Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Go Scope Again

Hey, remember the Go Scope?

Well, last night my buddy popped over and we drove up to the lake at Harriman, just past the border into New York state, to check out the night skies. There’s an alleged triple play of planets going on (Venus, Mars, and Saturn), so we had a couple of goals. Mars is starting to grow quite distant and small, but we thought we could image Saturn’s rings and perhaps see what phase Venus is currently in.

No go on our objectives.

Despite being June, the weather crept down into the upper 50s. That didn’t stop the bugs, though. When we pulled into the parking area – thoroughly in the dark save for car headlights, as there are no streetlights up here – we saw a father with a couple of sons pulling a boat off the lake. “Caught some bass; we had a good time ” he said, “until the bugs came out.”

And boy did he mean it! Within minutes a swarm of gnats converged upon us. We only spent a little over an hour there, but by the end they infiltrated the van, the telescope boxes, my clothes. One even flew into my eye, and a couple tried to see how far they could explore my ear canal. But at least they weren’t mosquitoes. If they were we’d be in Intensive Care right now.

There were plenty of stars out, especially as it got darker, shortly after nine. Venus was a large, glittering bright diamond about 30 degrees high in the north-western sky. By the end of the night it was dipping below the mountains on the horizon. We found it quickly and easily, but were unable to resolve it down to anything other than a fat slightly-blurred orb. Kinda disappointing.

There were two reddish objects around Venus, but we couldn’t tell which was Mars, if either one was. The bugs made it too difficult to read my Astronomy magazine in the van. Both proved too tough for the Go Scope to track down (the finderscope needs batteries which I never got around to buying and installing). And Saturn wasn’t scheduled to make an appearance until later in the night.

We decided the best target for the telescope would be the moon. Alas, it wasn’t out either. Perhaps later in the month, off my backyard deck. So, we got to the lake, unpacked and set up the scope, and really had nothing to look at for the next hour and a half. All in all, though, it was a pleasant evening out, bugswarm notwithstanding.

Soon me and my friend were the only ones at the lake. If we’d turn off the van’s headlights we’d be submerged in complete darkness. Only the moderate light from the celestial dome gave shadings to shadows. Around 9:30 we started hearing the howling of wolves from the mountain in the not-too-distant distance. That spooked me a bit, so I suggested packing up and heading back home. Once in the car the headlights lit up a section of foliage about a hundred yards across the lake. I wondered out loud what we’d do if we saw the tall bushes part and a large, dark creature crash through on two legs to snatch some bass from the lake, then pause, crouched, slowly glancing up to meet our gaze.

If I was to grade January’s excursion with a B (due mostly to the frigid fingernumbing weather), I’d give yesterday a C.

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