Total Eclipse-Feb 2008

Polluted-eclipseThere is little to compare with the emotions evoked by a lunar eclipse. One can set out to witness one of these events with a group of friends or join a host of spectators on a hilltop lookout but I prefer to go solo.
On 21 February 2008 I packed my gear, camera, binocs, coffee, chocolates and…. coffee into my 1956 VW Beetle in which I felt least likely to be hi-jacked and headed for Blouberg Strand which has a magnificent view of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. Although I like solo, I felt a need to be close to other people just for safety’s sake.
The eclipse had been widely publicized and I was expecting a crowd of onlookers on the beach and on the balconies of apartments. It was past midnight and the beach was dark and deserted. It felt a little creepy. I parked in a parking bay opposite an apartment block where there was still some activity but one by one the shutters closed and the lights went out. This was extreme solo. After giving my details and reasons for being there to a security guy and chatting to a hooker who had just taken a drunk client back to his apartment, I settled in to prepare for the eclipse.
At 03:13 I noticed the first slight darkening towards the top right limb of the Moon. From then on it was just me on Mother Earth and she had all intention of casting her shadow on the Moon as they silently progressed in their respective orbits. My emotions started building up. I scanned through all the events of my life. My camera was set up with a remote shutter release and I just clicked away, adjusting exposures as the Moon darkened. At 03:43 I could see a definite shadow and the chapters of my life closed one by one. I glanced over my shoulder to see if someone in the apartment block had set an alarm clock.
At 04:55 with only a slither of bright Moon visible, I noticed a ruddiness creep over the whole surface of the Moon. I felt connected to all my friends, witnessing the event from other locations. The eclipsed part of the Moon turned a rusty orange. I do not think I have seen a more beautiful sight. The security car approached and the guy gave me a thumbs up. I acknowledged the gesture. It was almost daybreak and I headed home before the early morning traffic. Close to home I stopped and caught one last glimpse of the eclipsed Moon through heavy city pollution.

Journey of Self Discovery

 Aug 2010

What’s it all about, Alfie?  Where are you going, Billie?
I am at the age where most people start paying more attention to life’s more serious issues. Those with faith issues revert to “Never on a Sunday”, pursue all kinds of weird religions or join a church choir if the issue is not that great. Those with health issues join gyms, Arthur Murray, do the Camino de Santiago and then need knee replacements afterwards or buy exercise bikes to use in the comfort of their own homes.Many who ask the really big questions try to find the answer in all the above mentioned plus try tricky love affairs, get divorced or remarry but all to no avail and become depressed.
Will we ever know where we have come from and where we are going?
By doing Astronomy , I have embarked on an amazing journey of self discovery. I often dreamed of far away places and suffered jet lag to fulfill some of those dreams.
A few years ago I started dreaming of seriously far away places – places even further than the Moon. One evening I took my binoculars, which I had always only used during the day, and looked up at the Milky Way. I should have found a more practical way to observe the magnificent sight. Lying back on a recliner or folded blanket instead of arching my neck all night would have prevented a seriously stiff neck the following morning but all was worthwhile.
I was hooked  and got my first 4 inch Newtonian telescope. I sought out the brightest stars and hey! I found a really big one with  two little stars on either side of it – all lined up in  neat row.  I was looking at Jupiter and could actually see horizontal bands across the planet.The little stars on either side were four of Jupiter’s moons. I was looking at a place about 778,570,000km away, experiencing heart palpitations but no jet lag!
Soon I realized that I would need a more sophisticated vehicle. I desperately needed to travel even further. I needed to reach the Hollywood of the Universe 1500 light years away called M42, a birthplace of stars in a very huge cloud of extremely hot gas and dust particles.My Bushnell 8 inch Dobsonian took me there on 16 March 2007 and ever since the two of us have been exploring the night skies. To really appreciate what I was witnessing, I took to sketching the objects which I feel deserve this extra effort instead of just jotting down a bunch of facts or clicking a camera shutter. Nellie has a big sister now, a 12 inch Dobsonian named Stella.
Sometimes I feel the necessity to put my Astronomy observations and sketches to the test and submit my work for scrutiny by experts. Receiving my first merit certificate was fantastic and cause for excited celebration.
Being part of an Astronomy group provides a lot of fun. The camaraderie is great and the friendships are precious. Introducing people to the night sky and sharing my enthusiasm also gives me great satisfaction but most of all I cherish the hours I spend alone with my telescope under a star filled sky, far away from city lights.This is when I get to know myself best, where I come from and where I am going.