Sunday, September 30, 2012

 

Night of the Giants


Night two of Unk and Miss Dorothy’s latest Chiefland odyssey did not look like it was going to be too productive, muchachos. Clouds had been building all day, and the consarned Clear Sky Clock only looked good if’n you fancy little white squares. I tried not to worry. What would be would be, and our first night, Wednesday night, night one of The Herschel Project Phase Two was dyn-o-mite, as I told y’all last week.

No, Unk didn’t worry; he just enjoyed the day with Miss D. After a breakfast at the Day’s Inn that, for Unk, consisted of not one but two (small) sausage biscuits and a make-it-yourself waffle on which he dumped about a gallon of Log Cabin and a pound of margerine, we headed off on a new adventure, to Fanning Springs State Park, just a few miles back up Highway 19 from Chiefland.

What we found there was a small but beautifully maintained Florida park. The pretty emerald green springs were full of fish, mainly mullet like we’d seen at Manatee Springs the day before, and we spent quite some time walking the trails of the lush and verdant place. Off season, it was mostly just us and the park rangers, which was cool. Your old Uncle sure was in the mood for a little of that blessed peace and quiet.

There’s a boardwalk at Fanning Springs just like at Manatee Springs that leads down to the river, and by “river” I mean the beautiful Suwannee River. Unlike at Manatee Springs, access to the river bank is easy, and Unk couldn’t resist going down and dipping a hand in the Suwannee so he could say he’d touched those fabled waters of song and story.

After an hour or so of strolling Fanning Springs, it was time for lunch at a new spot, the 1998 grill back out on Highway 19 less than a mile from the park entrance. We’d heard our fellow Chiefland Astronomy Village denizens raving about this joint for the past year and decided to give it a try. Unk wasn’t sure what we’d find or even what the name of the place, “1998,” meant. Price? Year? What?

This little eatery, it turned out, was named for Highway 19 and Highway 98, which run concurrently in the Fanning Springs – Chiefland area. “19/98 Grill,” get it? It’s small, it’s rustic, and it operates on the pub system Unk and Miss D. have enjoyed in the UK. Go up to the counter, order what you want, they bring your victuals to your table when they are ready. The question was “What should they bring?” For such a wee place, the menu was freaking EXTENSIVE. Unk was a little muddled by all the choices, and ordered an old standby, a buffalo chicken sandwich with a side of blue cheese and fries. Miss D., following Unk’s distinctly non-healthy lead, got a chili cheese dog.

When the food arrived it was immediately obvious why the place was getting such a good reputation and why it was well on the way to standing room only on this Thursday lunchtime. Not only was the food that arrived attractive, it was some kind of good, campers. I got the tip-off it would be something special when I opened the container of blue cheese. Thick, fresh, full of chunks of real cheese. The chicken was wonderful, crispy but juicy with just enough buffalo taste, the lettuce and tomato seemed to have been picked that morning, and the bun was moist and similarly fresh. The fries were every bit as good, but I limited myself to just a few, since my poor stomach was already beginning to protest the rich/junky fare of the past two days. Our verdict? We will dine at 19/98 every CAV trip from now on.

After that stellar meal it was time for a long nap, natch, followed by some strategizing. By late afternoon, the sky wasn’t looking bad. Sure, there were clouds, but they appeared to be more of the fluffy afternoon variety than of the impending severe weather species. I did not, however, think there would be much chance of doing more Herschel sketching. Looked like “catch as catch can” at best. So what would I do? Maybe I’d give my uber giant binoculars a night under the stars—finally.

By “giant” binoculars, I mean real giants, 25x100 big dogs. I’d got my Zhumell Tachyons a year back, but had done next to nothing with them other than giving them and the binocular mount Dorothy and I built for them a quick try in the front yard of Chaos Manor South. Three things got in the way, you see:  The Herschel Project, The Mallincam Xtreme, and the past spring and summer’s horrible weather.

