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Archive - March 2006

Deregulate Schooling

A Bennish on NAU

The Old Grandview Trail

From To the Mouth of Babes

Running for Office, pt. I

Minimum Wages are Immoral

Spring Break at Plateau Point

Messier O' Stars

Club Gitmo - Where Spring Break Never Ends

Friday, March 10, 2006

   Deregulate Schooling - If one were to keep a file on all the inane things that happen in the arena of public education, it would quickly consume any space you had.  So, instead, it is just a topic that I come back to on an irregular basis.  What boggles my mind is why there isn't more widespread support for deregulating education.  And, that would include support from across the political spectrum.  I do understand why (most of) the participants in the education scam oppose deregulation, since they are unlikely to earn equivalent incomes in a truly competitive environment.  But there are so many examples that come up, which should resonate among the electorate, that I am still pondering why it is such a difficult row to hoe.

Item:  Teacher in Colorado has outburst comparing Bush to Hitler and may be back in class next week.

Item:  Local Flagstaff "peace" activists protest the use of public funds to pay for JROTC instructors.  They call for funding of classes that are the opposite of the JROTC classes.  [This turns out to be an odd issue, since the classes in question are, primarily, devoted to leadership; is the opposite ... activist?]
Update - KJ reader Dan opines, "The opposite of a JROTC course would be a class that teaches conformity, follower- ship, slovenly appearance, sullen attitudes, disrespect for authority, laziness, and ignorance of history. So really, most high school classes already are the opposite."

Item:  Two students expelled from charter school in Flagstaff have enrolled in public school because it is their "right," says the Superintendent of the public school system.

Item:  A bill in the Arizona State Legislature is narrowly defeated that would have allowed for students to opt out of reading "offensive" material as part of their classroom assignments.

Item:  A public school bus rolls over on the highway, outside of Flagstaff (a few years ago).  It is an accident, but the school district must pay suing families, and those payments are acquired through higher property taxes.  So, as a taxpayer, I become financially liable for accidents that occur in the public school!

     These, and other, issues keep coming up and the solution seems painfully simple.  First, eliminate the requirement of compulsory education.  Most, if not all, parents want their children educated.  The benefits from education primarily fall to those being educated, and their immediate family.  Indeed, the United States, historically, has had a very highly literate population, even before it was mandatory.  [For a really excellent essay on this topic, read Thomas Lehman's "Government Schooling: The Bureaucratization of the Mind."]

     Second, eliminate the government's practical monopoly on education.  The system is bloated and constrained from achieving what, I believe, we all want - educated individuals.  Additionally, the system has become increasingly centralized, with large schools warehousing students in an environment that is more likely to be anti-education than supportive of it.  Just today, we have received a few inches of snow (finally) and the schools are on a two hour delay.  But, regular business offices are not on two hour delays.  The disruption that this causes to families of school children is substantial, and the reason boils down to the unsafe driving conditions for school buses.  If the schools were deregulated, I would expect a re-emergence of the neighborhood school, where, even in a driving snowstorm, students could walk to school.  But, government control of education has increasingly centralized schools which, fundamentally, works against its supposed mission of educating students.  [In reality, the educational establishment is much more focused on the incomes of its members than on the education of its customers.]

     Who should support these steps?  Well, all of the vested interests that figure into my "items" above.  If you want a "peace studies" curriculum, start your own school.  If you prefer the JROTC, send your children to that school.  If you have children that can't behave themselves in school, their families will have to take care of them, not the taxpayer.  If you find certain curriculum's offensive, don't send your children to that school.  The marketplace will provide a rich and varied landscape from which to choose.  And, it (the market) will do a better job, since students that are graduated from a school without having really learned anything, will certainly find that its customers disappear.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

   A Bennish on NAU - The high school teacher, in Denver, Colorado, that was temporarily suspended for a classroom outburst when he compared President Bush to Adolf Hitler, has local roots.  The teacher, Jay Bennish, is a graduate of NAU's College of Education.  A reporter at the Rocky Mountain News tracked down one of Bennish's NAU college professors, Dr. Peggy Raines, who called her former student, "top-flight."  She is also quoted as saying that, "I fear he may have got some of that left-wing orientation from me."  If, by "left-wing orientation" she means "factually incorrect" and "lacking logic" and "absent rational reasoning" then I guess she has done a good job.

