Thursday, February 27, 2020

Day 3717

I had an interesting evening under the stars tonight. It was kind of a dress rehearsal for my stay at McDonald Observatory. It's been so long since I've looked through a decent telescope that I don't even have a frame of reference for what I'm supposed to be looking at. If you get used to looking at spectacular photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, it's easy to forget that distant galaxies often just look like dim smudges through a backyard telescope.

The 16" inch telescope I visited tonight might be small by observatory standards, but it was huge for an individual to have in their back yard. My host was a retired engineer and amateur astronomer who built a fabulous personal observatory on his rural property. I took the list of Spring observing targets that McDonald Observatory sent me and asked which ones would be interesting to look at through his 16" telescope. The observatory owner was extremely nice and spent the next four hours giving me  a refresher course in what to look for in the Spring skies.

Star clusters were a lot prettier than I thought they'd be and most galaxies were a lot less dramatic than they looked in photographs. The spiral structures that look so dramatic in photos were often very hard to see. A lot of galaxies just looked like pale smudges. I saw the planet Uranus for the first time. I've looked for this planet over and over again, but it is too dim to easily spot through binoculars. Even though this powerful telescope, Uranus still just looked like a small green disc. The Orion Nebula looked amazing through a good telescope, but the Crab Nebula just looked like a pale smudge.

I feel more confident about my trip to the Davis Mountains now. The night sky seems more familiar and I know where to look for a few things I've only seen in books before. I definitely know how to find the objects I've been assigned to show people at Star Parties. My coat kept me warm, but I may have to rethink the shoes I take with me to the observatory. My feet were very cold tonight.

The astronomer's wife was originally from Wuhan, China and both of them had visited there as recently as a year ago. I thought it would take years for me to run into someone from that part of China, but it didn't take long at all. It's a small world we live in now. Real life is just like the Kevin Bacon game. Everything is connected.

Traffic wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and I arrived at the observatory earlier than I anticipated. To kill time, I had dinner at a barbecue place that advertised itself as one of the 25 best in the world. I had no reason to doubt the claim. The brisket and ribs were delicious. It was almost worth the trip just for the brisket sandwich.

My wide angle lens arrived today. I should have taken it with me tonight. The skies in Dallas will never be as dark as they are out in the country. I'll have plenty of time to practice with the lens on Mount Locke. I'm thinking that I should have bought a good pair of shoes instead though. I was surprised at how cold my feet got tonight.

Dawn is still doing very well. She's turned into a good little watchdog. I heard her barking before I even opened the door when I came home this evening. She didn't know I'd been looking at the stars, but she definitely knew I'd been around the astronomer's two Corgi's.

Princess is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day