Saturday, January 30, 2010

2010 Mars Oppostion

Last night Mars was at oppostion.  When a planet is at oppostion, it means that the Sun is opposite the planet in our sky.  In other words, if one looked down at the solar system from above, one would see the Sun, Earth, and Mars in a straight line (with Earth in the middle).  Interestingly, Mars comes to oppostion slightly after the time of Mars closest approach to Earth.  Closest approach of Mars and Earth happened on January 27th when the planets were separated by .664 Astronomical Units, or 99.33 million km.  This is due to the planets orbital geometry (specifically, the eccentric elliptical orbits and orbital inclination). Another less well known factor is the influence of the Moon which makes Earth move around a common center of mass.  If this technical information is interesting to you and you would like to know more, I suggest you check out the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) website on Mars Oppositions.

I was able to observe Mars last night, through a solid layer of high thin clouds.  The cloud cover was fairly thick with Mars, Sirius, and only about 6-8 other stars visible.  The full moon was about 6.5 degrees from Mars, and there was a beautiful halo surrounding the full moon, with Mars inside this Halo.  While the clouds and moonlight essentially compromised the transparency, the atmosphere was quite stable.  To the right is a simulated image of Mars from the freeware program Winjupos representing the time of my sketch.  I brightened the image to simulate the effect of the cloud cover and resulting scattered light.  Below is my sketch:

Instrument: TEC 140mm APO
Time of sketch 0320 UT, Jan. 30, 2010

Central Meridian: 87.5
RA: 8h 53m 39s  Dec:  22 deg 11' 4"
Illumination: 100%       Magnitude: -1.3
Distance: .665 AU (5.5 light mins)    Size: 14.1 arcseconds

Another nice online source of Mars information is William Sheehan's The Planet Mars: A History of Observation and Discovery.  The University of Arizona Press has made this book available free online!

Finally, Ralph Aeschliman Planetary Cartography and Graphics provides excellent maps of Mars that are available for download.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ian's birthday, a huge full moon, and Mars Opposition!

Lots going on today, as it is Ian's 11th birthday, the full moon, and Mars is at oppostion.  If there is any symbolism in it all, when Ian was very young he would tell Beth that he came to us from the moon.  My wish is that in his lifetime, he will have an opportunity to go back for a visit!  Interestingly, this full moon is the closest full moon we will have all year (see below).  While 11 years ago today my life changed dramatically, it was nothing compared to the change Ian was experiencing...leaving the comfort of the womb where he had sole authority...headed for a childhood ruled by the Queen and King of the Universe, Beth and me. I can't fathom how 11 years have gone by, but looking at him now I understand how fathers speak of a love for their son's that only another father would understand.

In just 11 years, Ian has experienced so much, traveling throughout Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington (including the San Juan Islands), New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, Colorado, North Carolina, New York and Rocky Point, Mexico to name a few places. His life has had its hard lessons as well, from having to wear an eye patch and use eyedrops for 2 years to correct his vision, to the untimely loss of his beloved aunt Laura.  Through all the experiences, he has emerged with strength and wisdom beyond his few years.  I certainly had an exciting and rewarding life prior to Ian, however, every day is increasingly rich as we share experiences together.  Some of my greatest memories are of the father son trips that we have taken, and I am already beginning to get excited thinking about what our summer 2010 adventure will look like.  To the right we are atop Mt. Democrat in Colorado, over 14,100 feet!

This is an astronomy blog after all, so lets take a look at some of the interesting facts about this full moon and the Mars oppostion. Here is part of what Universe Today (click the link for the full story) has to offer on this event:  
A full Moon and Mars will be putting on a show, and the pair will be prominently close to each other in the sky. Plus, this Friday night's full Moon is the biggest and brightest full Moon of the year. It's a 'perigee Moon,' as much as 14% wider and 30% brighter than other full Moons you'll see later in 2010, according to And, even though you've likely not gotten an email from an excited acquaintance relaying that Mars is really close to the Earth now — that is the case. Mars is at opposition on the 29th, which means it lines up opposite the Sun and is now the closest to Earth their orbits, and so will shine brighter.

