Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Morning Lights

"I became an astronomer not to learn the facts about
the sky but to feel its majesty."- David Levy

Terrific night! I awoke at 0300, looked outside at
the beautiful, clear sky, and decided I didn't need
THAT much sleep. A few minutes later I was on the
bridge-wing enjoying the view of Mars, Saturn and
Antares low in the west, Perseus rising in the east,
and the broad, bifurcated stream of the Milky Way
forming a river of starlight seeming to connect them.

I am fortunate whilst at sea to have access to some
of the darkest night skies on Earth; the downside to
this is that telescopes don't work well aboard ship
(too much ocean motion). So the irony here is that my
"observatory" has amazing skies but that I'm limited
to binocular and naked-eye observation of the wonders
thus presented. It's been this way for me since I
first went to sea (36 years ago), and only
occasionally do I feel that particular pain...

Like this morning, with skies so transparent and
seeing so good that my observing journal entry reads
"Outstanding!!!" in both respects. Standing on the
slowly-moving deck, feeling the diesels throbbing a
hundred feet below, hearing the rush of water along
the hull and the lookout making a report to the watch
officer a few yards away in the wheelhouse, I stood
transfixed by the sight of the Triangulum Galaxy
(M33), the great Globular Cluster in Hercules (M13)
and Galaxy M81 in Ursa Major revealed to my
unassisted eyes. I could clearly discern the North
American Nebula near Deneb as well as the jumble of
clotted starlight running down the course of the
Milky Way toward Sagittarius, each knot a cluster or

I think that had I had binoculars or a small
telescope with me this morning I would have been
wrong to utilize them; a sky this rare, this
fantastic would lose something precious under

I must have stood out there for nearly an hour--it
seemed only a few minutes--for suddenly I realized
that the light of dawn was beginning to overcome the
blaze of Capella, newly arrived on the stage. Shaking
off the chill that had settled unknown upon me, I
found the spell of the perfect sky already broken by
the glow of coming day. I found that Mars had
vanished into the southwest and that Saturn was
fading in turn.

The enchantment dispelled, my last sight before
laying below to prepare for the new day was a flash
of white light in Andromeda; a bright meteor leaving
a persistent trail behind it as it headed northwest
into Ursa Minor. A lovely finale, indeed--and perhaps
a promise for tomorrow morning?

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