The seeing was terrible: darkness barely falls, and the sky is thick with heat, cloud and muck. Nonetheless the new refractor let me peer out.
First there was Venus, dropping into the trees but showing a fattish phase; then Jupiter, which graciously allowed me to watch Europa being occulted behind it; then Saturn, rings wide open, with Titan just visible; and at last Mars, almost at opposition but so low it was just a big orange fuzzball.
I’ve seen them all better; but this is a moment to enjoy seeing them at all.
After significant wrestling with rugs, curtains, windows, tables, books, boxes, bargains, shoes, and incoming parcels, we got to the serious stuff.
This included corporate creativity in order to adjust the fascinator with two pairs of heavy duty pliers and superglue (a treasurable experience)
and discovering that we female rellies from far-flung places had instinctively colour-co-ordinated ourselves.
The view from the back of the portaloos was the best I have ever seen from a lavatory (the other aspects were good too) and strop didn’t seem to break out until later. All good.
Meantime, writing a level 7 assignment with the other foot … yes, that worked. Writing is agony, but here is a keeper (especially since I discovered that St Menas may have won the Battle of El Alamein):
It was lonely without the sky so in a heavily symbolic act … I may have overbought. It came today,
and I have been using the cathedral spire to align the red dot finder. Can’t see the spire? The scope can. In fact it can count each red warning light and the knobs on the cross on top.
But can it see anything else? Naturally, the moon is rising behind a band of high cloud and has turned itself into a gigantic fuzzball. Isn’t astronomy wonderful?
Probably the stars have been there all along, but time has lapsed since we visited. At sunset I waited impatiently in the porch, out of the wind, until they began to pop in the deepening blue. I watched the Summer Triangle down into the west as if for the last time. Orion was rising in the east, holding open the sky to let the cold air in.
At the first end: ugly lumps, and wet newspaper everywhere, but it’s invigorating to work up the beach clay from slop to gloop to squodge.
At the other end: fragments of apricot light coruscating through trees, becoming a broken arc, a distorted rectangle, finally a golden disc. Full moon.
Reading time has been rather gobbled up.
I may have selected this based on a subconscious connection with grass and the breaking of impenetrable sod:
Somehow I have managed to miss reading it down all the years; meeting as an adult, it raised quite a few questions. One concerns the apparently reckless way the father takes his family off on a dangerous journey. We have gone soft now. Or perhaps it didn’t seem as dangerous, when any life was dangerous – even staying tucked into the most secure and prosperous home could not protect you from the epidemics of infectious disease which cut swathes through many a family. Or perhaps pressure of poverty was strong enough to drive the migrants on. Then there’s the way Ingalls apparently makes the decisions without input from his wife (ah the good old days – ‘she for god in him’ etc.) And worst, of course, are the passages dealing with the native Americans. Ingalls is portrayed as liberal, humane, but assumes that the western country is his to take because the inhabitants “weren’t using it”, and he is furious when, having illegally moved into Indian reservation land, he and other settlers were required to leave “their” farms. Ugly.
Then there is this delicate little sippet of a book.
Ah, the pure sensory pleasure of its satiny dust jacket, the smooth crispness of the coated paper, the careful balance of text and image, the reposeful colours, the spine coherent without wilful springiness, the clean smell rising from every page turn. This made it quite difficult to concentrate on the actual subject matter, but it too was charming in its miscellany of science, technology, art and history, and although the coverage is very slight, there’s a further reading list handy at the back.
One phrase, though originally intended to be satirical, spoke truth to me as an observer: Thomas Tomkis in 1615 characterised a telescope as “an engine to catch starres”. Out in the darkness with the Dob, that’s just what it feels like.
It all started so promisingly.
The baby 5″ is quick to set up and I took a couple of snaps for the fun of it, before the sky was properly dark.
I even managed to catch a little of the earthshine, though it needed a time long enough to over-expose the lit crescent of the moon.
The 5″ was, however, not giving a good image of Jupiter, and I lugged out the 10″. Given that we’re talking astronomy here, no surprise that the clouds came up in a moment, and wiped the sky like a sponge across a blackboard. At this point everything began to go wrong, a maddening saga involving collimators, flat batteries, lost screws, and the impending disintegration of the whole primary mirror assembly on the 10″. And it wasn’t even April Fools yet. I secured the primary before sulking off to bed, but it’s going to be a vile job to realign everything.
This afternoon was bright but it was the mist in the downs which was making me happy.
Driving home, I could see four complicated sky layers, all apparently doing different things. By the time I could photograph, only two of the layers were obvious: the low grey layer which was the one sitting on the hills, moving quickly to the right, though there was almost no breeze at ground level; and the high white cumulus, drifting almost imperceptibly to the left.
Made me think of Jupiter all over again.
