What’s On YOUR Astronomical Bucket List?

Orion rising toward the meridian. Credit: Bob King

8:15 p.m. I’m starring at Orion the Hunter from the driveway thinking about my observing buddy who was recently diagnosed with cancer. The doctors told him that if treatments and surgery go well, he might live for several years.

I can’t imagine being given a deadline on my life, though I suppose we all live under one. Only difference is some of us know it and the rest of us pretend it’s not there. We always live as if.

My friend’s a positive person with an easy sense of humor and passion for astronomy. You’ll find him out on the coldest nights, star chart and red flashlight in hand, mapping a route to a new galaxy or star cluster he’s never seen before.

In the middle of his new reality, he decided to set goals. One of his first is to do additional public outreach astronomy, to bring his telescope to more places to share his love of the sky with more people. Next, he wants to travel to the southern hemisphere to finally see the stars forever blocked from view by his southern horizon.

His courage and optimism in the face of a grim prognosis filled me with positive emotion. It may even have been the reason I stayed out in the cold last night as long as I did.

As Orion tipped to the west, I thought about my own bucket list. For me it would be to return to the southern hemisphere and set up a big scope somewhere in the deserts of Australia to explore the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.

I’d also like to see the planets at high magnification from southern Florida, where atmospheric turbulence is at a minimum and images are rock solid. Canoeing in moonlight (as often as possible), enjoying a total solar eclipse without a camera and spending lots more time showing school-age children the moon and planets with my telescope. These top my list.

Funny hobby this astronomy. The long-lived stars and their unfathomable distances constantly remind us of the brevity of our lives, though we often don’t pay attention. We’re only human after all; it takes work to always be aware of how sweet life is. For some, that sweetness is made purer by knowledge of life’s end.

Like the stars, my friend helped me appreciate this ever-so-short dance in the light.

16 Responses

  1. Dear Bob:

    Found your blog after reading your helpful article “How to Not Die While Stargazing in the Cold”–I couldn’t get the pics via the http://www.universetoday.com; is the article on your blog, too?

    Very nice website with entertaining articles, which I added, today, to my own website’s list of recommended amateur astronomers’ blogs and websites!

    As to ‘bucket lists’….

    My young friend Jaakko Saloranta, of Finland, has one here:

    I’ve done some of those myself, such as the jet in M87, the planetary nebula Pease 1, and Maffei I. But I am not, personally, interested in asteroids, viewing quasars (indistinguishable from merely ordinary faint stars to the eye), and naked eye sightings. My own list isn’t really organized, but I tend to work on ‘inspirations’ I get while doing ordinary observing. For example: while closely studying numerous open clusters, I’ve found that some of them have a sort of anomalous glow, which — by my careful tests — might not be illusions or the brain “connecting the dots” between stars, concluding falsely that there is a background ‘web of varying glow”. I then try every trick in the book to attempt to FALSIFY my observation and convince myself that I was wrong; I also look up every possible alternative amateur description to see if *somebody else*, somewhere, has seemed to agree with me. Frequently, I don’t find any corroboration, but this ‘absence of evidence’ doesn’t really fully prove me wrong–as I observe in excellent air, on top of a west coast mountain, and often in skies so dark I can see stars of 7th magnitude by naked eye (even at my, um, ‘advanced’ age!) You cannot see such alleged “glows” in backyards in typical light-polluted towns. In fact, I’m working right now on a cluster in Taurus, and am about to do my third test of it tonight, to try to see if what I seemed to sense in NGC 1746/NGC 1758 was an illusion. Sometimes I’ll carry on these kinds of repeated tests for YEARS (it took me nearly two decades to get the jet in M87 in my own scope, after having seen it in a friend’s much larger one.)

    Steve Waldee

    1. astrobob

      Thanks Steve for your comments and link. That’s very cool that you have these specialized observing projects. I do much the same – keeps me humming and happy at the scope. I remember making M87’s jet a project some years back. Lately I’ve tried for the fainter Andromeda Galaxy companions, Andromeda I, II and I think IV. Very tough stuff. The background haze you mention I’ve seen too in some clusters but I attribute it to my eye and the fuzziness that appears when stars relatively close together are observed in average to poor atmospheric seeing. Wouldn’t photographs prove one way or another whether there’s nebulosity in those clusters?
      Not sure what you mean about no pix in the Universe Today story (http://bit.ly/1emB11A). They show in my browser just fine.

  2. Troy

    I am sorry about your friend. Interestingly I was thinking of something along these lines when I was seeing how many transits of Mercury would be visible in my life time. While I was able to observe both Venus transits (in the 2012 transit the clouds parted like some sort of miracle) I have yet to see a Mercury transit. I guess it is just a blot on the sun, but the rarity makes them somewhat special.
    The answer is May 9, 2016 and Nov 11, 2019 (After that May 7, 2049 at which point I’d be about 79) There are other transits if I traveled away from North America, but that won’t be happening.
    I like yours about hanging out in Australia. I’d be curious to see the LMC and the SMC and the southern man in the moon. Along with the most exotic fauna anywhere.

