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Touring the Evening Skies

December 6, 2019
By Jim Bonser , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

I can't tell you how disappointed I was the morning of November 11 to wake up and see all the clouds and read the weather forecast. Every day for a week or so before the predicted "Transit of Mercury", I had been checking the forecast hoping it would change for the better. Unfortunately, it just seemed to slowly go from poor to nearly hopeless. Just in case, for the week leading up to the event, I have been experimenting with different configurations of my telescope and imaging cameras. In the end, I decided my best chance would be to use my trusty Celestron C8 with a white light filter and Deb's Canon xSi DSLR camera as my main setup with the h-alpha filtered 80mm refractor ready to go as a secondary rig.

The 'moment of greatest transit' was predicted to occur at about 9:20 A.M. and even though the sky was almost completely covered by clouds, I decided about 8:30 to go ahead and shovel the snow off the deck set up the telescope and camera and run wires into the house through a window so I could control everything from inside where it was warm. It was REALLY cold out that morning!

As I was finishing up and getting everything turned on, a large break in the clouds appeared in the west-north west running to the north east. Was there a chance that I might get a brief window to get a picture after all? The gap slowly drifted my way and as the clouds thinned a little, I ran a couple test shots and of course, the camera decided to freeze up and refuse to take pictures! I decided that the A/C adapter didn't like the cold and removed it and put a regular battery in the camera. That worked! I didn't have much time, the clouds seemed to be picking up speed, but I focused as best I could and began taking pictures at different exposures hoping one of them would catch a moment of steady air and make a good, sharp, well exposed image.

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I got what I thought would be some good shots and there were some more openings appearing in the clouds to the north west so I decided to switch rigs and try to get a picture through the h-Alpha filter. Unfortunately, the clouds never completely cleared and I didn't get any good images with that scope. I was a little disappointed about that, but hey! I was thrilled that I had gotten some very good white light filtered images. After all, looking at the forecast and the clouds earlier that morning, I was pretty sure I wouldn't get anything at all!

Some will say they think astronomy is boring. The constellations never change. The Big Dipper may move around in the sky from season to season, but it is still the same old Big Dipper, they say. And although to some extent, that is true, rather than finding it to be boring, I find it to be comforting. Things in this life are always changing. My hair, for example, used to be brown. Now, it is mostly white or perhaps a dignified silver. I find comfort in knowing when I see Orion clearing the trees in the evening that Fall is almost over, and Winter is about to begin. And then in a few months, Orion will be setting soon after the Sun and any snow that is still on the ground will soon melt away and the grass will turn green and the flowers will soon be blooming again.

Astronomy was definitely not boring November 11th as I tensely watched that gap drifting my way and as I snapped those prized pictures. The predictions were spot on! Kudos to those who did the math and got it perfect. Even more, glory to God who built such an orderly and beautiful clock in the Heavens with which we may keep track of the "times and the seasons" (Genesis 1:14-18).

Jupiter and Saturn leave the evening sky this month. In their place, brilliant Venus will command your attention. In the first week of December Jupiter, Venus and Saturn will form a nearly straight line with Jupiter close to the horizon and Venus in the middle. Venus will quickly move higher in the sky and on December 10th and 11th will pass by Saturn coming within about 2 degrees of the Ringed Planet. By the end of the month, Saturn and Jupiter will be too close to the Sun to see anymore as they glide behind the Sun. Venus, though, will continue to climb higher in the sky and set later and later. By month's end, Venus will be ablaze in the western sky for more than 2 1/2 hours after sunset.

Mars will give you something bright to look at in the morning sky several hours before sunrise this month. May God richly bless you in the New Year, and bless us all with many clear skies through which to gaze in awe at His magnificent clockworks next year!



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