My giant binocular story began when I read a pair of reviews good buddy and binocular guru Phil Harrington wrote about the huge Zhumells his wife had given him for his birthday. In a Cloudy Nights posting and a more detailed Astronomy Magazine review, Phil fairly raved about their quality, especially considering their miniscule price, less than 250 George Washingtons. I’d been wanting a pair of glasses with more oomph than my time-honored Burgess 15x70s, and if Phil liked the Zhumells, I was pretty sure I would too.

I had a few extra bucks burning a hole in my pocket at the time, so I sent ‘em off to Zhumell dealer binoculars.com and set about making plans to accommodate the monsters. I knew good and well I wouldn’t hand-hold glasses of this size and weight (ten pounds plus). I had a hefty camera tripod that would be sufficient for initial checkout, but I also knew that would not work well for real observing.

A standard photographic tripod, even a tall, heavy one, is not sufficient for binoculars of this size, especially those, like the Tachyons, with straight-through eyepieces. In addition to breaking your neck when you are looking much above the horizon, the motions are never easy and smooth enough for astronomical use. Balance? Nearly impossible.

There are plenty of big binocular mounts, everything from “parallelogram” mounts to an innovative rig that uses a mirror to reflect the sky into the binocular’s objectives. Both these approaches were problematical for me, though. Parallelogram mounts in sizes large enough to accommodate 25x100s were expensive once you figured in the cost of the tripod sufficient for them, and the mirror mount looked like it would dew up instantly in the Possum Swamp humidity. I did some more looking around and asking around and came up with another possibility, a mount designed expressly for monster binocs that was sold as a kit for a reasonable sum.

The dude selling this mount was one whose reputation I knew, Pete Peterson, who’s quite famous in the Meade world for his upgrade kits for LX200s. Even Celestron fanboy me has a Peterson product, an “Eye Opener” big back for the 3-inch rear port on my NexStar 11 GPS (Pete no longer makes these for Celestron scopes, unfortunately). His binocular mount? It was in essence a pipe mount, something I was intimately familiar with from my days as a starving teen astronomer.

