John A. Morris
Cuyahoga Astronomical Association
I paced back and forth from the living room to the back door. I kept looking outside at the sky. Finally! The sky was clear! The weather reporter said that the sky would be clear enough to see the comet tonight. OH BOY! I also wanted to get another good look at Mars. The wee hours of the morning would be the best for viewing so I still waited. In Cleveland around January, February and most of March the sky is very cloudy here. Well, its about time!
I was long overdue for some eyepiece time and was experiencing some serious withdrawal. Once when it was really bad, I put a picture of M13 on the back of the house so I could look at it through my scope. That did not last very long. But tonight was different. It would be clear! I thought I would go to sleep and get up at 4:00 a.m. This would be just about right to see Mars high up in the sky and also to get a good long look at Hale Bopp. I wanted to make some drawings of the comet. Comets are my favorite. Everyday they change and you see something new and different. I could not sleep. I stared at the clock for awhile. I decided to watch television. This went on for hours. Finally I got up and made some coffee. Thirty minutes later, I could not stand it anymore!
I hauled the big scope out from the garage as quietly as I could. My telescope is a big scope, 13.1 Reflector. You would be surprised how loud things get at night. The squeaky wheels of the dolly seemed very loud this morning. I usually wait until an airplane flies over for some cover noise so that I can open the garage door and roll the scope out, however the airplanes must have been sleeping too. I set everything up in darkness. Tables, chair, batteries, star charts, flashlights, paper, etc.
I looked up in the East and there it was, Hale Bopp high in the East. A long tail reached up above the comet. It was bright. It looked like a star with a Don King hairdo. I looked up in the West. There was Mars. I looked back at the comet. This went on several moments. Which one would I look at first? The comet or Mars, Mars or the comet. It's like when you are a kid, cookie or cake. Hmmm. So I used my power of reasoning. It went like this...Mars will be there for a long time. Maybe not as good as now, but the comets are only here for a short visit and then they are gone forever, in this case for over thousands of years. So I swing the big scope around to the comet.
Wow! This thing was huge and bright! The tail curved around as if it had a spin on it. I locked a good track on the comet and started at low power viewing. I knew that the best views were at high power. The nucleus always shows something very interesting and this was no exception. The front of the head had some very large bow shocks in front of it. I tried different eyepieces and got a real good view. As time went on, I could see more of the surrounding site. The charts were easily seen. I thought that my eyes were becoming more dark adapted. I realized that the birds were starting to sing. I knew that they were waking up. I looked a my watch. 6:00! Holy cow! Had I been outside this long? No wonder the stars were fading away. The sun was coming up, but I still viewed the comet.
I tracked the comet until about ten minutes before sunrise. Think about it. Being able to see a comet 10-15 minutes before sunrise. What a bright comet! I was not cold at all. It is really amazing that temperature and viewing go hand in hand. In the winter, it could be zero degrees, the viewing is good, and I'm not cold at all. A few times, the temperature is forty to fifty degrees, the viewing is lousy, and I'm really cold. But not today!
It was very quiet, just a few birds singing. I was still staring at the comet when the silence was broken by the creaking of the back door. I knew what was about to happen. A lovely blonde head was peeping around the door. It was my wife. I hunched down by my big scope that is easily large enough to hide behind and sat very still thinking if I didn't move, she wouldn't see me. It didn't work. Her soft voice broke the silence of the morning. She said, "John, what are you doing out there? There are no more stars, they're all gone now. There is only one big one and if you look at that one, you'll burn your eyes out. Put your toys away and close the garage. Come in and have some morning coffee with me."
As I shut everything off and slowly packed up all my charts, flashlight, etc. I heard her say, "Can't you just watch television and fall asleep in the chair like normal people?"
John A. Morris
**John Morris is a life long West Side Clevelander and a member of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association who does nightly battle with the ever increasing "Cleveland Nebula", bright light from insecure neighbors , and gets very excited when the neighbors forget to turn on the "INSECURITY LIGHTS" which is usually when the sky is cloudy.
This article is Copyright © 1997, by the author, John A. Morris, and is NOT released into the public domain. For more information, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Beam me back, Astra!