     Bennish's 20 minute tirade, taped by one of his students, was transcribed by Michelle Malkin.  You can read Malkin's transcript for yourself, but there are two portions I wish to comment on, neither of which relate to the Bush-as-Hitler brohaha.  The first is when Bennish asks, rhetorically, "Who is probably the single most violent nation on planet Earth?!"  He replies, "The United States of America!"  Keep in mind that this comes from a geography teacher, whom you think would actually have some expertise in this area.  And, you'd think he would know better.  But, being a graduate on NAU's College of Education, perhaps it would be unfair for anyone to hold him to such a high standard.  After all, he was a "top-flight" student.  His diatribe doesn't offer any justification for such a statement beyond noting our capability for creating weapons of mass destruction.  Yes, we do have plenty.  And, we have a "no first strike" policy on their use, which, I, for one, think is a mistake.  But that doesn't prove anything, unless we suspend the rules of logic and adopt Michael Moore-ish reasoning standards.

     How can one claim that the U.S. is the "most violent?"  Are we more violent than the repressive regime in North Korea, which keeps its citizens hostage to a bankrupt philosophy even if they are starving to death?  Are we more violent than those in Rwanda, when hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were hacked to death by Hutus militias?  What of the current carnage in Dafur - is that less "violent" than the U.S.?  Or, the past carnage in Pol Pot's Cambodia?  Or, in Biafra?  Or, in Idi Amin's Uganda?  Or, in Stalin's Soviet Union?  And, I haven't even gotten to Hitler yet!  And, if we are so violent and so awful, why do so many people want to come here?  Especially when they come here at the risk of death, whether by dehydration in the Southwest deserts, or capsizing at sea in vessels that can only be loosely referred to as boats?

     A second comment I would make concerns Bennish's views on capitalism.  From the transcript:

Capitalism ... [is] ... the economic system ... in which all or most of the means of production ... are owned privately and operated in a somewhat competitive environment for the purpose of producing PROFIT!  ... Do you see how when, you know, when you're looking at this definition, where does it say anything about capitalism is an economic system that will provide everyone in the world with the basic needs that they need? Is that a part of this system? Do you see how this economic system is at odds with humanity? At odds with caring and compassion? It's at odds with human rights.

     Clearly, Bennish doesn't have a clue about what role profit plays in a market economy.  Since he is a geography teacher, one may assume that economics is not his strong suit to begin with.  But, the viewpoint expressed above is an indication that basic understanding of markets isn't even his short suit.  Profits provide incentives for people to work together to produce goods that other people desire.  That is likely to be light years more effective than relying on the "caring and compassion" of others to see to your wants and desires.  Indeed, unless Bennish is claiming that we should become some strict religiously-dominated society where God will take care of us, there is no such economic system that can guarantee people get their "basic needs."  There is only freedom and liberty on the one side, and coercion and slavery on the other.  Is Bennish arguing that collectivism, which relies on force to accomplish its goals, is compatible with "human rights?"  So it would seem.  It sounds eerily like George Orwell!

     Bennish certainly has learned his teaching style at NAU - lecture by diatribe, reasoning by assertion and the irrelevancy of facts.  I'm glad that this hasn't transferred well into the public high school where he is currently teaching.  Yes, Jay Bennish may have been a "top-flight" student in the College of Education.  That doesn't surprise me, nor does it impress me.  When Professor Raines says that, "I just think it's a shame that the conservative right-wingers can try to dictate curriculum," with regard to Bennish's suspension, then I can't help but wonder if the whole College of Education isn't just rotten to the core.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Panorama of Grand Canyon buttes from the Tonto Trail near Cottonwood Creek.  Click to see a larger image.

   The Old Grandview Trail - Well, it was bound to happen some time this winter - snow in Flagstaff.  According to one of the Phoenix TV channels, we got some 28 inches over the last three days.  It seems to me that's about a quarter, or more, of our annual average.  Until now, we only had a sprinkling of snow twice, and I posted up a photo of the second snowfall, which hardly lasted 24 hours.  This one was big, and my back can attest to that!  So, my flurry of Grand Canyon hiking may be at an end for a while.  So it goes.  It was sure nice while it lasted - nice temperatures and easy access to trails away from the main corridor.  So, it is an opportune time to blog about my last hike, which was just a week ago, down the Grandview Trail, which is some 12 miles east of the main South Rim Village at the Grand Canyon.

