Tuesday, October 8, 2013


The thing I love about this hobby are the occasional surprises the sky seems to deliver up.

It's a mistake to think that the sky is just static. Far from it! In fact, it's rare that I'm not startled or surprised by something. Usually it's nothing too shocking but all are pleasant surprises. Take the other night when I was out with my 8" schmidt-cassegrain. I was looking over the asteroid Juno and about to move on to something else when all of a sudden, I saw a satellite entering the field of view.

This actually isn't that irregular occurrence. I've had as many as two or three pass through the field of my finder and even telescope before. As I sat there, adjusting the telescope to follow it, I realized what I was looking at...a satellite in geo-syncronous orbit! Why not let the planet do the work for me!? So I turned off the scope's drive and watched the satellite stay put as the stars wheeled past! It was an amazing thing to be so connected to a spot in space 26,000 miles above my head!

Sometimes that technology can do some amazingly unexpected things. Now, I'm not one for UFOs and visitors from "out there." But one cold January night observing with friends on a cold northern road outside of Killarney, we saw...something! Now, we were all of different opinions about what it was but it looked like a small gaseous cloud in the sky that kept to one spot but slowly spread out. My personal opinion...a very rare sight of a satellite outgassing its fuel. One friend opted for the "small spot of aurora" explanation. NONE of us were thinking aliens. Because we're amateur astronomers.

Meteors are a frequent apparition in night sky. Little flecks of dust that hit the atmosphere faster than a bullet. Sometimes larger chunks hit the atmosphere and can put on amazing displays. Like the time a friend and I were watching a lunar eclipse. Suddenly, my friend screams "WEST!!" and I have just enough time to turn around and see a meteor streaking across the sky! Or the time I was sitting in my backyard looking through my telescope and, out of the corner of my eye, I see the area light up with light and all the shadows are moving. I have just enough time to see the meteor finish its trek across the sky.

Don’t forget those surprise auroras that seem to come out of nowhere. Very pretty at first, then you realize its washing out a section of sky you want to view for faint fuzzies. And that’s where surprise turns to personal conflict! "You're very pretty...now GO AWAY!!"

Of course, there are more terrestrial surprises brought on by wildlife. Sudden visitations by four legged creatures including ones with black and white stripes that encourage you become the stillest you have ever been! A veritable statue!!

And surprise discoveries and sights you didn't expect to see like new deep sky objects or features on an otherwise familiar object you weren't expecting to see! The Lunar X is one of my favourites that sometimes show up when I wasn't expecting to see it.

Of course, one of the themes throughout these stories is the presence of friends. While amateur astronomy is sometimes a solitude activity, it's nice to share it with like minded people who all have an appreciation for the night sky.

So get out there! You might be surprised by what you see!

Clear skies!

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