Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Star Gazing

I was downstairs at the puzzle table with Mom. (If you remember, Mom had given me a 3000 piece killer of a puzzle a few months ago. Well my sisters returned the favor by giving her a 1000 piecer of an image full of fancy teacups that was proving to be a real bitch to put together!)

It was late; late enough that even being within a few days of the summer solstice in these northern latitudes, the sun was but a faint bluish-blush of a memory in the western skies.

Into this scene the doorbell rang.

Now for me this was strange. I haven't even had a doorbell, let alone one to ring, for nearly a decade and a half, and prior to that we lived in the city behind a fence. We did have a doorbell to ring back then, but you would have had to have 30' long arms to reach through the landlord's locked gates to reach it. And frankly nobody with 30' long arms ever called on us.

And by the look on Mom's face, it was just as strange for her to hear the doorbell ring this time of night.

After a brief, ping-ponging eyeballs, rabbity twitching, moment, I channeled the virile he-man that I aspire to be, crept up the stairs and eased one eye around the edge of the window to see what mayhem was at the door.

It's Mom's neighbor, the one who lives in the condo across the driveway. His face is all lit up monster like by the light bouncing through the beveled-glass of the door, (Remember flashlights under the chin while huddled around a campfire with sadistic councilors?)  but Mom always talks about how sweet and helpful Mike is, so I took a deep breath, grabbed myself - you know - down there, to check that I still had a pair, readied myself to run if things went bad, (My choices were to run back downstairs and out the patio doors, but that would lead him right past Mom as he snarled at my heels, which would make me a rather bad son, and probably get me cut out of the will, or out through the garage where I'd have to pause, perhaps fatally, while the anemic garage door opener did it's thing.) took a deep breath and opened the door.

"Hey greg, sorry to ring so late but there's a few of us guys messing around out here in the driveway and we wondered if you wanted to come out and play!"

OK, so those weren't his exact words, but lets get real here, we all know that's what he meant. I mean we spend our childhoods unabashedly living for play, and, let's be honest now, though we try and do the responsible thing as adults and suppress it, that doesn't change the fact that we spend our adult lives still living for the chance to go outside and play. Oh sure, once we get into the throes of puberty and beyond we try to disguise it as 'hanging out' or 'hobbies', or 'getting away', or 'de-stressing', but it's still all the same thing; play!

Seems Mike is, among many other things, (Mike likes to play!) an avid astronomer, and instead of a car in his garage he has a monster of a telescope. I mean, it's the biggest privately owned telescope I've every been up close and personal with! (Well - up close anyway. There was nothing 'personal' about it. Promise.) This thing has an 11" mirror and even mounted low to the ground on a fancy multi-axis, dampened-bearings base, it's so long that if you are the least bit vertically challenged it requires a step-stool to look through when pointed anywhere other than low to the horizon. On top of that a friend of his had brought his telescope over too, this one only slightly smaller, turning the driveway there between the condos into a regular observatory.

I had to really force the image here to show a little detail. Mike's large telescope is on the right and his friends slightly smaller one on the left.
The moon was nearly full and Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter were all visible this night. (I had to take Mike's word for that. He's the one with a really fancy app on his I-pad that has all this information and more. Mike said the app takes the place of a whole shelf full of reference volumes that he used to have to lug around in the back seat of his car.)

It took me a good dozen shots before I managed to capture this astral glint on one of the stargazers glasses.
At one point there were four of us out there in the driveway hopping back and forth between the two scopes as fast was we could - well - hop. I think between us, by which I mean Mike and his friend, we spotted something like six or seven of Jupiter's moons (A couple of the guys kept naming them off. I took their word for it.) We looked at some squiggles on Mar's surface. We looked at a bunch of the craters and other features on the Moon (Again, they kept naming features off from memory and I took their word for it.) We looked at Saturn, her rings clearly visible in both scopes. We looked at some nameless, to me anyway, star clusters (Hey! I can barely remember my own name. Give me a break!) And we looked at some sort of ring nebula left over from a super-nova, (It made me think of grandpa blowing smoke rings while we waited on Grandma to serve dinner.) with even more distant stars visible inside the ring which was, apparently, in astronomer speak, pretty cool.

In this photo taken facing west, you can just barely see The Van there to the right of center.
This was all some serious work! These were some dedicated amateurs guiding us around our own private, open-air planetarium. In fact, when making plans for more stargazing the following Saturday, one of the guys had to be reminded that he was supposed to get married that particular day!  ("Oh yeah, that's right. Maybe you should count me out that day. . .")

Here some crater I can't remember the name of is being checked out and I managed to get the glint of the moon showing through the finder-scope in this shot. The bright spot off the back of the astronomer's head is Mars.
It was pretty cool and all, but let's face it, I'm in that awkward age, that long gap, where I've outgrown childhood naps but am still not old enough to qualify for guiltless adult naps, so when another carload of people showed up for the party around midnight I begged off and climbed in The Van (Parked only feet away.) and went to bed. . .

Astronomer at work

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