     This is a hike I have wanted to do for many years.  But, my interest was especially piqued by volume 6 of Burton Holmes' Travelogues, published in 1910, which I acquired from 5 Quail BooksAbout a third of the volume relates to the Grand Canyon and it is loaded with pictures.  I found one that was titled, "At the foot of the Grand View Trail."  Years ago, in Harvey Butchart's journals, I read of his attempt to find the old trail, leading off the Tonto Plateau and following it to the river.  He remarked that there wasn't much room to wander about at the river, but that he was able to match the area up with photos from an old book.  There is a photo in George Warton James' The Grand Canyon of Arizona (also 1910, and one of my all time favorites), and I thought that was the photo he used.  But, that photo is dark and there is precious little detail to use in matching up that this is the right spot.  Well, Holmes' photo is much better, and there is quite a lot in the foreground that one can use in discerning the exact location of this spot.  And, as I realized that this was the photo that Butchart must have been using, I wanted to check this route out.  Again.  The first time was in 1984.  Halfway down the Vishnu Schist I was sure I had gotten off the trail, but I did make it to the river.  Since then, I have been convinced that I missed the real route, and this would be my opportunity.

     To read about this hike and see photos (including ones from Holmes and James), click on this link:  Following the Old Grandview to the Colorado River.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

   From To the Mouth of Babes - The Arizona State Legislature is well on its way to striking down breast feeding as punishable under public indecency codes.  The issue first came up in Chandler and Tempe last year, and has since gained traction with the legislature.  So far, excluding breast feeding as indecent exposure doesn't seem especially controversial.  Indeed, from what I have read, no woman has ever been cited for a violation.  Instead, when the issue comes up, pleas are made to use discretion and everyone moves along with their business.

     But, proponents have been pushing for city ordinances (including in Flagstaff) that would expressly allow for breast feeding anywhere the public is allowed, be it a restaurant, a theater, a grocery store or the library.  Once again, it is the lazy social activist's way of promoting their agendas.  I have no problem if a business owner seeks to prohibit breast feeding, nor do I have a problem with a business owner allowing, and even accommodating, such activity.  But, it should not be up to the nursing mother, nor the state.  It should be up to the business owner.  Use whatever powers of persuasion you have to convince businesses to accept this behavior, but don't use the power of the state to force them into conformity.

     When it comes to government-run facilities, this issue reinforces the notion that we should rely on the market for the provision of goods and services.  There is no compelling rationale for city pools, nor county libraries, nor state universities.  Those are all examples of users extorting non-users to pay for their activities.  When you want to tax Peter to pay Paul, you can always count on the support of Paul.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

   Running for Office, pt. I - This spring, the citizens of Flagstaff will be voting to fill three city council seats and the mayoral spot.  The local paper, the Arizona Daily Sun, is allocating weekly editorial space for the candidates to express their views on various topics.  Since there are only six total candidates, we are likely to get a pretty good idea of what these candidates are all about.  The first topic was "affordable housing."  Unfortunately, the premise of this topic ignored the fundamental issue about whether this is even an appropriate role of government.  And, equally distressing, most of the candidates didn't question argue with this premise.  Here is a critique of these candidates on this subject:

Joe Donaldson (mayor; incumbent):  His first comment was, "Major businesses could purchase land and build housing for their work force."  Scary stuff, and he is the incumbent!  Certainly, there is nothing to prevent a business from doing this now, but the mayor's sentiments seem to imply that we should require that this housing be built.  So, what happens if someone gets fired?  Do they have to leave their housing?  Then what?  Or, will the business have some kind of life-long commitment to providing these people with housing regardless of whether they work?  This idea doesn't even merit idle speculation.  It is incredible that such economic naiveté can permeate the government.  People with this mindset don't seem to understand the fundamentals of business and are far too quick to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, as if there were an infinite supply of such eggs.
The mayor goes on to write that the "solution lies somewhere between everyone receives a house for free, to everyone pays full market price."  No, it doesn't.  There is no "solution" that will satisfy affordable housing advocates.  There never will be.  There is no outcome, along the spectrum outlined by the mayor, that won't lead to a host of problems that will, ultimately, undermine our economic foundations.

