Friday, April 23, 2010

A Matter of Luck? Thoughts after a Public Session at WPL

I was back at Westchester Public Library Wednesday night, although when I arrived at 7:00 PM, clouds were starting to move in. Rather than set up the telescopes right away, I went upstairs and got on my computer. I was sitting by the window, monitoring the clouds through the window. Eight o’clock approached, and I decided to go out and set up the scopes. The clouds were thin, so rather than completely obliterate the Moon, they served to filter out some of the Moonlight.


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The Moon over trees.


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Clouds to the west.


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My memory card was full after this picture, so they are the only people shown in this post. :(


It was pretty dead for awhile after I set up, which was just as well, since Saturn was hiding behind the clouds. Things picked up, though, and Saturn eventually emerged from the clouds until just before the library closed. Most people saw both the Moon and Saturn, and a few saw at least the Moon, but the last guy to leave the library was clouded out for both. I felt bad, but there was nothing I could do about it.

That got me thinking as I left. Is astronomy a matter of luck? How many times have you looked at exactly the right place at exactly the right time to catch a meteor streak across the sky? It happens to me often. Or been at the right place to catch a sundog in the morning? The Northern Lights? Okay, these are unpredictable phenomena.

What about the other hand? How many times have you planned a time sensitive observation to be clouded out at the crucial moment?

So what I want to know is what was your luckiest observation ever? What was your most frustrating missed observation from circumstances you couldn’t control?

Now that I’m paying attention to the sky all the time, I’ve observed sundogs/halos three times since last December, and back in 2005 I saw the Northern Lights in the Chesterton area. But my luckiest observation ever was in August of 2008, a month after I bought my first telescope. I was watching Jupiter almost every clear night after first light.

I had been observing Jupiter for nearly two hours on August 6, 2008, while watching for Io’s shadow to appear on the disk (Io had transited onto the disk at 9:48), a meteor went streaking directly in front of the planet at 10:42 PM. How cool! My notes say it very turbulent, and I remember seeing what I thought might be compression waves follow the meteor. Very impressive, especially as Io’s shadow was falling onto Jupiter’s limb around the same time. I’ll probably never see anything like that again.

My worst luck was for the total lunar eclipse February 21, 2008. This wouldn’t have been my first lunar eclipse, but it would have been the first that I made an absolute priority. Being February in Northwest Indiana and all, I couldn’t expect the weather to cooperate with me. Valparaiso was hit hard with lake effect snow, and I was shoveling an inch an hour for much of the eclipse. To add insult to injury, I heard on the radio the next morning that most of the Region had clear skies, and only parts of the Valparaiso area were hit with all that snow. I’ve seen parts of lunar eclipses, but I’m still waiting for my first one since I’ve considered myself an astronomer.

How lucky are you? Do you randomly see cool stuff all the time? Or is your astronomical luck so bad that you’ve considered giving it up? Share your stories.

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