tighten the mizzenmast. This ship is almost ready to set sail for her maiden voyage.

I place the Lithium power tank at the tripod base. Making note of the velcro straps, I secure the power line to Ahab’s peg leg. Tank to scope connection made. Power up, and let the LX begin the vintage dance of 2003. All goes well. It should, as I’ve committed more than 45 days of time and labor to bring her to set sail. North, level, and limits are found. The GPS makes a siren song with satellites not in view, and finds me in the darkness. Two stars are selected for me. Sirius. Thank god. I can find that bright son-of-a gun, with one eye closed!

Fortunately, Sirius was the first star selected for auto-guiding. My finder scope had managed to break free of its architecture. I reset the small scope into the rings of destiny. I applauded myself knowing full well that a bright star makes alignment simple. Of course, this is a reverse order – however when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade! Finder and main oculus now in agreement, I motion to the second star for alignment. Althios.

One repeated review on the Meade alignment system, is that newcomers would have difficulty in finding alignment stars. Chosen for them, by the telescope software, I can see where this might have been problematic. Equipped with an app for the night sky, this amateur makes quick sense of where Althios is. Now, forever more, burned into my memory – Althios will be easy to find in the night sky. No, really. I focused on the wrong star. And when it came to finding The Great Orion Nebula, it was off centered. I knew I could do better. Life is a do over.

Help! My finder scope image is upside down! Yes, I had a tough time with a star, that wasn’t solo. I called out for help. Thanks, Bill. I apologized to him, as he had to genuflect before an RACI 8×50, without a correct image diagonal. Bill is a professional astronomer, and makes quick to center the orb. Taking back the oar, I put her blade back into the black water. I press into her paddle. Stroke, stroke, stroke the enter button, and look astern to the Autostar. It glows red words, reminiscent of a sea creatures bioluminescence. Alignment complete!

Chit chat in the background. I hear that another member mused about deep cycle marine batteries. Not me. My lithium tank is outperforming all expectations this evening. To my right, perchance I pickup the vibe of others cold feet. I feel not the cold hearted orb that rules the night. My toes are warm, and no creature discomfort will distract me from my night time view.

Like a child at play, with a new toy, I look to the rivers and streams that I am used to. The Great Nebula appears well centered. Not all is what it appears to be. Let me share some of the preamble to the view:

Yup. So satellite metrics do change over time! Evidently there was a “crossover” last year.

I ordered an RS-232, and a bridge cable to USB for the latest update.

It would be questionable that the LX200 GPS would be able to target anything, using its onboard GPS without the latest firmware installed.

I can’t imagine it wouldn’t work properly once the time/date was manually entered, and a correct corresponding manual site was selected!

However, I’ll try to vette the telescope, once again, after I install the latest firmware

and again:

We had a great night last night. And it exposed yet another problem that I wanted to share with you.

After experiencing the issue, and researching – it was truly an easy fix.

Considering that some of the SCTs you offer for resale have been closet stored for a few years – it is likely that the grease has “redistributed” itself over the years, if only due to gravity, and heat/cooling variations during storage.

When I took to the telescope, last evening – the aperture was so far off – it was stuck at the extremis at the 10 o’clock position. The mirror had “cocked”.

The simple minded solution last night was to turn the focus all the way out, and all the way back in. Intuitively done – this redistributes some of the grease. And the rest of the night was only bothered by the tit for tat focus shift that all old Meades are known for. When I get to it, Peterson Engineering for about $30 should not only fine tune it – the application of new grease will give this scope another few years of service.

So, if anyone complains about that YOUR 10 inch that you were offering – you might want to have them search for the solution – or simply set the scope at 30 degrees, end pointed up – and rotate the focus ALMOST all the way out, and ALMOST all the way in – for about 10xs. I only did this five times, and was successful.

Again – this is NOT mirror flop, or minor focus shift. Cold temperatures do NOT play nicely with grease that hasn’t been redistributed for a couple of years!

We can now leave well enough alone. I’m afraid that I’ve relentlessly conveyed only a few hours work. Yes, this is the big payoff. The jackpot. Nothing here was left to chance, except the learning curve of used equipment investiture. Having paid the price of admission, I am entreated with the unmitigated view of spiral galaxies, and nebulas.

Having filled my cup, and it overfloweth, I remembered a shout out to me. As soon as I had entered the club, I was asked if I was from Pennsylvania. I doggedly answered, and went quickly out the door. I was eager to set up. Later another member of the night asked all to visit with him, inside. He wanted to warm up his bones, and talk for a spell. Someone to chit chat with. I was focused on the mission. Stroke, stroke, stroke, went my oars. Away to me, to worlds that were previously hidden by push-to delinquency, and light polluted skies. No time to talk.

Yet, I had my fill. Camaraderie slowly came into focus. It would seem that astronomy wasn’t my sole learning curve. I looked about, and saw the membership had dwindled. Some had left. I listened to the dark, and heard a few at the Buinis 16 inch. I moved to the direction of the bodiless voices. Samir and Eric looked up.

Eric was about ready to close up the observatory. We all talked for a while. I inquired about the time. It was only 10:30 PM EST. I spewed a little pablum of my penchant for atheism, and thanked G-d for slowing down time for me. Usually, we all experience the fleeting clock movements of time management. Yet, lately, my interrupted sleep patterns are extensible. Evidently so, my timeline for astronomy is a dual boot. My two and half hours felt like double the time. Astronomy, it seems, affects the mind on a molecular basis. For that I say, thank you Darwin.

Everyone packed, ‘cept Samir – I ask him to lock up, as I intend to stay the night. He agrees. We talk for awhile, as he waits on his fill of astrophotography to complete its nocturnal mission. Walking outside, he heads for his gear, and me for mine.

I peer into the eyepiece, and feel the wind at my back. I don’t mind as I start to feel the break chill of the late evening. The quadrature giggles. It yields in waves of hyperbole that is certain to ruin the remainder of the venue. The hill that I chose, amplifies the wind churning vibrations. I dare not lock down the scope any further. I might not be able to extract my field expedient retention bolt.

Samir is here for another half hour or so. Timed for the setting of the Great Hunter, I am faced with a choice. Both require putting away the telescope. Along with my lunch, I also forgot my scope shroud. Not wanting to wake up to a frozen popsicle, it was incumbent upon me to stow away our oars, pull down the riggings, and make safe the Meade.
It was fair choice to leave with Samir. He locked the gate, as I waited at the park exit. Once all was secure, he went his way, and I my own.

In football, there is the Hail Mary. Having missed my opportunity at professional sports, I can only imagine that players have their own mental time management. That the pigskin gets suspended in time and in space. My gridiron lacks the struggle for dominion over the earth. Yet we astronomers share an overlapping ven. Making the last throw for the evening, at the Crab Nebula, became what I will always remember as my longest yard.

This entry was posted in March 2020, Sidereal Times and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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