Light in Winter’s Deep

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February 13th, 2021, 6:08 p.m. local time

Approximate Temperature: 6 degrees Fahrenheit / -14 Celsius

I recall one lecture in my Materials Science class in college, the professor said, in his British accent, “Ice is a wonderful building material.  It’s only problem is that it turns to slush when the temperate reaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit!”

This statement from nearly 30 years ago popped into my head as I was clearing my driveway from the latest fluffy blanketing.  The temperature, yet again, was in free fall towards 0 (F) with no intention of stopping there overnight.  At least there was no wind.  Yes, you could likely build wonderful creations with just ice if you were guaranteed to never have to worry about melt.  Maybe this will be a paradigm for the Moon?

As I was pushing my snow blower down its next lane to plough, I looked up and realized the sky was clear.  And in the West was the early Crescent Moon.  Our weather has been do cold and cloudy and snowy these past three+ weeks, I lost track of the Moon’s cycle!  But there it was.  As I had my phone in my pocket, I of course just had to attempt a few pictures.  I got off a few shots with the stock iPhone camera and a few with Night before, in less than a minute, my exposed figures started to go numb.  Phone back in my pocket, and the ploughing continued.

Despite the crudity of this image, it partially captured the evening’s Earthshine.

On my return trip up the lane, I looked up again and saw Rigel.  Orion!  I forgot about Orion!  It’s still there.  And this is unfortunately its prime viewing season.  I am really hoping the weather in March is above freezing and I can spend some time looking again at my favorite constellation.

New Year’s Resolution; Year TBD

Winter morning from January 14th, 2021. Click for full-sized image.

Hello, readers.  Feels like it’s been a while, but it has only been a tad over a month.  After the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction, I have done no astronomy activities beyond a few glimpses of Orion when the weather permitted.  This is truly the dead of Winter.

The current season as well as the state of political affairs have offered a lot of time for thinking.  One of many questions I have pondered is what to do when (if) everything ever returns to normal?  It’s a good question that sparks regret.  For to ask the question of what you should do in the future is to, perhaps, insinuate what you should have done when you had the chance.

If there ever is a a true normal again (a real normal, not a fake “new normal”), I would like to plan my vacation time around travelling to dark sites across the United States.  It’s been a long time since I was in such locations, even fractionally of what would consider to have a dark sky.  Most such places are further out west.  It will make for interesting road trips, to pack up my telescope and camera equipment, and see what I can find.

So here is hoping to better days ahead.  I will try to keep my innate optimism up as much as possible.  But I will admit, in the dead of this Winter, it’s been tough.  20 years ago, I felt there would come a day when the travel we took for granted would no longer be possible without government sanction.  That day is here, or soon should be.  Once upon a time, beyond your reasonable (real reasonable, not politically reasonable) obligations to your family, property, and work, there was nothing stopping you from getting in your car, driving in whatever direction you’d like, for as long as you wished, then turning around when you wanted to go home.  In the near future, such a reckless disregard for planning, permits, and authorization could lead you into trouble, if the current trajectory does not change.

My greater worry is that what we take for granted today in regards to prosperity, opportunity, and decision privileges will be supplanted by the bureaucratic procedures of the emerging sudo-state.  It has gained great power during the pandemic.  If history is a guide, it will not give up that power by benevolent volition.

We shall see how the course of events unfold.  I would like to start visiting dark sites this year, but if not this year, I will hope for 2022.  If the pandemic continues, or is supplanted by a new crisis, I will plan for 2023, and continue planning and dreaming of those possibilities for the remainder of my days.  For regardless of how bleak things may look at any given point, always know that the trajectory of history is never a straight line.

Merry Winter Solstice

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December 21st, 2019, 02:50 p.m. local time

I always say, don’t point your camera at the Sun.  But I figured if you’re going to do it, might as well be done on the shortest daylight day of the year.

The Stranded Stargazer

When there is nothing but gray, day and night
As layers of dark clouds canvas the sky
I recall how I would ponder and write
About what’s seen from the telescope’s eye

For with a clear sky you can catch the Moon
Or observe planets, like Venus and Mars
And with telescope, find distant Neptune
Among the constellations drawn from stars

But rude Winter cloaks all that shines above
First by snow, then sleet, then widening frost
Denying this stranded stargazer’s love
To remain indoors dreaming of nights lost

Yet Winter will not always reign as king
I shall see Orion at start of Spring

Waiting for Winter to Reopen the Sky

Ice-covered Lake Michigan this winter.

I wish there was more to say and show from the past few weeks, but the weather has not been cooperating.  Cloud-blanketed days and nights intermingled with furious snow bashings have created a mid-Winter with little time for anything beyond work and shoveling.  But I keep my back deck snow-free in hopes that a prolonged break will come one evening and I can get either a telescope or camera out for at least a brief time.

There are a few matters to report.  First, we are now in prime time viewing season for Orion.  From the northern hemisphere, it’s high in the South around 8 to 9 o’clock.  I very much want to take a wide-field view of this constellation, especially since I recently bought a better wide-field lens that I am eager to try out.  I did catch a brief glimpse of Orion last night through a break in the clouds, but certainly not predictable or long enough to warrant getting equipment set up to photograph.

Over the weekend, in between my snow removal shifts, I was up very late, around 1:30am, and noticed to the East that Jupiter was already visible through my trees.  This is great news as it means opposition is rapidly approaching, and in another one-to-two months it will be available for observation and photography at reasonable evening hours once again.

Finally, all the snow in my area made we wonder if my neighbor’s buried outdoor lights would lessen the area’s light pollution for the time being.  With a small break in clouds last night, I did look up for a few minutes, but did not notice any difference.  My guess is that any mitigation of pollution due to covered lights is offset by the highly reflective white snow cover.

Cloud City

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Winter morning over Chicago on January 9th, 2018.