Sunday, December 24, 2023


Issue 599: A Chaos Manor South Merry Christmas 2023


“What in the hail are you goin’ on about now, Unk? Ever’body knows you and Miss Dorothy decamped from the Old Manse to the suburbs almost a decade ago!”  Yes and no, Skeeter, yes and no.” I have come to realize Chaos Manor South is more a state of mind than a place, no matter how much I sometimes miss that place itself and those grand old Christmases of yore on Selma St.

Yeah, muchachos, those exciting Yule eves sporting a giant tree crowded by presents and a house of little ones unable to sleep. And me sitting, a season of furious preparations done, watching for a glimpse of that most numinous of all Christmas ornaments, Messier 42.

The years have passed as years do, crowding one upon another. Christmas is again on the doorstep—they seem to come thick and fast in these latter days.  Here I still sit on the couch in the den with Chaos Manor South’s resident black cat, Thomas Aquinas, waiting for the sky to clear and for us to get a glimpse of the Great Nebula. Tommy and I are older now, but that is the only difference. Our hopes for clear skies on Christmas Eve are as firm and resolute as ever.

Admittedly, it doesn’t look as if those hopes will be borne out this year. I was awakened at three in the morning by the weather radio alarming its head off about flood warnings. By 9am, it began to sprinkle. It would, looked to me, be a blue-eyed Christmas miracle if we got even the tiniest sucker-hole.

But you know as well as I do the key to practicing amateur astronomy successfully is being ready to take advantage of miracles, Christmas or otherwise. To wit, I needed to have a scope ready. Oh, I could have just said to myself that my old but still beloved Burgess 15x70 binocs would be fine “just in case.” But somehow that didn’t seem in the spirit of the thing, my traditional Christmas Eve look at “Orion,” as I simply and innocently called the Great Nebula when I was a boy.

Perfect for those unlooked for looks? Tanya, my rescue telescope. As I wrote in the article that detailed her coming to Chaos Manor South, she is not perfect. In addition to having lived a hard knock life, with a few dents in her steel tube bearing witness to that, she is saddled with an f/5.2 spherical mirror. That somewhat limits her performance—well, theoretically. “Theoretically” because I don’t use her for high-power views of the planets. She is perfect for wide-field looks, which is what my quick looks usually call for, but is quite capable of handling 100x or so. Cleaned and collimated, her 114mm primary does a surprisingly nice job.

So, Tommy and I sat and waited. And waited. He watching something or other on television. Me, naturally, ruminating on Christmases past as I am wont to do on Yule Eves. Which one spells “Christmas” for me? There are several, including some newer-ish ones, like the first Christmas I spent with Miss Dorothy at the Old Manse. But if you are going to pin me down, I guess Christmas for me is still and will forever be:  Stars instead of Cars.

Here we still sit as it pours.  The weather goobers are predicting 2-inches of the wet stuff before morning. I’ll be surprised to hear the rain slacken, much less see a single star wink through this mess. Them’s the breaks. I’ve had a pretty good run of clear Xmas Eves of late, and, as always in amateur astronomy, you take what you get. We shall sit a while longer, Tommy and I. Till I finally drift off and a little black paw nudges me, telling me it is time for bed.

Have a merry one. When we meet again in the new year, I will tell you what the hell happened to my other yearly tradition, my annual imaging run on the Great Globular, M13. Till then… “This is Chaos Manor signing off and clear.”

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