University Lowbrow Astronomers

The Clear-Sky Blues.

by John Manney
Printed in Reflections: December, 2010.

The sky is clear and black, and the Moon is out of sight. I am far away from the city lights. There are no mosquitoes, and it isn’t cold yet. The telescope isn’t broken. Best of all, I don’t have to get up for work tomorrow. It is a perfect night to go out and enjoy the sky.

However, I am enjoying the skies already. I am in my overstuffed chair with my new book of Hubble images. Plus, I am a bit tired. And, it can be a big deal to set up the scope. It weighs 5 pounds, and the tripod legs will probably hit the doorway. This can be stressful. Besides, the go-to drive may decide not to go anywhere.

A little voice is scolding me: This is a good night to go out and observe. It may be a long time before we have another one. You’re just a wimp! What would Herschel say about this? Is this the way Galileo worked? What about the Arabian and Chinese astronomers of long ago? Would they see it your way?

OK, so what if I am a wimp. I’m not under any obligation to go out, just because it is clear, dark, warm, mosquito-free, and Moonfree.

But the memory of this lost opportunity will haunt me in February, March, and April. Worst of all, I will have to keep an awkward silence the next time we’re whining about the cloudy skies of Southern Michigan.

In short, I am in turmoil because this is a perfect night. If it were cloudy, cold, Moonlit, or mosquito-infested, I wouldn’t feel bad about anything. Astronomy is supposed to be fun, not a Greek tragedy.

I have an idea. I have a compromise. I have to take the trash out, anyway. I’ll just look at the sky for a couple of minutes. I’ll be able to say it was a great night to look at the stars, and I took advantage of the opportunity. Maybe, I will find that it is cloudy after all.

So out I go. Wow... the Milky Way is thick tonight... Polaris beckons from the north... My right eye catches the Seven Sisters. Capella is rising if the northeast. In the west, Arcturus is fading away. In the south, Jupiter almost hurts my eyes.

I had better set up the scope, before we get clouds, or some other problem.

[No clear nights were used in preparing this article]


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