Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Finding Bliss in the Universe

Between the moon at the first of the month and the nearly constant cloudiness it's been hard getting any kind of extended time at the scope. Last night was fantastic and it looks like the forecast for the next 2-3 nights looks great.

M81 and M82
Knowing I had the whole night I wasn't rushed to get out right at dark. I waited till 6:30 and got out and set-up just before 7 when the sky was really dark. The seeing was fantastic and the Milky Way was such a welcome sight. It's funny just how much I have learned to love and appreciate a clear night sky in just three months. Of course, the telescope is a big part of this growing appreciation and understanding, but just standing under the stars is an experience of deep connection. As has often been said and I am often repeating these days: We are made of star dust. We really are. The iron in our blood, the carbon in and around us, all of it, from ancient stars long gone. A fundamental truth of great beauty.

I've always, as long as I can remember, taken note of and appreciated the stars in the night sky. Today, at 43, I can say that I truly understand who and what I am in this universe. Well, I more fully understand. True understanding is just the goal of the process. To be a living being on this beautiful planet, just one of many trillions of planets in the universe, is so amazing. I sometimes feel a bit guilty that I am able to experience such bliss in my life. Wether walking in the woods or looking up at the stars, leading such a simple life and being a part of the greater universe, I can ask for nothing more.

And about last night's viewing session? I was happy to view thirteen more objects in the Herschel 400 as well as a swing by the two galaxies known as Bode's Nebulae and a quick view of the Double Cluster in Perseus! Last but not least, Jupiter. I probably spent twenty minutes looking at Jupiter and I have to say, it never get's old. Each time, each moment, is breath taking. On a good night such as last night, the 5mm EP is fantastic for viewing this beautiful neighbor of ours. The cloud bands and the GRS are crisp and easy to see. Wonderful.

As I spend more time outside at night I am consistently seeing more with my naked eyes, especially on nights with good seeing. Last night, at various points between looking through the EP, I really made it a point to enjoy the naked eye view. In particular, I spent some time gathering up the faint stars and the fuzzy Messier objects. For example, the Beehive Cluster in Cancer was so easy and obvious to see. In fact, I wasn't even looking for it but was just scanning the sky and it stood out to me. The Double Cluster in Perseus was also an obvious and easy to see object with the naked eye.

A special note about Bode's Nebulae: What a sight to see them together in one eyepiece! At 11 million light years distance, M81 offers a face view and is interacting with M82 which is a prototype starburst galaxy presenting an elongated view. After weeks of focusing mostly on small and faint galaxies and clusters, anytime I come upon the more easily seen objects I always find myself surprised at just how beautiful and defined they are! These two are a great example of that. I have no doubt that it is just the slow improvement of my viewing skills and my greater awareness of the range of faint objects.

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