Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Observatory

I ran up to the new house this evening, partly to see if some of the annoying little problems are getting fixed (yes, they are), and partly because the sky was clear, and I wanted to drag Big Bertha out of the garage.

There are some problems with the new house as far as astronomy goes. The most serious problem is related to "twinkling." You may be aware that one of the ways to distinguish stars from planets is that, except under the most severe atmospheric turbulence, stars twinkle--and planets don't. This makes it very easy, most of the time, to pick out Saturn from stars of similar color and magnitude. But this doesn't work at the new house! There was so little atmospheric turbulence that I could not identify Saturn with the naked eye! This also means that the viewing conditions are going to be spectacular!

Dark: really dark. There was a little bit of cloud cover over Boise reflecting some light, but the Milky Way was just oppressively bright. I am going to have to relearn the constellations, because there are so many stars now visible that they wash out the magnitude 2 and brighter stars upon which I rely for finding my way around the sky.

The other discovery was that while I can roll Big Bertha out just fine--I don't have a stepstool up there to use to get to the eyepiece. For objects that are high in the sky (and just about all of them are right now), this is a problem, because Big Bertha's eyepiece is at about seven feet or more above ground level.

Oh yeah, it was cold up there--about 22 degrees when I left. At star parties, I'm used to being cold, but I am going to have to dress a bit more warmly.

The most uncomfortable aspect of observing up there is that we are in a pretty wild place. I'm still a bit nervous about having to explain the night sky to a mountain lion or a feral dog. There's no fence around the house itself--and I'm tempted to put something up for that purpose.

It is also so quiet that you have no idea how far away the few noise are that you hear. At one point, I heard someone whistling--but I couldn't see anyone out there at all. This might have been someone summoning a dog a quarter of a mile away, for all I know. I may need some time to get used to this.

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