This is not a great opposition for Mars because it occurs around the time that Earth is closest to the Sun and Mars is farthest. The gap between the two planets will be a hefty 62 million miles (99 million km). The smallest possible distance at opposition is about 35 million miles (56 million km), which happened a back in August of 2003, and prompted the infamous emails that now surface every August, that Mars would be as big the full Moon, which of course, is not — and was not — true. Mars appeared more than twice as bright then as it will this year, but was still a star-like dot in the sky.

This Nasa article provides more information on the Mars oppostion and has sky maps.  The bottom line is that no telescope is neccesary, just head outside and look up!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Solar sketch 24 January, 2010

The skies this morning were quite clear and steady, and despite needing to get out for a mountain bike ride, I decided that I had time to fit in a 30 minute look at the Sun.  I am "training" to ride with some friends in the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo mountain bike race on Feb. 13th and 14th.  You can count on an exciting blog entry should I survive the event.  While the truth is that I will use any excuse to avoid early morning exercise, observing is my first passion, and I was quite content to delay the ride this morning and watch in close-up detail as the Sun thawed the desert.

Active regions 11041 and 11042 continue to show a wealth of detail.  Both regions contain spots, with AR 11042 appearing brighter.  In addition, 11042 shows three distinct bright areas.  There are some fine filaments around 11041, as well as two distinct brigt areas within.  There are many small to medium size prominences today with the prettiest to the NW and SE.

Instrument:  Lunt 60mm Ha/BF1200
Eyepiece:  Baader Hyperion Zoom at 12mm
Time of sketch 1630-1700 UT January 24, 2010

Solar Diameter: 32.49'
Carrington Rotation: 2092

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Solar observing 36 hours after the tornado watch...

I are thinking what is he talking about, right?  If you have read any of my previous posts, you probably know that I live in Tucson, AZ where we have 350 days of sunshine each year.  Believe it or not, on Thursday, the National Weather Service had concurrently issued a winter storm warning, a high wind warning, a severe weather alert, a hazardous weather outlook statement, a blizzard warning, and yes, a tornado watch...all for an area within a 30 minute drive of the Lost Pleiad Observatory!!!  Needless to say, we did not have a tornado, although a wind gust of 94 mph was recorded west of Tucson and Mt. Lemmon did have a blizzard.

Despite heavy clouds this morning, there were a few "sucker" holes and I thought I would try and grab a quick look at the sun.  I had been online and seen that there are currently two active regions and that is more activity than I have had a chance to sketch in some time.  I think this picture looking north from the observatory gives you an idea of the weather this morning.

I observe the sun using a Lunt Solar Systems 60mm Hydrogen Alpha telescope on an alt-az mount.  This mount does not track objects, hence I move the scope by hand to keep the sun in view.  One challenge to observing the sun with a mount that moves in altitude and azimuth is that it is more difficult to determine the cardinal directions on the sun.  Some other solar observers on the Cloudy Nights Solar Observing forum turned me on to a program called Tilting Sun.  This is a small freeware program that provides the observer with a graphic representation of the suns orientation. Among its features, it can be customized with the observers location, type of mount, and optical configuration.  In addition, it allows for copying of the rendered image to your clipboard.  I had problems using this application on Windows Vista (it did not work), but it seems to be working fine on Windows 7.  To the left, is a screen shot from the program

Typically I observe the sun for about 10-15 minutes prior to starting a sketch. Today, there were many passing cumulonimbus clouds that would completely blot out the sun. As a result, I spent about 30 minutes observing before I began to draw.  The seeing was quite poor- the temperature was 46F, humidity about 50%, with 5-8 mph breezes.

Active regions 11041 and 11042 were both visible, and each region included a few spots.  There was a nice two part filament associated with AR 11041.  There were many more prominences visible today than my last several sessions, however, the seeing conditions (mostly the passing thin clouds) made it difficult to focus on them long enough to record fine detail.

