Conversation With The Sky

Eric Norland of Duluth peers into the eyepiece of his 13.1-inch telescope in search of Stephan’s Quintet. Above his head is Jupiter; the Hyades and Pleiades clusters are center right  Photo: Bob King

I know what it feels like again to stay up till 4 a.m. Friends and I joined the owls and coyotes at the Furtman Farm Star Party near Webster, Wis. for a third of an Earth rotation under the stars. The annual event is hosted by amateur astronomer, woodworker and computer maestro Greg Furtman. Many of us observe solo or infrequently, so it’s great to get together to share what we see and talk up our passion.

Mike Brown of Eau Clair, Wis. uses a laser to align his 18-inch telescope with a guide star so it will point automatically.  Photo: Bob King

Eric chased down a faint bunch of galaxies called Stephan’s Quintet, Jim called out his sighting of “barges” or dark projections in one of Jupiter’s cloud belts, while Jon quietly worked to find the farthest globular cluster his eye would ever see – a dim patch in the Andromeda Galaxy called G1.

When you stay up late doing astronomy you might think you need coffee to stay awake. Not really. At least not for most our group. I don’t know if it’s leftover energy from the Big Bang or the cool night temperatures, but it’s hard to fall asleep under a clear sky. Enjoying the stars with eye or telescope is a form of quiet conversation, much like you’d have with a good friend. Even at 4 a.m. some of us could hardly tear ourselves away.

I first called it quits at 3 but returned to the hilltop site where we’d set up our telescopes when I heard that Jim Schaff was in the mood for laser painting on the old grain silo. Who could pass that up?

I attached camera to tripod and brainstormed a few ideas with Jim. With his steady, artistic hand, he flashed off one drawing after another. Corn, planets, a dolphin, the Curiosity rover and sky crane made brief appearances on that silo. Every single one of them would have been lost forever were it not for the magic of time exposure.

Laser corn on the grain silo (left) with the summer Milky Way as backdrop and Stephen Bockhold and Annmarie Geniusz of Duluth observe the sun this morning. Photos: Bob King

After breakfast this morning, the sky had more to offer. Several in our group set up scopes to safely view the sun and sunspots. One of the scopes used a special filter to strip away all the sun’s light except for a sliver of deep red called hydrogen alpha. Through this narrow window, we gazed at flames of fiery hydrogen gas called prominences poised over the sun’s limb.

Someday sleep will come.

8 Responses

  1. Richard Keen

    Bob, I think you don’t fall asleep simply because you’re standing up and doing things. But when I get all comfy in a sleeping bag on a pad on the deck to watch meteors, well, there’s been times when I woke back up and found the constellations have moved considerably.

    1. astrobob

      We were out so many hours Vega moved from near the zenith to low in the northern sky. Many of us remarked on how quickly Earth’s rotation moved the constellations.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Mike,
      We did … and lost tons of sleep as well! There are other star parties in the region you might be interested in like Starfest in Eau Claire, Wis. every August.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Pete,
      We use 5mW green lasers, the least expensive variety. You can get them from several sources like,Amazon and

  2. Jon Dannehy

    Thanks Bob, It was a great weekend all the better shared with wonderful Friends . I did manage to identify G 73 in Emmett Kyle’s image of M31.. Going to have to try for that one too.

    1. astrobob

      Really great time as always.Yes, you’ll have to go for that one. It might be easier since it’s a quick hop from 205 (I think). Looks to be clear tonight and quite a bit colder. I imagine you’ll be heading out again. Oh, and I migbt be too.

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