Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Viewing the Sea of Crises tonight ... ... and no, I wasn't reading the clergy sex abuse report. I was observing Mare Crisium (Latin, by gum!), not centuries old, but about 3.8 billion give or take. The moon. Rookie astronomers think the full moon offers the best viewing, but this isn't true at all. For lunar study, you want anything but. You get the contrast along lunar sunrise or sunset to observe mountains, craters, and other details in relief. In fact, just a day or even a few hours between observations can mean some interesting shadow contrasts on our companion world. The full moon just blasts your eyeballs and washes out the deep sky viewing all around. Those are the nights to go to bed early. Brittany is doing well as a first-time astronomer. Last week, she successfully identified four moons of Jupiter (though not by name yet), the rings of Saturn, and noted that Venus now presents a half-lit disk these days. Excellent! Chip off the ol' block. My wife Anita discovered a used 700mm refractor at a thrift store a few weeks ago. The 5mm eyepiece is a bit scruffy and the sighter scope is out of alignment, but otherwise, it's very nice to have my own telescope for the first time in about 25 years. Ah, that reminds me! The Strasenberg Planetarium in Rochester NY had two big instruments back in the 70's. After the Thursday night show, they would open the rooftop for the public. While the usual crowd wanted to see the rings of Saturn or the lunar landing sites, my friend Stephen and I used to annoy the heck out of the staff by asking them to find obscure things like the Garnet Star, the Owl Nebula, the minor planet Vesta, and stuff like that. Eventually we ticked them off so much, they let us have control of the 8-incher. The 12-inch instrument had a then-modern computer and tracking devices as accessories, so these guys just had to input the location, and it would gradually point to the right location. Then my buddy and I would race them to get the requested object in our view before they did. Saturn, anyone? Oh, we've got it here. We didn't even bother with the sighting scope. Stephen and I had gotten so used to our backyard telescopes, we would just line up the object along the tube and go. Brittany will be pleased at one of our upcoming treks to nearby Powell Observatory. I can just hear it now, said with a big smile, "Oh, I don't mind missing my bedtime, Dad. I loooooooove to stay up late!"

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