Instrument: Lunt Solar Systems 60mm Ha telescope/BF 1200 blocking filter
Eyepiece: Baader Hyperion Zoom at 16mm

Time of sketch: 1700-1725 UT, January 23, 2010
Altitude: 31.3     Azimuth: 147.2

Carrington rotation: 2092
Solar Diameter: 32.5'

Sunday, January 17, 2010

New Moon in Portal, Arizona

Portal has long been one of may favorite spots in Arizona.  It is a little town, or more accurately a cluster of ranch properties, nestled at the mouth of Cave Creek Canyon on the east slope of the Chiricauhua mountains of southeastern Arizona.  Amazingly, they have a webpage.  A portal if you will, to Portal.  As an interesting side note, Laura, my sister-in-law who inspired  the Lost Pleiad Observatory (you can read the story here), met her husband Mack, while on a caving trip with me near Portal.  These are some of the photos from inside Crystal Cave taken on that trip-

Portal is also home to the Arizona Sky Village, a small development of homes with observatories, as well as a number of other private observatories.  I travelled to Portal on Friday afternoon with my good friend Jerry Farrar to spend the new moon weekend observing.  The weather reports were good for Friday night, but sketchy for Saturday and Sunday.  This area has undoubtedly some of the most pristine dark skies anywhere in the continental U.S.  On a clear moonless night, it is not uncommon to have a naked eye limiting magnitude of 7 to 7.5 depending on the observer. In amateur astronomy, naked eye limiting magnitude refers to the faintest stars that can be seen with the unaided eye near the zenith on clear moonless nights.  The greater the number, the fainter the object.  By way of comparison the outskirts of Tucson may have a limiting magnitude of 4 to 5.   If I recounted here some of the things that I have observed from Portal, you would probably stop reading thinking such things are not possible.  Consider, for a moment, the possibility of an unfiltered observation of the Horsehead nebula...heresy?  Hardly.  It was a reality- confirmed by 3 different observers.

Friday night was a very clear night, with the milky way burning bright right down to the southern horizon.  While the seeing was above average, the transparency was close to perfect.  In practical terms what this means is that the atmosphere was slightly unsteady, making stars twinkle and critical detail in planetary observation a little tricky.  At the same time, the perfect transparency allowed for very faint objects such as nebula and galaxies to be obseved.

I have been working on observing the Caldwell objects for some time, and Caldwell 51 has been very difficult.  Despite several tries I have never seen this object, until tonight!  Caldwell 51, which is IC 1613 is a dwarf irregular galaxy in Cetus.  It is an extremely difficult visual object and is only visible as a subtle brightening.  Despite being listed as Magnitude 9.2, this ranks among the most difficult of visual observations I have made.  In fact, once I had the correct star field, it took several minutes and slowly panning around to detect the brightening.

Jerry was using his 12 inch SCT to observe faint galaxies in Fornax, so I decided to join him for a little while observing the same galaxies in my 9.25 inch SCT.  I made this sketch of NGC 1316, which I scanned and inverted to simulate the eyepiece view.  While NGC 1316 is the brightest galaxy in this sketch, NGC 1317 is visible just below 1316, and NGC 1310 is visible as a faint circular haze to the upper right .  NGC 1316 has a magnitude of 8.2, while 1317 is magnitude 10.8, and 1310 is magnitude 12.5.

In addition, to these galaxies, I observed several others in Fornax.

NGC 749 - a faint magnitude 12.7 galaxy, slightly oval, with a bright core
NGC 823 - another magnitude 12.7 galaxy, elongated east-west with a star attached to the east end of the galaxy.  (At first we thought this could be a supernova but a check of the DSS image revealed a star)
NGC 986 - An oval shaped galaxy with a bright nucleus extending about 2/3 of the length of the magnitude 10.9 galaxy
NGC 1097 - A very attractive elongated galaxy, with a bright nucleus and an oval halo.  Just north of the 9.2 magnitude galaxy, its companion NGC 1097a is visible as a fuzzy spot.

Before leaving Fornax, I observed NGC 1049.  This is a 12.9 magnitude extragalactic globular cluster- it is actually the brightest globular cluster (of 4) visible in the Fornax dwarf galaxy.  The photo to the left belies the faint smudge that was in the eyepiece.  It had the appearance of a star with a very faint halo.  It is likely that this object would appear as a star from all but the darkest locations.  The faint halo was easy to miss.  The Fornax Dwarf galaxy itself has too low a surface brightness to be observed.

