Are you kidding me?

So – I took today off of work for two reasons. One – it’s my daughter’s 23rd  birthday and I wanted to spend the day with her. And second -I needed to dot that analemma.  (Yes in that order!) I’ve spent the last nine months working on the Analemma program, diligently observing and marking the length of the shadow of the sun. My figure 8 is nearly complete.

Today was a must have on the chart because this observation is used in some of the calculations. So yesterday we get snowstorm Brianna! We’re talking white out conditions and wind gusting up to 40 miles per hour. Schools close, buses don’t run, no tow trucks venture out.

This was not the first time the weather hasn’t cooperated with an observing session. Wisconsin weather has a habit of doing that, but no worries, tomorrow’s another day – um, maybe I should check the forecast!

On the up side – I got some Christmas shopping done and had a great day with my daughter!


Getting organized

LynnOver the years, we’ve had a number of speakers talk about how to keep your observations organized because over time, you start to accumulate a lot of them. I’ve been a club member off and on since the early 70’s, and believe me, in 40 years you can end up with a lot of sheets of paper scrawled with descriptions and drawings.

And once they’re spread all over your house, it’s impossible to lay your hands on that one asteroid observation you made at Tony’s, or the 2004 transit of Venus observation that you need to get the AL’s Planetary Transit Special Award. Sigh.

I’ve always been fairly disciplined about including dates, times, locations and sky conditions for every observation that I made over the years. I also often included descriptions of an object whether it was needed for observing program or not (although many of them are pretty lame – how many ways can you describe a globular cluster viewed through a pair of binoculars?)

After watching Amy and everyone else in the club get awards, I started thinking maybe I should start organizing my piles and boxes of observations and start applying for some of these awards myself. It was time to get my observing act together.

One snowy afternoon a few years ago, I dragged every box, folder and pile of astronomy papers I could find up into my living room and started sorting them into piles. I ended up with about eight piles – one was general club stuff, another was astronomy-related articles to keep, one pile was mystery observations that I hadn’t properly identified (bigger than I’d like it to be) and the remaining piles were related to observations, and I broke them down into AL programs – the Lunar Program, Binocular Messier, Constellation Hunter, etc. Then each pile went into a folder.

A few months later, on another snowy day, I picked up one of the folders and, after sitting down by the computer and actually recording my observations for the Universe Sampler Program, I was stunned to discover that I only needed one more observation to finish that program. A few weeks later, I picked up the Messier folder and wow! I only needed about eight more Messier’s to finish the Binocular Messier Program.

What’s made all this possible was my realization early on that it is important to keep good observational notes with all the information needed to officially record them. Date, time, location, seeing conditions, equipment used and a brief description is usually enough for most AL observing programs. And I ALWAYS (almost) forced myself to take the time first thing the next morning to review my notes from the night before to make sure that all the necessary information was written on each sheet.

So now I’m stoked. I still have some folders stacked up here that may be just a few observations away from getting a pin, and Amy’s starting to talk about the Master Observer Award. Sure, it’s going to take 400 Hershel’s to get there, but if we start chipping away at it now and keep good records, we’ll get there someday. Luckily winter is nearly here and there are plenty of snowy days ahead to work on my observation records because now, I also need to start working on submitting them!


That Darn Dog

Have you ever had one of those days when the cards just seem to be stacked against you?  That’s the kind of day I had last week Saturday.

It rained all week last week and I couldn’t put a dot on my analemma. Saturday rolled around and was showing promise for a sunny twelve bells. I had a few errands to run and was waffling about trying to get that dot on that day, or putting it off until Sunday.  At 11:40, I’m across town. I was unable to find the bank I was heading for so I was 0 and 1 already. The sky is clear and I need that dot. Maybe I can get one thing accomplished today! I turn the car towards home, hoping the traffic lights are on my side. 11:45

At 11:56 I pull into the driveway. Great! I have plenty of time! I rush into the house, grab my setup, pen and watch. It only takes a few seconds to line up the frame. Ah – I made it with only seconds to spare. As I’m crouched over the paper I’m suddenly aware of a very large black dog running around my front yard.

Watcha Doing?

She was so excited to see someone at eye level that she came right up to me wagging that tail and sticking her nose in my face as if to say “hey – whatcha doing?” I never even looked up! It’s now 11:59:40 and ticking and after a week of clouds and rain I have a 60 pound black lab casting a shadow on my analemma. I couldn’t believe it! Still staring at my paper I mumble “You’ve got to be kidding me!”  I reached out and pushed her out of the way.

She of course took this as a sign that I wanted to play – 11:59:55 – and came back for another playful sniff. 11:59:59 – beep beep beep, my watch alarm went off – noooooooooo, I gave her another push just in time to get that dot on the paper.  Whew!

Afterwards I found out that my hubby was watching all of this unfold. I was so focused on my dot that I didn’t notice him trying to get the dog out of my face. He marveled at the fact that I never looked up, even while I was trying to push Shadow (my name for her) out of the way. What can I say, I really wanted make some progress on my project.

Oh – by the way, I looked up some of the calculations I’m going to have to make. I was right, it’s going to be fun! Yes – that’s what I said, fun!

Whew – 62 dots down, 38 to go!


The Omen

Last Saturday, a handful of us gathered for the Kroes Observing Weekend, which is an organized event hosted each year by one of our club members. It gives us a great opportunity to observe a dark western sky close to home. I didn’t take advantage of that horizon though (my neglected to-do list included every direction but west) but I still had a mission in mind.

After we arrived and gathered our stuff from the car, we hiked around the barn to get to the viewing area. It didn’t take me long to find him. The eastern horizon there is relatively flat, so it was easy to pick out my old friend Orion, already scraping his knees along the horizon an hour before midnight. I plopped my lawn chair down facing due east and spent the last hour of the day looking for Orionid meteors.

Although you can record meteors at any time for the Astroleague’s Meteor program, it seems to me that it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if there wasn’t a full-blown meteor stream going on. After all, only one meteor out of six during that hour that was not an Orionid.

As I sat there looking in his general direction, it didn’t take long for that old anxiety to return. See, I have a big problem with Orion. Just like the Robins and the Daffodils announce the arrival of spring, in our neck of the woods, Orion’s appearance each fall heralds the beginning of a long, cold Wisconsin winter. I think the trees agree with me too, because once he gets his head and shoulders over the horizon, they immediately drop their leaves and go to sleep. I don’t blame them.

Come mid-winter, Orion hovers over my house like a frozen angel. In the last few weeks of the year, he fits quite nicely within the only open area in the dome of trees that covers our yard. I see him chuckling as I scurry from my frozen car to my frozen front door across my frozen ice-covered driveway. Real funny.

I suppose I could take solace in the knowledge that, in early spring, he’ll quietly disappear below the horizon and all the leaves will return and the ground will warm. But from here, that time looks a long way off. Brrrrr.