Well, I had every intention tonight of going to a nice dark site with the 10 inch and doing some Herschel galaxy hunting. Then reality hit today. I suffer from a disease called celiac disease. It is an autoimmune disease where when I ingest gluten from a product containing wheat, rye or barley I get terribly sick. My body's immune system attacks the villa of the digestive track causing a variety of symptoms. My symptoms are severe diarrhea, severe fatigue, stomach upset, muscle cramps and joint ache, and lactose intolerance (the lactose issue is improving over time). Along with this comes what I cause a fuzziness of the mind; I don't think clearly.
So what does this have to do with astronomy and observing? For you, nothing. For me, a lot. I got glutened at work because working at a school exposes me to people's gluten which is all around. Yesterday I got glutened and it happened again today. Major symptoms and it wasn't until around 8:00p.m. that I felt I could go outside. The weather here in northern Utah is cold tonight, in the thirties going down to the twenties tonight. I put on a coat, and pulled out my lawn chair that reclines and took out the binoculars because I just didn't have the energy to haul the scope to a dark site, or to set up everything in the back yard.
I began my session by wrapping up in a nice warm wool comforter, and looked around. Where I live there is a walking trail behind the house so we have about 50 yards from our backyard to our neighbors backyard. When their back lights are off, which is often, it can get pretty dark for a suburban area. If I put up my light shields, I can get my eyes decently dark adapted.
Looking away now from the ground, I turned my eyes skyward. I felt that longing for the stars. It's a very similar longing that I feel for the ocean, which has a significant calling to me having lived by the ocean for so many years. I often wonder if a sailor and an amateur astronomer have similar longings? I marveled that the stars were not sparkling yet up high as we had a storm yesterday and another one tomorrow. What to go for? Here I broke cardinal rule number one for me, always plan your session. Sometimes, it's just fun to go out and see what you want to see when you look up. Don't take me wrong, I plan most of my sessions, but I do sometimes, just go off and observing a page from a star atlas, or constellation, or jump around looking at old friends. I'm sure many of you do the same or something different.
Looking up, M45 was hanging there with her glow all around her. I looked at M45 visually and decided that for me, M45 is the herald of the holidays for me. As it begins to dominate the early to mid evening sky, we are moving into November and December, the holiday months. That reminds me of family, both my family I grew up with, and the family I now have with my wife and two tweens as I call them. These are good memories, strong memories, and they arise strong emotions in me. Before I tear up I bring up the binoculars and am awe struck as I always am by the site of this beauty. To paraphrase John Dobson, "The exterior decorator does an outstanding job." I enjoy the view of M45 for about ten minutes and then move on.
Next, I see the W shape out of the upper left portion of my eye and head toward the Queen. In Cassiopeia I take a look to see what I can see. I went to Ruchbah and decided to head downwards. I've looked this fall at the Double Cluster in a 32mm 2 inch EP and enjoyed the view very much. However, this time it just sparked and it reminded me of the wonder and awe I had the very first time I saw this. I'm a sentimental middle age, guy and this constellation reminds me of two things that are so vital to me.
One is that it symbols to me my marriage of twenty-one years plus to my sweetheart. The other is of my two children and the miracles they are in my life. My daughter, my oldest, is adopted but is so much like me (poor child) that there is no doubt she was met for our family. She looks like my wife which is a good thing and acts like me, which is not good for her. The story of her adoption is very, very moving and I"ll just say that the day when her birth mother put our daughter into the arms of my wife I learned in a way I had never thought of, what love, true unconditional love or what may be called charity is. See, as great as science and astronomy are, as great as the objects in the universe are, in a weird way, they remind me of one thing. That we live and exist in a human condition, and thus those things I love, remind me on a continual basis of what is truly important.
The other cluster reminds me of my son. He too is a miracle to us. We tried for over five years through infertility to have a child. That is why when we could do a private adoption we did. Then four months after our daughter was born and came to our home, my wife got pregnant. Looking at the Double Cluster tonight the thought came to me that I should never take the view for granted, and thus I should never take my two tweens for granted. They are great kids, I think, but I admit bias. They are not perfect, no doubt, they are like me like that. But they are becoming wonderful human beings and in my mind, that is all I could hope for, the rest will come with time.
After the Double Cluster, I went over to Cygnus and tried to see if the N. America Nebula was viewable. I didn't expect it and of course, I didn't see it. But I had fun looking through Cygnus.
I next decided to try to see Alberio and I nailed the main star, but thought I could detect the companion but am convinced that it is just my mind because I know it is there.
Next I went to Lyra and went for the Ring Nebula. I was able to detect it in the binoculars and stayed with that for about ten minutes. A ring, symbol of no beginning and no end, of eternity. More importantly it signifies to me that I will live in by the involvement and teaching that I've had in the lives mostly of my children, and perhaps in a student or two here or there. My father died in 1982 when I was 17, but he continues to live on through me and how I interact with my family. I miss him still, after all this time, and though I am not obsessed by it, I do wish I could call him up every now and then and just wish I could hear his voice. He would have been 73 this week on the 10th had he lived.
Thus the Ring Nebula reminds me that all things have a life cycle, including stars, and like a star, whether we burn up quickly like my father did (he was only 45 when he died) or we burn evenly and long like our sun, no matter what, we will die. The question then we have to ask is what beauty will we leave behind? Just like a planetary nebula leaves a beautiful nebula for a short time, what will we leave when we are gone? Hopefully it is the impact in a positive way that we've had first with our family and loved ones, next with other human beings. Hopefully our legacy is like the planetary's, we live a halo of light around those we have loved that inspires, and helps them through their life's course.
Edit: I added a sketch to reflect what I saw, which I guess should show Sulafat and Sheliak with the M57 where it belong but here I added detail from what I could recall. I may have the alignment all messed up. Again, at magnitude 9 + I am not sure on this, but I really do think I may have seen it.
Lastly, M31 was almost vertically above me so I decided to look straight up. Sure enough I found her and she was glorious. The halo of the galaxy showed as did a tight but bright core. Here was light, photons, that had taken 2.4 million years to reach me. That humbles me and I often wonder who might have been looking at me from that galaxy 2.4 million years ago and where are their species now? Is there life out there? I firmly believe so in a variety of forms. Intelligent life, I have to hope so, and that is what M31 means to me this night, an emblem of hope, and not just of other, hopefully wiser and more intelligent life out in the universe. M31 reminds me that I need to have hope that regardless of what I may observe each day, that if enough of us would live our lives to better each other, that both we as individuals and we as a species will not only survive, but thrive by reaching out to space and to each other. Sounds nice, and I need that hope, because I find as I get older, I am becoming more of a skeptic. I think we all need hope that humankind will improve as we move out.
So, this hasn't been my usual post I know. It was a wonderful night that lasted just over an hour. Sometimes just cuddling into a blanket, dressed for cold weather and observing objects with binoculars and coming inside to some nice hot chocolate is just what this batter body and spirit needed tonight. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday are suppose to be clear and cold, so I am heading out to take a look those nights.
Be grateful, be awed, don't take views or others for granted, and remember to have hope, not only this night, not only in the coming holiday season, but lets have hope and live with hope by our actions and interactions with each other each day to the best of our ability that day. Clear skies to you.
P.S. No sketches, no images, and I'll keep the two sketches I did to me. My daughter is on her first date tonight (a couples date) . . . . and I'll be waiting for her to come home.