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Monday, July 24, 2006

A beautiful day, continued

Things didn't end when I published the previous post yesterday. I chatted online with a friend for a while afterwards, and came to a realization about climate change that will form the basis of an entire future post. But then I decided to wrap things up for the night, log off, shut down, take a shower, and go to bed.

On my way to take a shower I noticed my binoculars on the chair where I had placed them after Thursday's failed attempt at occultation-viewing*, and I remembered the last thing I had said in my post. I realized that my day was not yet over. I threw on a sweatshirt - not that it was especially cool, but as protection from the mosquitoes - and a hat, and headed outside with the binoculars to post myself in an Adirondack chair.

Despite the speed with which my pupils adjust to the dark, it took me a while to fully dark-adapt. But soon I saw that the sky was clearer than it had been in a long, humid while. It wasn't long before I was following satellites and scoping out stars that I could barely perceive with unaided eyes. I saw the diamond-bejewelled teapot shape of Sagittarius through a small gap between my neighbor's house and shed, and I saw the great Angelfish shape of Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, for what seems like the first time. (I have a hard time resolving stars into constellations, something I believe is related to prospagnasia prosopagnosia.) I saw the great backwards-check of Scorpius and the red star that was once known as Antares (until several years ago when I "gave" it to a friend's daughter and rechristened it in her honor, with the same right and authority as any other self-appointed star-naming body.) I found an arc of stars almost directly overhead that I knew had to be Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Eventually I turned my attention to the glowing cloudy band in the South and East: the Milky Way, a galaxy seen at extreme close range, from within.

It's been a long time since I've stared at the Milky Way. Faint smears of light resolved into dense washes of stars through the binoculars; brighter knots were revealed to have diminutive shape and structure. I later verified that these were indeed Messier objects - the Eagle Nebula (M16) and Omega Nebula (M17), at least, and possibly the Trifid Nebula (M20).

It was during this observing session that I also discovered that I had once again slammed my seatbelt in my car door, causing the dome light to stay on. In a few more hours the battery would have been dead.

Finally it was time for a shower, a rubbing of Aloe Vera gel on my sunburns, and bed.

Once in bed I turned on the TV and began surfing the channels. I found an episode of the excellent revival of Doctor Who. This was the remarkable episode "The Doctor Dances". Even though I had the Doctor Who Season One DVD boxed set** sitting just feet from the TV, I decided to watch the episode as it was being broadcast. The denouement of this episode is so exuberant, so joyful, it simply must be seen to be believed.

And then, as the new-yet-familiar version of the theme song announced the end of the episode, I turned off the TV, turned out the light, and went to sleep.

It was midnight, and my beautiful day had drawn to a close.

*I may not have gotten to see much of the Moon occulting the Pleiades, but something very good has come from something I did that early Thursday morning.

**Yes, so much for "all discretionary spending is on hold."


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