  3. Jim Egstad

    In my early teens devoured anything astronomy related that I could get my hands on. At 15 I’d memorized much of the sky. I’d pour over charts at the library and think to myself “I’ll never see the stars of the Southern Hemisphere”.

    The next year everything changed and my passion for astronomy vanished somehow.

    Beyond the usual pursuits of that time I was taught flyfishing by a kind man who I never did thank enough (Thanks, Gilbert). Over the next 15 years I became an accomplished flyfisherman. I traveled when and where I could. 1989 decided that New Zealand was my next destination……so I packed the tent and bicycle and took off for three months (I work construction here in the Upper Midwest).

    Late in the trip I found myself chest deep in the Mataura river. It was late and the trout were rising all around me. I’d managed to create a tangled mess with my leader and held the leader up to the fading light of the sunset to try and untangle the thin nylon line.

    And then I looked up…..and there they were….the stars of the Southern Hemisphere.

    I hope your friend makes the trip.


  4. Edward M. Boll

    I am sorry for your friend. I hope things work out for the best and he has along life. On my bucket list is to see a couple total solar eclipses before I die.

  5. Norman Sanker

    Sorry about your friend–maybe he’ll respond better than expected. When I was younger, I harbored a fantasy of spending half my life in the northern hemisphere and half in the south. Doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. So, top of my astro bucket list is to see the southern stars–that one is possible. I’ve had good luck with comets: Halley’s, Hyakutake, Hale-Bopp, daylight McNaught. But there’s this: If Hale-Bopp had come as close to the earth as Hyakutake… Even more unpredictable but much wanted: a supernova near enough to be seen in daylight. How many hundred years is that overdue? Another daylight: a Russian style fireball or any one bright enough to cast obvious shadows–day or night. I’ve seen several fine displays of Leonids but nothing like lucky folks describe 1966–dream on. Some things I never would have dared to ask for: a cometary impact on Jupiter, Saturn occulting a star that peeked through both ansae, a comet visible to the naked eye for 18 months and one that fizzled into nothingness–leaving no trace. Under born at the right time: Halley’s Comet, looks at two transits of Venus. Missed a couple of chances at three moon shadows on Jupiter, still want to see that. If I could pick one thing…Betelgeuse going supernova. I won’t hold my breath.

    1. astrobob

      Thanks Norman. My list is longer than I wrote and includes a few from yours like a supernova in daylight and a real meteor storm. Feel similarly about seeing amazing things I never thought I’d have the privilege like the impacts on Jupiter, Comets West and Hale-Bopp, two Venus transits, three total solar eclipses and watching an asteroid rotate by tracking its light variations through the telescope.

  6. Sean

    Bucket list! OK, and thanx every1 for some great ideas above. And good luck to your friend. I have yet to see aurorae (or noctilucents) that i am aware of, and since there’s an astronomical source i’ll count that. Ok, what else. A total solar eclipse, Mercury transit of the sun, lunar occultation of Venus in the daytime and of any planet/major star at night, an asteroid occultation of a major star or planet (maybe in March), getting to see and know the prominent southern hemisphere stars and Messier objects, seeing the zodiacal light, daytime naked-eye sighting of a star and any planet other than Jupiter or Venus, a daytime fireball, daytime naked-eye comet and supernova (not necessarily simultaneously), and for some small-time stuff how about seeing Titan in my binoculars. And might as well throw in making it to a TRULY dark sight and the things that could accompany this: seeing dim stars, M-objects, planets, perhaps Vesta, and if i’m lucky airglow, and a complete zodiacal band with Gegenschein. I have a whole other bucket list for terrestrial phenomena, mostly weather-related. But since these are sometimes mentioned on this blog i’ll throw this one in from that list: seeing more rare halos! and hopefully getting them on camera/video.

  7. Emmanuel Kongiu

    Dear Bob, this is a message for your friend.

    Tell him that he has time, the tumor must have been there for years probably, don’t let the doctors rush him into treatments. He has time to think and decide how to heal himself, and not be poisoned with treatments that are carcinogenic themselves. Most importantly, surgery and toxic treatments do not eliminate the cause of cancer, which will then come back even though the conventional therapy has gone well. There’s always a cause and I don’t understand why doctors tend to fight the symptoms only. The cause of cancer is often to be found in some bad habits linked to nutrition, like dairy, gluten-rich and GMO foods, meats that contain hormones, sugar (btw, cancer feeds on sugar as its main fuel source so it must be eliminated right away!). He has time to think and possibly consider alternative therapies that will help him boost his immune system and fight cancer without jabbing poisons in his body. Tell your friend to research for himself and, only after that, to take a decision.

    Cancer dudes live more! 😉


    1. astrobob

      Thank you Giorgio. We hope he does well during his upcoming operation. He’s a great person to observe with – we share the same enthusiasm for finding new things in the sky.

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