Mars was blazing high in the east by about 11:30, so after viewing a few more galaxies (such as NGC 2292/2293 and NGC 2295 in Canis Major), I decided it was time to sketch Mars.

Time of sketch: 0700 UT, 1-16-10
RA: 9h 15m 1.9s     Dec: +20 deg. 27'
Central Meridian: 263

Illumination: 99%     Magnitude: -1.1
Distance: .679 au (5.6 light minutes!)     Size: 13.8 arcseconds

Mars is almost as large as it will be this aparrition.  Seeing was just above average, and bright planets do not benefit from dark skies.  So despite the world class location, the observation of details was typical of that seen from the Lost Pleiad Observatory.  The polar cap was bright, as was the limb, with the Hellas basin area also bright.  Syrtis major was promienet as was again, the dark collar below the north polar cap.

On Saturday, we woke up and the sky was completely overcast.  With solar observing out of the question, we treated ourselves to a nice breakfast in Rodeo, NM which is about 7 miles east of Portal.  The cafe in Rodeo is fairly non-descript, however, they bake their own breads and cinnamon rolls- enough said.  After a breakfast fit for kings (or in our case two aging but classy amateur astronomers) we took a drive out to Animas, NM to check out Rancho Hidalgo and meet up with Gene Turner.  Gene is one of the developers behind the Arizona Sky Village as well as this more recent astronomy and equestrian community. 

Rancho Hidalgo is home to the still under development observatory of Astronomy Magazine, and is also the current (final?) resting place of Clyde Tombaugh's personal 16 inch telescope.  In case you don't know who Clyde Tombaugh is, he is most famous as the discoverer of Pluto.  Interestingly, despite having a PhD, Tombaugh discovered Pluto before he ever attended college.  The Astronomy Magazine observatory currently houses a 14" Meade SCT, with a Televue 102 riding piggyback.  The TV 102 is equipped with a Hydrogen Alpha 100mm double stack for solar observing.

The Tombaugh telescope is quite impressive in person, made of many sections of angle iron and lots of bolts.  The pictures do not do it justice, but considering the primary mirror is 16 inches, I think you can see how massive this instrument is.  In the picture to the right you can see the primary housing and also the setting circles near the top.

I climbed up a ladder to take the picture at left to try and give some further perspective on how massive the telescope is.  I am about 10 feet above the deck and you can see that my point and shoot camera can not get the whole telescope in the image.

If you ever find yourself in the area, Rancho Hidalgo is worth a visit.  After Gene's tour of the grounds, Jerry and I headed off into the desert to hike around.  We hiked to a grotto that had obviously been occupied at some point, as evidenced by the campfire smoke blackening on the roof, as well as the worked stone chips that littered the area.  All in all, a great trip.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Disaster Relief for Haiti

Just a quick post to ask that if you are reading this you take a moment to click on the American Red Cross image to the right and make a donation in support of the disaster relief effort in Haiti.  As you can imagine, anything helps!  Clicking on the link will take you to the American Red Cross website where you can contribute securely.  Do what you can- it makes a difference.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Active Region 11040

Being home with a head cold I have had the unusual opportunity to observe the sun three days in a row, as well as sketch the changing appearance of Active Region (AR) 11040.  While this morning started off with wind gusts in the neighborhood of 10-15 mph, things calmed around 11:00 AM and I decided I would go outside for a quick look.  What I found was a very stable atmosphere, providing for a detailed view of the sun.  Believe me when I tell you that my sketching ability does not do justice to the details visible today, yet I am quite happy with the results.  I believe that this sketch better captures the "orange peel" effect visible when oberving in Ha, as well as a portion of the magnetic field lines surrounding AR 10040.