Because I didn’t have to get up at seven I woke at four. As I blearily tweaked the curtain, Jupiter glowed in a frosty sky, and I could hear it even when I tried to tuck back under the quilt: “You’ll be sorry if you don’t… you’re awake anyway … you’ll be sorry if you don’t.” Luckily the thermals were to hand in the darkness. And the essential fluffy feet.
It’s quite a while since I’ve been out at this barbarous hour. The Plough of course; Leo; Virgo arranged around the beacon of Jupiter; Hercules; Lyra rising. I fail to like Boötes, whereas my cockles always warm to Corona Borealis and Serpens Caput (as if they cared!), and Draco provokes tragicomic nostalgia. In the still air, each wave was audible, growling onto the remote beach, the seventh waves thundering and dumping with suppressed energy.
I took out the 5″, but it had decollimated itself so I could barely pick out the belts of Jupiter, though it was pleasant to see the four big moons in a row. So I stuck to eyeball and binocular, working to ‘see’ the squashed house of Cepheus, which for some reason my brain never identifies even when I know I’m looking straight at it. Cygnus came up in the east, and at last Aquila began to appear, and the whole summer triangle was absurdly simultaneous with the icy car and crunching grass. A shred of the waning moon rose at six, and through binoculars the earthshine was awesome.
One planet; one meteor; one satellite; the moon; and a thousand stars. As I came in I dropped the 5″ on its head, poor thing, and made it more woggly than ever. So now – if you can – collimate THAT.
Managing the diminishing days requires the exercise of moral courage. Some possible approaches:
1. Tackle the Caesars. I could feel Suetonius chuntering at one shoulder, and Robert Graves smiling ironically at the other. Tom Holland has the same problem as historians writing about mediaeval England: once we have read their stuff, Graves and Shakespeare will always compel our view of Augustus and Richard III (and the rest), whatever the historical evidence. Lots of goodies in the book though, and very good contextual stuff to help one understand the familiar-yet-totally-alien principles of Romans as they negotiated the huge changes of their times.
2. Tackle the snowflakes. Up the ladder and down the ladder and up the ladder and down the ladder and up the ladder and down the ladder and up the ….
3. Tackle theology. Sitting in the window ‘like the picture of somebody reading’, I frequently found myself sleeping like a baby. This was due not so much to boredom as to the physical relaxation caused by heavy duty thinking. Must have something to be said for it – the book is now full of pink notes-to-self.
4. Tackle some gardening, even if it is December. The peacock orchid bulbs wanted to come out of their horrible cold soggy sluggy compost, and I’ll give them a nice warm indoor start after Christmas.
5. Tackle some window cleaning, to get the best from what little daylight there is, and any adventitious sparkle humanly supplied. Eeeee when spiders abseiled crossly out of the corners.
6. Tackle astrobiology. Actually, after McIntosh this was a bit of a stroll, and I wished it had been updated in view of all the Kepler exoplanet discoveries and new data on Europa and Titan.
7. Tackle a prejudice. Mashed swede…
Actually don’t bother with this one. It’s just as bad as I thought, even with lashings of butter and seasoning. Should you have the facilities to do so, just give Fluffers some exercise by throwing breadcrumbs up and down the kitchen floor, and put Bagpuss on the television. The Bony King of Nowhere comes up as fresh as paint.
The revelling won’t last, though I daresay the cold will. So I nipped out with the 10″ to take a quick look at the Moon, as everything else was wiped out by it.
I always like the waxing gibbous phase, which conveniently brings some of my favourite features to the terminator. I took a lot of snaps through the eyepiece; always frustrating to find that while one segment is pretty good, other areas come out blurred. And the Moon image in the eyepiece was surprisingly zizzy considering it isn’t warm, which won’t have helped to get a sharp image. I’ve turned the pictures upside down to make them right way up, and now they look peculiar to me.
There’s something very satisfying about Clavius, with its arc of smaller craters diminishing gradually in size like Russian dolls. The camera managed to pick up the central peak in Rutherfurd (on the southern rim) and the smaller craters D C N and J (running away from Rutherfurd in an arc). The unevenness of the crater walls is obvious, and I see there is a tiny hint of the rather mashed down central peaks (inboard of C, as it were) and hints of some of the other minor craters in the interior. I haven’t attempted to identify all the surrounding craters – this part of the surface is a bit busy.
And I have a fondness for Gassendi. I think it was one of the first craters I learned by name, with its very distinctive shape where Gassendi A breaks the main crater wall. This image caught some of the detail – the long ridge leading away to the east just catching the sun, the slump or depression in eastern wall, the break in the wall to the south, and just a hint of the concentric ridge which lies within the south wall. Also a hint of the raised material inside the northern rim where Gassendi A intrudes. It would be too much to expect to image any of the rimae with my feeble equipment.