University Lowbrow Astronomers

Lowbrows Observe at 12 Below on Coldest Night of the Year.

by John Causland
Printed in Reflections: February, 2009.

You’ve all heard that there’s some kind of insanity that goes along with exposure to extreme cold temperatures. People have been known to take clothes off when they’re freezing and about to die (seriously!). Lowbrows just get out their scopes!

Nine of us found ourselves sitting around a 4 person table at Good Time Charley’s after the Club meeting Friday night 12/16/09.

It might have been the telescopes on display at the club meeting that created a temporary fever-like condition that prewarmed us. But, after a round of 2 pitchers of Killians and a huge plate of chicken tacos, someone said, “Let’s Obsuhvate!” Yumi, Yasu, Mike Radwick, Jason and Causland raised their glasses. Needless to say, this took a kind of mob mentality of the astronomically insane to make happen. None of us in our right minds would do this alone.

Yumi, Yasu, Jason, Mike

I quickly headed back to the driveway ahead of the expected crowds to cool down (freeze up, that is) the 2 already set up scopes, from the garage temperature of about 32 to the 9 below the National Weather Service was reporting at 11 p.m. By 11:30, a literal handful of five Lowbrows were tending eyepieces and jumping up and down, both at the thought of seeing real stars and to keep their feet warm. Yes, of course, object one was through the Rubin 16 on M42, the Orion Nebula. But, hands down winner through the 61 (Starmaster 24), was the Eskimo planetary in Gemini. Clearly laughing with us from under his hood. The only real way to be inspired for saying we “done do” (as the missing Kingfish would say) the coldest night of the year!


With Canis Major due south, obvious great targets were M46 and 47. Then the Mexican jumping star cluster. And M35 and M1 (the Crab).

M62 (open cluster in Cancer) M78, (reflection nebula in Orion), M38 (and a little cluster NGC1907).

Not long after midnight, we retired to the Japanese water boiler for hot tea and a planning session. Easier to think of available sights when not distracted by freezing extremities. Imagined objects in our sights, we headed back out. Curiously, the electronics on the 61 didn’t miss a beat! The Argo Navis digital setting circles box has a built in heater. It did get a tiny bit sluggish and the readout dimmer, but performed like a champ telling the drive system to slew. And the near dead on alignment didn’t budge either for the entire 2 hours. Still haven’t found a reason to want to kick a Starmaster, not even at these temperatures!

Yumi, Yasu

We’d realized on planning that M81, 82 are about as high as they ever get at this time of the year. Would not have been obvious choices but glad we went there. With quite a bit of high atmosphere frozen haze, objects like M97, the Owl, wouldn’t pop. But for the finale, Saturn had just risen above our tree line. And what a finale! Rings almost edge on now!!! Only a frozen Lowbrow could appreciate a Saturn with a practically nonexistent ring plane.

And so, at 1:30 a.m., this was really ringing in the new observing year for these Lowbrows, saluting each other with the Vulcan peace sign. And the weather service proclaiming 12 below!

John, Jason, Yumi, Mike

Photo Credits


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