Instrument: Lunt Solar Systems 60mm Ha telescope/BF 1200 blocking filter
Eyepiece: Baader Hyperion Zoom at 8-12mm
Time of sketch: 1820-1845 UT, January 12, 2010

Carrington rotation: 2092
Solar Diameter: 32.52'

AR 11040 has become quite dynamic, and now includes at least 10 spots.  While the Hydrogen alpha wavelength does not show spot detail as well as white light filters, de-tuning the etalon reveals these spots clearly.  There are a few filaments visible, and during the time the sketch was being completed, the small "eyelash" shaped filament south of the AR developed in under 5 minutes.  The magnetic field lines surrounding the AR were easily observed and extended some distance from the bright parts of the region.  Finally, there were some small, but quite bright and complex prominences.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Another look at AR 11040

This sketch is the second sketch I have made of Active Region 11040.  Up to date images of this active region can be seen at the Solar Monitor website, and are worth checking out.

Instrument: Lunt 60mm Hydrogen Alpha scope/BF 1200 blocking filter
Eyepiece: Baader Hyperion Zoom at 12-16mm

Atmosphere: High Cirrus clouds with poor-below average seeing.
Time of sketch: 1720-1725 UT, January 11, 2010

Carrington Rotation: 2092     Diameter: 32.52'

Active region is not as bright as it was during my observation two days ago, however, it has taken on a distinctly horseshoe shape.  A few small spots are visible inside the region, confirmed through de-tuning the etalon.  Also, two small brighter areas are noted almost on the central meridian. There is one prominent filament visible, as well as a few darker areas that seemed to become more pronounced during the session.  There are a few prominences that while small, are complex.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Sun in Hydrogen Alpha

One of the most dynamic objects one can observe is the sun.  There are constant changes to what one can observe in just a few minutes.  Prominences grow and retreat, filaments appear and disappear, active regions brighten while features within them change, and magnetic field lines form and vanish to the observers delight.  All of these phenomenon are observable in the hydrogen alpha wavelength of light.  I am very fortunate to own a dedicated 60mm hydrogen alpha solar telescope, by Lunt Solar Systems.

My very good friend Jerry Farrar is a highly skilled and dedicated solar observer, and it is his mentoring that led me from observing sunspots with a white light filter, to this much more fascinting study of solar phenomenon.  In addition, Jerry is an acomplished sketch artist and he has tried to teach me some of his solar sketching technique.  This is a sketch of the sun, completed between approximately 2:20 to 2:40 this afternoon.

Carrington rotation: 2092     Solar Diameter: 32.52'

It shows active region 11040 which is the main feature visible on the face of the sun today.  It includes two distinct bright areas (and a third smaller elongated bright area closer to the limb), as well as a large filament and several smaller ones.  There are strong magnetic field lines surrounding this region, and they are most notable on the north side.  These magnetic field lines showed changes during the sketching period.  There are only a few small prominences noted around the limb, with the largest being quite faint and partly detached from the limb.

I would also recommend that if this interests you, you check out some of these sites:

Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) - A project of international collaboration between ESA and NASA to study the Sun from its deep core to the outer corona and the solar wind

Solar Monitor - Hosted at the Solar Physics Group, Trinity College Dublin and at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Solar Data Analysis Center (SDAC). These pages contain near-realtime and archived information on active regions and solar activity

Astronomy Blog of Victor Herrero, another solar observer in the TAAA.

Blog of Lunt Solar Systems

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Playing with sketches

I am working tonight at improving the scans of my sketches- and as I began to try some different manipulations of my sketches, I realized that the finished products are no longer my sketches...rather they are are somewhat like astrophotos in that they are processed.  Not sure how I feel about this, but regardless, it is still fun and still creating astro art!

A couple valuable resources that I have found so far-  One is a freeware program called Gimp - the Gnu Image Manipulation Program.  I have only been playing with it for an hour or so, but it seems very powerful.  Not quite adobe photoshop but featured well beyond anything I will ever need.  Definitely worth checking it out.

Another great resource is the website of Mr. Jeremy Perez- The Belt of Venus.  Mr. Perez is an incredible artist and his website has numerous resources for sketching, including this tutorial regarding digitizing of sketches.

One thing you will notice in the image below is that I decided to reduce the size sof the images I post on the blog to more closely match the original drawing.  This will be a better persepctive on my drawings for the viewer as what happened in the earlier posted drawings of the Eskimo Nebula and Mars is that the sketches were too magnified and things that are unnoticed in the original are glaring in the digital versions.  Finally, for kicks, I decided to take the digitized sketch of the Eskimo and turn it from a negative sketch into a positive sketch.  In other words, the black pencil on white paper sketch is a negative of what one sees in the eyepiece.  Light areas are dark in the drawing and vice-versa.  In the positive sketch, the background is dark and the observed stars and features are light. 