The EZ Binoc Mount kit, the web site informed me, came with all required custom items like specially threaded/welded/drilled pieces, assorted hardware, a tube of valve grinding compound, and detailed instructions. The buyer would supply the pipes needed to complete the device. The fare? About a hundred bucks for the kit plus sixty more (or so depending on where you buy your galvanized pipe) of user-furnished stuff. I read the reviews, not just on Pete’s site, but on other I-net astronomy venues, and was favorably impressed. I decided that if the binoculars that arrived were good, I’d go with Pete’s somewhat Rube Goldberg-ish looking contraption.
Before too many afternoons had gone by, I arrived home at good, old Chaos Manor South to find a largish box in the front hall. HOT DOG! Opening (tearing into it, actually) the box revealed a nice enough aluminum case not that different from what a lot of Chinese gear comes in these days (did I really have to tell you the Tachyons come from China?). Not a Pelican case, but sufficient unto its purpose. It was what was inside that case that counted, however…
What was inside impressed me just as much as it had Phil. Big, and I mean BIG binoculars with a rubber armored body and a strong central shaft with a hefty tripod mounting post. I did note, as Phil had, that the central shaft had a little side to side play in it, but, also as he had, I didn’t think it would cause much—if any—problem. The big objectives? Greenish multi-coated things of beauty. The eyepieces seemed nice, too, with a decent AFOV and, I noted, threads for standard 1.25-inch filters. As is the case with most giant binocs, the eyepieces focused separately in helical fashion.
My strongest impression, though? How heavy the things were. They come in at a bit over 10 pounds, but seemed more like 20 when I lifted them out of their case. Well, that was OK; I had the option of ordering Pete’s mount if these things seemed worthy. I was lucky that there would be a public outreach session at The Possum Swamp Astronomical Society’s, in-town site the very next night. I’d haul out a big tripod and the Tachyons and find out how good the optics were.
When our young guests had scurried off, I shut down Cindy Lou, my RV-6 Dynascope reflector, which is my frequent public outreach scope, and got out the Tachyons. Put them on the tripod and endeavored to get them pointed at the Moon. And just as quickly removed them. Too hard to balance. Too hard to get my eyes at the eyepieces. As I’d figgered, a photographic tripod of any kind simply would not do. But I still needed to check their optics. I did that by seating myself in a lawn chair, bracing my arms to the extent they could be braced, and pointing these monsters at the Moon by hand and by force of will.
The Moon was a lovely, warm-looking, cratered masterpiece. 25x is more than enough to reveal plenty of details. The images, once I, by hook and crook, managed to focus, were very sharp, chromatic aberration was minimal. Pointing at a nearby star field revealed impressively sharp stars across the 3-degree field. Next morning I sent Mr. Peterson my credit card number.
Even if I hadn’t dealt with Pete before, I’d have had a good impression from the get-go. Shortly after I ordered, I received a detailed email telling/showing me the parts I needed to buy to complete my mount. I bopped down to Lowes one afternoon on the way home from work and was able to get all the pipes and connectors in one go. I probably could have saved some money by dealing with a pipe supply company, but Lowes was convenient and Unk is, as you know, even lazier than he is stingy.
In a remarkably short period of time, the box from Peterson containing the custom parts and instructions was at the old manse and I was ready to give it a go. Frankly, I was a little nervous if not scared looking at all those strange parts accompanied by the ones I got at Lowes. The cats were extremely suspicious. I decided I would not freak out; I would just follow Pete’s illustrated instructions step by step.
And what excellent instructions they were. Unlike some folks offering similar kits, Pete does not assume you know anything about the parts or procedures involved in putting the EZ Binoc together. He leads you by the hand and was even able to get old fumble-fingered Unk going. One good thing? I knew I was on unfamiliar ground and gritted my teeth and followed the directions exactly, something y’all know I am usually loath to do.
Amazingly, I didn’t run into any real problems. Not for a while. Assembling the mount in the front parlor like Unk did is not recommended, however, if for no other reason than that the valve grinding compound you will use to smooth the threads on the rotating joints of the mount is the devil’s own brew. The stuff looks harmless enough, but it propagates. A tiny pinch spreads everywhere. Despite being a teenager, li’l Unk nearly got a bad spanking from Mama when he walked into the den with his good school clothes covered with the black stuff after putting together the pipe mount for his homebrew 6-inch Newtonian. I was wary of the valve grinding stuff and used extreme caution while applying it to threads, working it in, and removing it from same. I had learned my lesson long ago.
I was positively humming along, y’all, with the mount really beginning to look like something, even if that something could be best described as a plumber’s nightmare. Till I ran aground just as I was finishing up. I had purchased the recommended five and ten pound barbell weights at Academy Sporting Goods and had put them in the right places, but when it was rubber meets road time and I mounted my Tachyons on the thing, it would not even come close to balancing. As soon as I let go, the binoculars headed for the ceiling. Removed one 10 pounder and they sunk toward the floor. Was I sunk?
No. Miss Dorothy whipped out her calculator and did the math to get me out of the mess I was in. She not only determined which section of pipe on the main strut needed to be replaced, but how long that replacement should be. I stopped at Lowes one last time, got a shorter pipe, screwed it on in place of the original one, and all was well. The main strut balanced perfectly with barbell weights on one end and the binoculars on the other. With the friction locks just barely engaged on the binoc end, the Tachyons balanced perfectly, seeming to float in mid air. A little maneuvering around in the house showed the motions to be smooth to the point of buttery.
The only true test of astro gear is under the stars however. It being a weeknight with a gibbous Moon in the sky, the best I could do was the front yard, and I hauled the mount out there as soon as a few bright sparklers winked on. Mounted the binoculars and got to work.
