Friday, March 29, 2013

This Lovely Evening

 I stepped outside about 8:45 pm last evening, wanting to have a final look at Comet PanSTARRS. I've seen it twice and thought of this as a final farewell. With Comet ISON coming in the fall, and promising to be something quite spectacular, I won't have long to wait for another comet.

As I stood in our back yard, the sky quickly deepened from a rosy glow on the western horizon to a jet black above. Looking due west in this shot (just after 9 pm), the stars have begun to appear.
 Most interesting to me, however, was not what was above - what I came for, of course - but what was nearby. Tonight I heard the first chorus of spring peepers, tree frogs, bringing an orchestral sound to the chilly night air. To our north, the woods was alive with their tiny tinny, voices. It is a high-pitched sound, almost the sound of birds chirping softly, but higher in frequency. I love hearing it each year but am often not outside when they first have their spring roundup.

 To the southwest, Orion already prepares to set. It will be gone the summer long, only passing overhead during the day. It is my favorite constellation, so easily identified, and bright and bold with it's corner-placed stars of note.
 A little farther along in the sky, and higher, is the Pleiades:

 The Seven Sisters (M45) appears to my naked eyes as only a fuzzy smudge. I can recognize it still, even as my eyes age, but I can't make out individual stars. My camera certainly can. It is an open clusters, actually closely grouped, and 440 light years above Pinehaven. As poor as my eyes are becoming, I marvel and take solace that I can see that far.

 And Comet PanSTARRS? It is slowly retreating from our neighborhood, already a mere smudge of light. Last evening I used my tablet and its built-in GPS (and therefore compass) to point my camera at 304° with an elevation of 7.3° at 9 pm. Guessing at the elevation and using guide stars, I took this time exposure and found the comet in the frame.

 There is no longer much to see. The comet is dead-center in this cropped image, a mere hint of light. Looking very closely in a darkened room, the tail can be seen towards the top and trailing slightly to the right. That's all as it should be. And so, at last look completed. I will be cold dust along with it when (if?) it ever returns.
 I almost hated to come back inside. The chorus of frogs sounded brightly in the crisp night air, dipping from about 40° into the upper 30's while I stood under the stars. I don't know what time they put their instruments to bed but I called it a night and was beneath the covers by 9:30 pm, warmed by such sights and sounds as these.

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