Click on the thumbnail and tell me- Do you like it?


Mars is approaching!  Closest ever!  Big as the full moon!  Well, at least that is what the email your crazy uncle forwarded to you would have you believe.  The truth is that Mars is approaching its closest point to Earth during its current orbit around the sun...only, its not all that close for visual observation.  In 2003 when Mars was extremely close it reached an apparent diameter of almost 25 arcseconds.  Tonight, a few weeks before closest approach, Mars is a scant 13.1 arcseconds in diameter.  Consider that the full moon is about a half degree in diameter (or 1800 arcseconds) and you can appreciate that those emails your old uncle keeps forwarding are in fact an internet hoax.

Mars is a difficult object to observe visually as its features are dusky and low contrast. Seeing them is highly dependent on practice, patience, and even more importantly the atmospheric stability at your observing location.  Tonight proved to be a decent night at the Lost Pleiad Observatory.  Two mild days with little change in the weather made for a relatively stable night with good transparency.  As evidence, I was able to observe the A through F stars in the trapezium easily at 122x in my 5.5" refractor.  There was minimal dust in the air and the moon had not risen during my observation of Mars.  I am working on finding a good technique for sketching Mars, including finding the right pencils and smudging tool (fingers!).  Soon, I will have to learn how to better scan my images so that they do not show you every stray bit of graphite on the paper that are invisible on the original.

Instrument: 140mm Refractor at F/7
Eyepiece: 4mm Nagler Zoom (245x)
Time of sketch: 0500-0525 UT, 1/6/10 (10-10:25 PM MST, 1/5/10)

RA: 9h 26m 11.8s
Dec: 19 deg 15' 29"
Central Meridian: 330
Constellation: Leo

Syrtis Major is obvious, as is the collar below the north polar cap.  Interestingly, the Hellas Basin is visible as a bright area south of Syrtis Major.  (I believe that the feature to the right is Sinous Sabeous, but I need to locate a good map of Mars)

Illumination: 97.3%
Magnitude: -.9
Distance: .7138 AU (That is 5.9 light minutes away!)
Size: 13.1 arcseconds

Here is a simulated image of Mars from the freeware program Winjupos

That's all for tonight, I will post more on Mars in the coming days, including some of my sketches from 2003 when Mars was really close...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Eskimo Nebula

As all good things must come to an end, tomorrow the University opens back up and I am back at work.  I plan to get up at about 5 AM to observe and sketch Mars, so tonight was a rather quick session to align the telescope so that everything is ready for the morning observing run.  The temperatures were warm today, resulting in a mild night with skies that were actually quite steady.  I took a look at some favorites such as the Orion NebulaM 79,  and M 37.  Then I decided to take a look at NGC 2392 (also Caldwell 39), the "eskimo nebula."  I had not observed this nebula in awhile, and decided to attempt a sketch.

Telescope: 9.25 inch SCT @ f/10
Eyepiece: 8mm Televue Ethos (293x)

The planteary nebula lies in the constellation Gemini and holds up quite well to high magnification.  The cetnral star is bright at approximately magnitude 10.5.  There is a brighter central region that is surrounded by a fainter halo of nebulosity.  There appears to be increased mottling to the northwest, perhaps part of the eskimos face that is revealed in photographs of this object.  Overall, the nebula has a distinct cometary appearance.