Paul Reilly (mayor; challenger):  Well, Mr. Reilly has no chance of winning this election and I would be surprised if he even got 10% of the vote.  And, since his campaign is based on being a better liberal than Donaldson, he really has little, or nothing, to offer.  His main point was to "permit" additional units be build on existing properties, and to "encourage" that the work be done by local contractors "to further economic sustainability."  The only thing such a regulation would encourage is higher prices and a worsening of the this "problem."  If we follow Mr. Reilly's questionable logic to its inevitable conclusion, we should be making all the workers' tools locally, and providing all of the building materials locally.  Seemingly, that would promote "sustainability" to an even greater level!  And, it would be creating a wasteland where once a vibrant community stood.  Great plan.  Oh yeah, and he wants to double the property tax on people who own a second home.  Well, at least we won't be goose-stepping to Mr. Reilly's vision of the ideal state any time soon.

Joe Haughey (city council; incumbent):  At least Haughey asks, "How much should City Government become involved?"  I wish that had been the question.  Unfortunately, his answer still seems to be, "plenty."  He, and others, are pushing for a "community land trust."  I would wish that this was a purely private effort, with the city just concerned with simple rule-making, but that is probably too optimistic.

Libby Silva (city council; incumbent):  Silva is somewhat erratic when it comes to government, but, often, his heart seems in the right place.  His major proposal calls for relaxing the city's Land Development Code to allow for more construction - three cheers for that one!

Scott Overton (city council; challenger):  Overton writes that "Affordable housing in Flagstaff is possible."  Well, that is one strike against him.  Clearly, this "problem" will never be solved, even though all these candidates imply that with the simple stroke of the pen, we can overcome this crisis once and forever.  I guess that is one of the reasons why people think politicians lie all the time - because they do.  Overton also mentions tinkering with the development code, which probably would be a good idea, but, then, he starts suggesting that the city use "incentives to property owners for projects that fit the concept of affordable housing."  There are some people that just haven't ever seen a government too big.

Rick Swanson (city council; challenger):  Swanson is a former member of the city council.  I can only hope that he stays that way.  His is the way of the benevolent dictator - he knows what we need and is willing to act on that "knowledge."  If we gave him unfettered control of the city, as a benevolent dictator, I'd predict that this place would turn into a slum, with correspondingly high crime rates, within two years.  Well, it does take a while for property owners to realize they have been ... disenfranchised of their wealth.  Swanson touts his efforts at creating a city fund for first time home buyers, when he was on the council.  I'd have more (or, at least, some) respect for him if he had done this privately, instead of using taxpayer's money for this purpose.

Friday, March 24, 2006

   Minimum Wages are Immoral - This week the Arizona Daily Sun had two editorials in support of raising the minimum wage - one written by the editor and one from an author, Holly Sklar.  The specific arguments raised in these editorials are worthy of further commentary, but that will have to wait for a bit.  Still, I did pen a letter to the editor on this topic, which is as follows:

To the editor:

     When an issue like the minimum wage comes up, won’t someone cry out, “Fair Liberty, raise thy shield against the demons of coercion?”  Alas, the forces of evil are unrelenting in their attacks, and the shield of liberty weakens over time.  Without an appreciation for the ideals of freedom, fashioned into the foundation of our country by the founding fathers, we find our “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” is made ever more difficult.

     Is the minimum wage a “moral” issue?  Yes.  Is it an “ethical” issue?  Absolutely!  Where freedom reigns, if A wants to hire B and they both agree on a wage, what moral basis can be cited for restricting that voluntary action?  If B believes the wage is not high enough, he will not accept it.  And, if A believes it is too high, he will not offer it.  Voluntary action is not only essential for a sustainable system, it represents the ultimate in moral and ethical principles.

