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.
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.
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.