What I found was that the EZ mount was a wonder. Its incredible freedom of motion, all those various axes that make it look like a plumber’s nightmare, means the binoculars can be pointed almost anywhere in the sky without making you crane your neck, hunch over, or stand on tippy toes. When you’ve got your mount together, you will be dumbfound as I was out in my front yard on that mild spring evening that such a simple and homely thing can work so well.
Some folks have wondered whether one of the moving joints might unscrew—there is nothing to prevent the main strut from unscrewing from the stand after all, causing disaster. In practice, this is not a problem. The only joint that is likely to unscrew is that one on the main strut, and as long as you remember to move clockwise on that axis whenever possible, there will never be a problem.
The binoculars themselves? When you are dealing with relatively high power (for binocs), 25x, focus and other adjustments become more critical than with small glasses, especially if your eyes tend to have trouble merging objects in binoculars and binoviewers of any kind like mine do. I found interpupillary spacing (separation of the two eyepieces) needed to be just right, but when I’d done that and my eyes had a moment to acclimate, stars, including bright ones, became nice pinpoints.
What else? Naturally, the Moon again proved to be a wonder with these binoculars. Saturn was in the sky, too, and it turned out that 25x was indeed enough to (barely) resolve the ring, with the golden planet looking simply amazing despite its small size. What wasn’t marvelous? Getting the binoculars aimed at Saturn. Clearly, at 25x you gotta have a finder.
I lucked out finder-wise. I already had one of them new-fangled Chinese red dot jobs, you know the ones that let you select various reticle shapes. All I needed was some way to mount it on the Tachyons. It didn’t take long to find perfection, even if it wasn’t cheap. Garrett Optical had a bracket for this very finder that would clamp onto the glasses’ central bar. It was 50 bucks, but looked better than anything else I found. I ordered it.
After that? Nothing. Not for over a year. Once the basic observing for the Herschel Project was done, though, I began to think about my binoculars again. And sometimes the stars and planets are in just the right alignment. As I told you-all last week, I was exhausted prior to me and Dorothy’s just-finished Chiefland expedition. The weather was a factor, too. Even if I’d felt like doing serious imaging, it didn’t look like the sky would cooperate. What to do? I packed the Tachyons and the EZ Binoc in the 4Runner with the C8.
Wednesday night, our first night down Chiefland Way, was devoted to sketching Herschels and not much else. It appeared the weather that night would be the best we could expect for the trip and I wanted to take advantage of it. The Tachyons stayed in their case. Thursday? I wasn’t sure we’d see anything—not according to the dadgum Weather Channel.
By the time 7 p.m. rolled around, I was ready to hit the old observing field no matter what the consarned weatherman said. And I had hopes. The clouds that had been thickening all afternoon were suddenly beginning to scamper off in the direction of the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe, just maybe.
I uncovered the C8, Celeste, since I wanted to try another go-to alignment with her Atlas mount’s new software, but the main course would be the Tachyons. First order of bidness was getting the EZ Binoc set up. Despite me having made some marks on the mount’s rotating joints with a magic marker, I was soon confused about what should be positioned where. Luckily, I’d had the good sense to take iPhone pictures of the thing when it was correctly arranged in the living room the Saturday before our departure. With the aid of the pix, the Tachyons were soon on the mount and ready to go.
When the first stars blinked on, I set the interpupillary spacing for my eyes, focused up, and waited for the riches of Sagittarius. Which arrived right on schedule in concert with a sudden and dramatic clearing to the south. When the Milky way began billowing up out of the Teapot’s spout, I got the binoculars pointed that-a-way and began drinking in the marvels.
First object? Good old M22, the great globular star cluster adjacent to the Teapot’s lid. It wasn’t quite resolved—it wasn’t quite dark yet, either—but it was big and it was beautiful. Again, I marveled at how well the silly looking mount worked. I never stooped or strained, even when pointing near the zenith. Movements were crazy smooth and precise. While there is a wee bit of springiness in the mount, vibrations settle out quickly. Pete makes a larger mount kit, the EZ Binoc Super Mount, but I am entirely happy with the standard model.
“Happy” does not begin to describe how I felt when astronomical twilight arrived. I had never seen the Milky Way like this. From my first target after M22, M8, the Lagoon Nebula, I was in heaven. The stars across the big field were numberless, sometimes resolved, sometimes appearing like nebulous clouds. The real nebula in M8 was starkly visible along with the dark “lagoon” lane. The tiny stars of the superimposed open cluster, NGC 6530, were hard little pinpricks, but that was not the draw. The draw was the 3-D effect.
As my eyes became accustomed to the Tachyons, I began to see that some of the stars involved in the nebula, especially those in the dark areas, were actually behind the gas cloud, farther away. This has no basis in reality, of course. The baseline between my eyes was not nearly long enough to provide real 3-D on an object at least 3,000 light years out in deep space. But that’s not what my brain thought. It decided that since I was looking with two eyes, I must be seeing depth. Though not real, this faux 3-D effect was striking and startling.
Other optical characteristics of the Tachyons? Yes, if you point ‘em at a bright star as I did at Vega, there is chromatic aberration, but it is fairly subtle and non intrusive, appearing more as a gray haze around the star than as the dread Color Purple. Not that I spent much time worrying about such things. The whole road of the Milky Way from south to north was open before me and the Tachyons. We put a foot in it and were, as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins warned, swept away. I did occasionally go over to poor Celeste to view some objects in the SCT for comparison, but basically it was binoculars all the way all night, or for as long as the sky lasted, till about 12:30 in the a.m.