     There is no worse abuse of our freedoms than to use the coercive power of government.  This is the tactic of the lazy social activist – force others to comply with their sense of how the world should work.  I would have more (or, at least, some) sympathy for them if they would channel their efforts into private efforts to achieve their desired ends.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

   Spring Break at Plateau Point - Yesterday, a host of colleagues and guests joined up for a day hike into the Grand Canyon.  We have finally gotten snow in northern Arizona, so our choices are quite limited.  Even though it has warmed up quite a bit, the north-facing trailheads along the south rim are snowpacked, icy and slippery.  At least until you get down to the Coconino cliffs.  Then, it turns into mud for a while.  We decided to do a hike to Plateau Point, accessible from the popular Bright Angel Trail, located right at the South Rim Village.

     We got started on the trail at 9:30 a.m., right at the tail end of three mule trains.  There wasn't much traffic on the trail, insofar as hikers go, nor in terms of mule riders.  I'd say that each mule train had less than ten riders in them.  The top of the trail was in pretty good shape, although there were two long icy stretches.  But, the ice was frozen slush, formed by the passage of boots and mules.  Still, it was nice to have a hiking stick to help maintain my balance.

     We were ten for today's hike, and five were on their first hike into the canyon.  The temperature was pleasant at the start - cool, but not cold.  We had rather clear skies, but there was some high level, wispy, cloudiness that kept the day from being crystal clear.  Along the way we saw some deer at the Indian Garden campground (4.5 miles down the trail), three bighorn sheep in the Supai level (about 2.5 miles down) and three condors circling overhead at Plateau Point (6 miles down).  We ate lunch at Plateau Point, where we are overlooking the Colorado River, which was very muddy today.  The round trip, from the trailhead, lasted between seven and eight hours, and covered some 12 miles.

Click on any picture to see a larger image (including the bighorn, deer and helicopter).
Starting near Kolb Studio - John, Joe, Susan, Russ, Tamara, Russell, David, Jason, Carly and Dennis Tamara and Russ pass by the frozen Kolb Seep, about one mile down the Bright Angel Trail. Looking back toward Indian Garden, the South Rim and the Bright Angel fault line from Plateau Point.

From near the trailhead, we can see some snowy and icy stretches of the trail, and a mule train getting everyone into final shape for their ride down to Plateau Point.

The last of us to leave from P.P. 

While stretches of the trail were icy on the way down, on the way back up, there was often a steady trickle of water flowing over the trail.  But, the trail was draining well.

The Colorado River from P.P. 

     One event, that everyone in the area noticed, was a low flying helicopter.  As we were heading back from Plateau Point, toward Indian Garden, I heard it and then saw it, flying below the rim, not too far west of us.  It headed north and disappeared behind some buttes on the other side of the river.  Since this airspace is not used for commercial tours, I suspected it was a Park Service helicopter.  As it got close, I could see that, in fact, it was one belonging to the NPS.  It turned around, and flew back south, disappearing around the ridge from me, and landing at Indian Garden!  It was probably stopped there no more than five minutes, before lifting off and flying by us again.  There wasn't anybody at Indian Garden that could tell me what happened, but it didn't seem to be related to any medical emergency (at least, not at Indian Garden).

     Well, this illustrates the park's paradoxical (or, hypocritical) stance on "unnatural noise."  It doesn't apply to any noise they cause, only to noise caused by others.  [Additionally, there was a trail crew at work today, on upper sections of the trail; early on, I did hear the sound of some machinery they were using in their work - also not included as "unnatural noise."]  I don't have any special problem with the noise, but I do resent the "holier-than-thou" attitude of park officials when it comes to this issue.  And, while I knew it was a park service helicopter, how many complaints will they get from other visitors who didn't know?  And, will those complaints be assumed to refer to commercial helicopters?  It seems to me that this certainly can be the case.

Related post:  Noisy Grand Canyon?

Monday, March 27, 2006

   Messier 'O Stars - In the mid-to-late 1700s, Charles Messier, an amateur astronomer in France, was hunting down comets.  He was frustrated by sightings of "fuzzy objects" that resembled comets, but did not move across the night sky.  To keep from being distracted by these unknown objects he started to chart them and compiled a catalogue of their positions.  [He wasn't the first to see these objects, and he included objects that had been noted by others.]  He ended up with around 100 objects, and a few more were added in later, based on his notes.  One object (102) is a repeat of another (101), and contemporary astronomers substitute a different object for this one.  Yes, the Messier list is messy business.  Today, the standard list is 110 objects, that span the sky.  [Click image, to the right, to read more on Messier.]

