The weather forecast is for clear again tonight. Finally, I will have three nights in a row outside with my telescope. Although I started when I was nine, I went over 30 years without an instrument of my own. My wife and daughter bought me a 130 mm (5 inch) reflector and a set of oculars and filters for my birthday. Then, it clouded up. For months. My last cloudy night activity was to haul out my rock collection and take out the meteorites.
Our fascination with the night sky goes back to the Paleolithic, at least. Certainly, since the invention of arithmetic and writing, we have tallied the objects and events in the sky and told stories to explain them. Some Greek philosophers asserted necessary facts. Ptolemy of Alexandria and Hypatia of Alexandria applied geometry to the problems of prediction. It was not until the European Middle Ages that the problem of Easter brought arithmetic prediction to astronomy.
From 1979 to 1981, I completed several short, directed studies in observational astronomy and orbit plotting at New Mexico State University and Lansing Community College. I wrote some programs in Basic by following the algorithms in Mathematical Astronomy for Pocket Calculators by Aubrey Jones (Wiley, 1978). But you cannot do everything all at once. Computers and family occupied my time and space.
Since last November, I have been getting reacquainted with the sky, viewing at least for a few minutes, naked eye, whenever I could. I have seen Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn in my telescope. The Moon is an easy target and the filters may or may not actually reveal difficult details. I rediscovered the Orion Nebula. Two nights ago, I found M24 in Sagittarius for the first time. Last night, I swept Scorpio and Sagittarius, finding several nebula, but not the big one. Tonight I will go out again. Unfortunately, I have shopping centers on either side and Austin to the north. So, where Hercules should be is a big open space. The night before last, I could see Corona and should have taken the cue. Last night was less productive in that regard.
And, telescope or not, my eyes are older. I first saw Saturn through a 1-1/2 inch bird-watching refractor when I was nine years old, a mile from the steel mills of Cleveland, Ohio. It was stunning. Now, even at 20X or 30X, it just does not jump out as clearly as it did then. Still, with a filter, and some patience, even the dirty, illuminated skies of Austin can be pierced.
I am a member of the Austin Astronomical Society and in March I was certified to operate the telescopes at Eagle Eye Observatory, about 90 miles outside of town. That’s a bit of a trek, and with the weather and all, we have not been out there since.
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