Back at the motel, I opened a beer and thought about the incredible sights I’d seen. Over the years, I’ve often heard folks rave about what big binoculars can do, but I never understood, not till now. I sat watching the TV, but not paying much attention. Instead, I was replaying in my mind the copious wonders the Zhumells had shown me on this very special night…

M22. As astronomical twilight comes on, I can now see the occasional star pop out around the cluster’s periphery. Set in a crazy-rich field. The 3D effect is very noticeable.

M28 is not at all resolved. Small, like a fuzzy star. Set in a field milky with hordes of faint background stars
.
M8 and M20 are in the same field and incredible. The dark lane, the “lagoon,” is prominent. The huge field is just full of resolved and unresolved stars, clusters, and nebulosity. I was surprised to see that M20, the Trifid, at least hinted at its lobed nature occasionally at 25x, but it dern sure did. The open cluster just to the northeast, M21, is lovely, like a handful of gems thrown up into the dark night.

M17, The Swan, is small but awesome. The Swan shape is easy. I’m beginning to pick up some of the outlying nebulosity, too. Here in the main stream of the Milky Way, the background is crowded with stars.

I wasn’t sure I’d see anything of the Eagle Nebula, IC 4703, surrounding M16, but here it is. I’m seeing the cloud involved the open cluster easily, and at times the eagle shape is evident.

In the 25x100s, M11, the Wild Duck is a thing of wonder. It is a little small, but impressive nevertheless. A few brighter stars are resolved, but the overall effect is like Hubble’s Variable Nebula, a comet shape with a brighter star as the “head.” Although the cluster was nearly overhead, I had no problem viewing it with the EZ Binoc Mount.

Back down south to catch M7, the Ptolemy cluster, a glittering sea of sapphires. It’s too big for most telescopes at 80’ across, but it just fits into the Tachyons’ field. What do I think? “Awesome, incredible.” I am wearing out those words, but the southern sky is just that in these binoculars.

M6, the Butterfly Cluster, M7’s neighbor, is really better for big binocs or telescopes than M7, since it’s a much more compact 25’ in size. I usually have a hard time seeing a butterfly here, but with plenty of open space around it I suddenly see two looping arcs of stars forming the wings.

With Sagittarius starting to sink, I made a quick run through the little globular clusters along the base of the teapot. M69 is a small, round fuzzy that’s not at all resolved but easy enough to see. M70 is similar to M69, a round fuzz-spot that’s even smaller. Bright round core, but no hint of resolution at all. M54, the third sister, is much like Ms 69 and 70. More than anything it looks like a small galaxy in the SCT:  bright stellar core surrounded by round haze.

I couldn’t resist any longer. Over to the east for what we called “The Great Andromeda Nebula” when I was a sprout. This huge galaxy, M31, stretches all across the field of the Tachyons. Satellite galaxy M110, which is normally a little subdued, is very bright. M32, the other, closer-in companion, is both smaller and brighter, appearing almost stellar. At least one of M31’s dark lanes is visible in the rapidly degrading sky. I even seem to pick out a little detail near the galaxy’s nucleus. The 3-D effect is pronounced here, if a little weird. To me, the galaxy seems to float in front of the field stars.