     Once a year, in the early spring, conditions are just right for an attempt to see all 110 objects in one night.  You need a dark sky, a clear sky, a moon that is at/near its new stage, and the stamina to stay up (practically) all night long hunting down these objects.  Well, that is the old school way to do this.  These days, most serious amateurs have "goto" telescopes, which have computers that store data and can position the telescope on any desired object.  Mine, an 8 inch Meade LX-200 GPS also has a GPS unit that aligns itself when I fire it up, figuring out where it is, which is necessary if it is to locate objects in the sky.

     This year, there are a couple of weekend opportunities for doing, and finishing, a Messier Marathon - this past weekend of the 25th and 26th of March, and next weekend, the 1st and 2nd of April.  Last year, I joined up with the Sirius Lookers, of Sedona, for my first marathon.  In the wee hours of the night, it was not only bitterly cold, but everything was getting soaked from the humid air.  Living in northern Arizona, I'm afraid that I take dry air for granted!

     So, I was thinking about doing this marathon with the astronomy clubs down in Phoenix and Tucson.  It will still be cold overnight, but not like up in Sedona or Flagstaff.  The biggest problem they face is the enormous reach of the city lights.  They use a site about 60 miles south of Phoenix, within sight of the Kitt Peak Observatory, located atop some mountains to the south.  While there is a low-lying dome of light to the north (Phoenix) and a smaller one to the east (Tucson), it has great views of the night sky.  Additionally, the weather had taken a turn, and there was quite a bit of cloudiness in northern Arizona, and, as of Saturday afternoon, southern Arizona would be out from under cloudy skies.  So, it was off to this site, dubbed Arizona City.   [continued below]

Click on any picture to see a larger image.
Setting up shop at the site. Sunrise. Observing after sunset.

Sue looks at a rising Venus, which was clearly seen to be half full in our view with this telescope.

A crescent moon rises beneath a brilliant Venus in the morning skies near Arizona City, Arizona.

The computer controls of the Meade, with its buttons all lit up.  It is in its initialization mode.

We were four on this venture - Sue, Tom, Eric and me.  We took two vehicles, as my telescope and tripod fill up the back of my pick-up.  It took us a bit over four hours to drive down to this site from Flagstaff.  We had directions, and a map, from the web posting by the Saguaro Astronomy Club.  However, upon closer inspection, the map and the directions were not consistent with one another.  And, to make things worse, there was not a single sign directing us to the site.  We found ourselves at the end of a dirt road as dusk befell us, wondering what to do.  Another vehicle came up behind us, but he was also lost.  We all backtracked and came across three more vehicles, and one of them knew where the site was.  We were actually very close - less than a quarter of mile away - but the site is well screened.  We drove past some brush and were treated to the sight of probably 100 vehicles scattered about the desert, with telescopes all set up and ready to go.

     We were able to quickly set up, so that we could start viewing as soon as conditions permitted.  There were clouds to the north that really reflected the lights of Phoenix, and some to the northwest.  These latter clouds prevented us from seeing five objects - M31, M32, M33, M74 and M110 (all are galaxies) before they set.  So it goes.  It is a funny event, in that most of the participants are focused on the task of seeing these objects.  So, there isn't really much socializing that goes on, except, maybe with the folks right around you.  We did have a few passersby stop and chat.  One guy, who travels out here from California every year for this event, had seen M74, but it was just during a very brief break in the clouds.

     I had two lists of the Messier objects with me, that show them in an order that is easy to follow.  That is, you really start with objects in the western sky, since they will be soon setting, and move your way across the sky to the east.  Usually, the order follows a route that is easy for a manual hunt for these objects.  But, with the a computer-driven scope, all I have to do is punch in the number and let the computer do the rest.  [Last year, in Sedona, the guy next to me was doing a manual hunt and looking at these objects with a pair of binoculars on a tripod.  He was good and only missed seeing three, or four, objects.]