(This is the first sketch that I have ever scanned, and the magnified image tells me I need to practice making dots for stars...The original is much nicer!)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Building and naming the "Lost Pleiad Observatory"

In late 2005, a coworker called me to let me know that she was going to be renovating her backyard and that there was an old roll off roof observatory that the previous owner had built. While she had not been inside in about a dozen years, she let me know that I was welcome to come by and see if there was any way to utilize the structure, which would otherwise be bulldozed. Of course, I was excited by the possibility of having an observatory, but did not hope for much when I saw the building from the outside. The inside proved to be even more exciting…

When it was first opened up, there was a floor to ceiling beehive as well as 4-6 inches of packrat detritus covering the floor. Fortunately whoever the original builder of the observatory was, he had built in a modular way so that it could be easily taken down. With the help of the contractors renovating the yard, I had the roof and walls taken apart in one morning. I abandoned the floor, pier, electrical wiring, and the roll-off rails, and then stripped the walls and roof down to the frames (the siding was destroyed by the rats and bees). Finally, I transported the roof and wall frames to my house, where I consulted with my father-in-law Charles, about his interest in helping me rebuild the observatory.

Needless to say, we jumped in headfirst and after about 3 weeks had the observatory up and running. Among our work, we built a new floor; poured a concrete slab and bolted down a pier; spent hours sanding packrat urine off the wall studs; installed new siding; put on new roofing and casters; built rails to roll off the roof; and lastly, painted. I later added electricity and a small window AC unit. As any observatory owner knows, I am always making little changes and improvements.

Without understanding at the beginning, we both realized during the process that the observatory project was very important for us. It allowed us to focus our energies and grieve a little less from what had been the most difficult year of our lives. As most of you know, Beth’s sister Laura had passed away from Brain Cancer in late April of 2005. What follows is an excerpt from the eulogy I delivered at her service:

“I would like to share with you another place where I will always see Laura. Many of you know that I also enjoy the stars. I have wonderful memories of spending time with Laura under that stars…from camping outside Crystal Cave, to the beach in North Carolina, to walking among the tide pools in Rocky point by headlamp - watching Laura, Mack, the girls and Ian delight in finding starfish, anemones, octopus, urchins and the like. Invariably, before we walked back up to the house, Laura would look skyward and point out to me where the Pleiades were at that moment. We would shut off our lights, let our eyes dark-adapt and see how many stars we could count in the cluster. Laura loved the Pleiades cluster, and for this reason, I brought along a picture today. It is over there. During our typical trip to Rocky Point in October, the Pleiades were above the horizon all night and directly overhead at midnight. Not only are the Pleiades probably the most universally recognized grouping of stars in the sky, but stories and mythology surrounding the Pleiades have existed in cultures around the world since the earliest days of recorded history. What is interesting is that in antiquity, cultures as geographically distinct and diverse as Australian aboriginal people and the ancient Mayan associated the Pleiades with death and with eternal life. It is not lost on me that on April 20th, as Laura was preparing to leave us, the Pleiades were setting below the Western horizon. Most common among traditions concerning the Pleiades are persistent stories about a lost Pleiad. Stories from the Romans, Greeks, Japanese, Australian, and various African cultures all share this theme. It is most likely based in the fact there are only six bright stars visible to the unaided eye in the cluster, when in fact there used to be seven. They are still commonly referred to as “the seven sisters.” The poet Aratus wrote:

“Their number seven, though the myths oft say,

And poets feign that one has passed away.

The sister stars that once were seven,

Mourn for their missing mate in heaven”

From now on, I will always look at the Pleiades and smile, thinking about my missing sister in heaven. I know she is up there, at peace among all that grace, magic and beauty, smiling back at me.”

By the time we finished hanging the door, I already knew that we had built the “Lost Pleiad Observatory”. And the picture of the Pleiades that I had at Laura’s service? It is hanging in the corner of the observatory.

Welcome to the Lost Pleiad Observatory Blog

Happy New Year!
Welcome to the Lost Pleaid Observatory Blog!

I decided to start this blog after reading some great blogs by members of the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Organization, particularly the Ketelsons. I hope to keep it updated with observing reports as well as other related astronomy information. In addition, I will offer up some personal information that I want to share such as stories of family trips, photos, etc.

Today I am celebrating 14 years of marriage to my lovely spouse Beth. I can't believe that it has been 14 years already, as I still remember getting weak in the knees watching her come down the aisle. I have to think about Ian and the fact that he is turning 11 this month to appreciate the time that has gone by. All in all, I am a very lucky man.

My next post will detail the short history of my backyard observatory, especially the reasons for naming it "The Lost Pleaid Observatory"