M55, east of Sagittarius’ teapot asterism, is a globular I haven’t visited in a while. Must not have, anyway, because I was just floored at how big and prominent this thing was in the Tachyon binoculars. Not resolved, but looked like it wanted to. I convince myself I see a few of its outer suns wink in and out of view occasionally.

M25 is just right:  big enough to stand out in the binoculars and too big for the C8. Staring at it, what at first looks like an egg-shaped group of stars begins to arrange itself into a miniature of Hercules with a small “keystone.”

The Double Cluster looks good in a telescope, but even in a rich field telescope it doesn’t look this good. It’s all there, with the clusters surrounded by copious space. The sense of depth is almost overwhelming. The words that come to mind? “The stars like grains of sand.”

Back east before the haze moving in erases the fall constellations. M33 is very good indeed in the 25x100s, if a little dimmer than it would otherwise be due to the haze. At first it’s just a milky oval with a brighter center floating among the stars, but a little looking and I begin to see its famous spiral pattern.

NGC 457. The E.T. Cluster is still in the clear, and this old friend is simply outstanding in giant binoculars. Cute little devil, surprisingly small, but set off by a very rich field as he waves at me across the dark light years.

The Pac Man Nebula, NGC 281, is fairly easy to see in the Tachyons. But only fairly. It’s really not that obvious in the C8 either on this night. I only occasionally think I see a sign of the Pac Man mouth; mostly it’s just an ill-defined roundish smudge.

The Muscle Man Cluster, Stock 2, is not one I look at often, and, as is often the case with open clusters, my reaction on getting it in the field of the binoculars was, “Huh, don’t look like no muscleman to me!” And just as typically, suddenly the little man with his upraised arms became obvious. At 60’ across this is definitely a binocular object and was well framed in the Tachyons.

With M57 well placed, I thought I’d check to see if I could make it out at 25x. Yep, it’s there, looking more like a fuzzy b-b than a ring.

M13 is up next. How is it? Alright, but it’s tight and not resolved. Bright, of course. M92 is about the same, just smaller and dimmer. Should have checked in on the looser M5, but he is gone now.

M56 is high in the sky, but I was able to get this subdued and often ignored globular in the field without strain with the EZ Binoc Mount. Obvious if not overly impressive. Mostly a round smudge with a couple of stars suspected.

Albireo, the Cub Scout Double is wonderful in the Tachyons, with its blue and gold components well-separated at 25x. Should have gone from here to the Veil Nebula, but I FORGOT. Dangit.

The final object was M45, the Pleiades. The Daughters of Atlas were just barely high enough to bother with. Beautiful despite passing haze. Too many blue diamonds to count. Occasionally I think I see a hint of the Merope Nebula, but it is really like “baby’s breath on a mirror” tonight.

You read about Friday night, night two of The Herschel Project Phase II, last week. Despite the fun I’d had with ‘em Thursday evening, I didn’t use the Tachyons Friday. I didn’t plan on getting them out of their case on Saturday, either. That night was to be more Herschel sketching since I hadn’t been able to do as much of that as I’d hoped Friday.

On our way down to breakfast that morning, though, the completely overcast sky hinted that might not happen. What was on The Weather Channel was, as usual, a little ambiguous—“chance of showers, scattered thunderstorms,” but the forecast was looking worse than it had. Originally, Saturday was supposed to have been the best night of our four night run.  Looked to me like a little sucker hole cruising with the Zhumells might be it, but that would be OK.

After breakfast, where I stayed away from the enormous waffles, it was time for the day’s road trip. Saturday is always Duma Key Day for me and D. Duma Key? That’s just what Dorothy and I call nearby Cedar Key, a pretty little island fishing village chock full of cool bars and shops. It ain’t scary like the setting of Stephen King’s novel—well, it might get a little scary after dark at The Black Dog when the Flirtinis begin to flow. What it most assuredly is is one of the Florida west coast’s forgotten jewels.