     Well, with patchy clouds interfering with our observing, we opted to look at blocks of objects, either off the lists (and, out of order), or from a chart I carry with me.  So, if it was clear near the Big Dipper, we would knock off the M's there (40, 51, 63, 94, 101, 106, 108 and 109).  And, so it went over the course of the night.  Although Tom was feeling poorly, and turned in, Sue, Eric and I were a Messier-viewing machine, sharing duties of announcing the next object, punching the data into the controls, centering the object and checking it off the list.  By 12:30 p.m. we were quite tired and looking forward to our scheduled nap!  At that point, you have pretty much reached the eastern horizon, so you can stop for a couple of hours.

     We had some really great sights this evening.  The Great Nebula in Orion (M42) was awesome, as usual, and even Tom got to see this one.  We could see some structure in many of the spiral galaxies.  The Sombrero Galaxy (M104) was especially spectacular, as we had a great view of the dark edge that crosses along the plane of that galaxy.  And, the black eye in the Black Eye Galaxy (M64) was quite visible.  We ended our run with M13 - the Hercules globular cluster.  It was one of the night's highlights.  It looked even better than the image, below, that I borrowed from NASA.  We left that one on scope during our snooze, and it was still tracking perfectly two hours later - what a great telescope!

     Around 2:30 a.m., I got up and started putzing around.  It was cold, but not bitter.  I had on my fleece jacket and nylon shell and felt fine.  Well, I also had on earmuffs and wore lightweight gloves.  Sue was up soon after me, but Eric was down for the count, not to rise until the sun did!.  The skies were very clear at this time, but it didn't take long until we were back to our pattern of searching areas that were open and keeping an eye on what parts were clouded over.  We had lots of globular clusters and open clusters in the early morning and they looked great.  We especially were awed by the Ring Nebula (M57), the Lagoon Nebula (M8) and the Swan Nebula (M17, aka the Omega Nebula).  It was quite cool to be viewing a globular cluster when the wispy clouds would cover it up, and, then, blow away to reveal these objects.  It was actually enhancing our appreciation for these features - "Still cloudy.  Now, it is getting better.  OK, I can see something.  I can ...  Oh, that is great - quick, come and see this one."  [continued below]

Click on any picture to see a larger image.
Nighttime observing. Just a few of the many scopes. All packed up for the return home.

We also got to see Saturn (during the evening run), Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and a nice thin crescent moon.  On Jupiter we could easily see the two main dark cloud bands, but could also see fainter bands nearer the top and bottom of the planet, along with four of its moons.  Mercury was quite a treat, as it is hard to see anyway.  But, it is just about as far away from the sun (from our perspective) as it ever gets, so it was nice to pick it up, at about 5 a.m. and track it for a while at the end of our observing.

     We played hide and seek with the last few objects on our list - M70, M54, M55, M75, M15, M2, M72 and M73.  We visited each of these at least a half dozen times before seeing them.  We started watching for openings in these sections of the sky, and would hurry over to see if they were visible.  For a while, it looked like we wouldn't catch the last three, but we got them!  The only early object we didn't get was M30 - the skies were clear, but they were just too bright to make this cluster visible.  Well, so it goes.

     So, for the night, I got 104 objects and Sue got 103.  She missed the Little Dumbbell (M76) at the outset of our viewing.  I only got it because I was looking during a quick break in the clouds.  Eric got 64 objects, while Tom was only able to see eight before packing it in.  This was the second marathon for Eric and me, so Sue got a great score for the first one.  Later this week I am going to try to see the M's we missed, so I can say that I did see them all this year, even if not in one night.   

Images from NASA's "Astronomy Picture of the Day."  Click on any image for the photo/story/credits at NASA site.

The Hercules Cluster - M13

The Orion Constellation

Sombrero Galaxy - M104

The Swan Nebula - M17

Thursday, March 30, 2006

   Club Gitmo - Where Spring Break Never Ends - Lots to blog about ... later.  But, for a break in the action, for your entertainment pleasure, click on the image, below, to go to Metrospy's spoof on the dancing baby of years ago.  The site is a retail outlet for t-shirts, caps, et al., but, clearly, they enjoy playing the role of social critic.

The Kaibab Journal