It was lunchtime when we got to Cedar Key, so we stopped for a bite. One of our favorites in the past, The Rusty Rim Café, was sadly out of business, having been damaged by a fire last spring. I’ve heard it is under repair, but not much seemed to be going on with the place, and it’s not clear to me it will ever be back in its original form. It’s a good spot, though, and I am sure it will return as something someday.

Our venue of choice this time was The Steamer, which serves what Miss D. believes to be the best crab bisque in the whole, wide world. I ordered a bowl and now agree. I also had the appetizer portion of fried shrimp, though I really didn’t need it after the rich bisque. Especially since the shrimp were monster-sized—“jumbo shrimp” ain’t always an oxymoron, campers.

After lunch we made our customary tour of the shops. Unk looked at plenty of t-shirts and coffee mugs, but I really have a surfeit of both. I confined my buying to a Cedar Key shotglass and a Cedar Key beer cozy. Might as well get stuff I can USE, after all. Shopping done, it was back to Chiefland to relax and keep watching the skies.

The pea-picking clouds came and went and I thought there was a chance they might do what they’d done on Wednesday and dissipate after sundown. By 9 p.m., however, they were showing no inclination to do that. Hell, they seemed to be getting thicker. I hung out with my pals on the field and hoped for better, but our hopes were fleeting.

Then, about 9:30, I noticed a substantial sucker hole had opened up to the south-southwest. I hurried over to my setup and got the Tachyons on their mount. The sky had looked so poor at sundown that I’d left them in their case and the C8 under her Desert Storm cover. What did I see? Brief glimpses of M8, M16, M17, and a few of the area’s impressive open clusters. When the clouds closed back in, I moved east, which wasn’t much better. I was amazed, however, that the binoculars showed the core of M31 through a fairly thick haze layer. And that was it, the last thing I saw Saturday evening. The sky then well and truly closed down with a nearly audible thud.

But that, I reckoned, was OK. There was that looming drive home to The Swamp in the morning. I am always torn on CAV Saturday nights. Do I try to squeeze one last photon out of the sky or do I get some rest so I don’t feel like a zombie for the drive back west on I-10? There wasn’t much of a decision to be made this time, since it was apparent the sky wouldn’t get much better for a long while. Back to the Day’s Inn for a couple of brewskies, a little cable TV, and a little reading of the sometimes silly, often informative, and always fun give and take on the Cloudy Nights BBS.

I hated to go to sleep on this last night of our vacation, but Unk’s eyes soon shut and soon it was Sunday morning and The End for another Chiefland romp. Packed the 4Runner, Miss Van Pelt, and headed out to the site for the inevitable gear tear-down and goodbye-saying. It had been a good one. Maybe one of the best. Saw plenty Wednesday and Thursday and even a little Friday and Saturday. Got some Herschel Project work done. Most of all, I relaxed and had a good time with Dorothy. As always, “Just want to come back soon,” muchachos.


Next Time: Uncle Rod and Uncle Al…

Comments:
Thanks Rod. Great few days off. I need that myself.
 
Great review of the advantage of "BIG" bins Rod.

My best viewing was when I stayed out in the wilds of Southern France, my 100X25's were my astro mainstay, and on a good night actually got to see the teapot [northern Scottish boy here] and galaxy hop up the side, but even then it was low and they were only there on a "good" night. Watching the ISS with the shuttle chasing along "behind" was also a great thrill and one I feel lucky to have observed.

All the best

Andy Brown.
 
I agree, 100 mm binoculars are a special kind of instrument. Like you, Uncle Rod, I haven't used mine that often. One must admit that although the experience is awesome, few specific objects look good with this aperture. Be that as it may, it seems that every time I got them out under the dark skies it was a uniquely memorable night. Mine (longish-focus, fork-mount Astromeccanica-LZOS) accept any standard oculars, so when Ethoses came out I got a pair just to use in them. The experience is probably the most different from looking through any other instrument, for the lack of the feeling of "looking through" anything. That in spite of the fact that using Ethoses in a binocular fashion means banging your eye sockets against them. Anything that happens on this side of the glass just disappears to you and you float in space on the other side.
 
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