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Beyond The Terminator

Dave North


The night before this month's deadline found me at the Fremont Peak Starbecue. Bob Garfinkle and Craig Wandke were among the lunar notables present.

Bob apologized for not raising any controversy this month, leaving me without an easy topic. Not a problem.

Turned out to be a surprisingly good night to observe the dark side.

Earthshine was very bright and transparency was quite good while the Moon was still up.

We could make out most major craters, and quite a bit of detail on the ray systems of Tycho and Copernicus. Aristarchus was almost bright!

Great fun.

It reminded me of another night over eight years ago, when my C8 ended up next to deepsky legend Jack Zeiders and his 17-inch dob (now a part of the SJAA Loaner Arsenal).

Jack can navigate around a surprising number of NCG and other objects just from memory -- he's played this trick more than once, and it's impressive. But at that time, the Moon was mostly terra incognita to him.

He got a bit infected by my enthusiasm, and we spent a couple of hours looking at all manner of fine detail. Both scopes did nicely, though his 17 was kicking buns on my C8 "Thumper."

Not too many months prior I had taken over from Lew Kurtz as editor of the Ephemeris. I hadn't written much, and was avoiding it so there would be no heavy-handedness.

But this was just too much.

I wrote a small article about our Houge experience, printed it, and basically forgot it.

In context: eight years ago was perhaps the apex of Aperture Fever, and deep sky was everything. This was true though the founder of the Big Cheap Telescope, John Dobson, was still showing the Moon more commonly than anything else. Most dob owners didn't know that.

Planetary observing was kind of okay, if a bit weird. But lunar observing was only for newbies and dorks. Like me.

Truth is, in those days I spent far more time on deep sky observation than on either planets or the Moon. My 12.5-inch was modest for the time, and still is, but you can have a lot of deep sky fun with a scope that size. Especially if you had already seen thousands of objects using a 4-1/4" reflector and a six-inch dob.

But I didn't like shunning the planets and Moon. The whole attitude seemed dumb, frankly.

Anyway, that first July 1997 article triggered something. The next month, Craig Wandke sent in a report about lunar observing from Yosemite. The month after, there was something about planets (extrasolar) from SF Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll.

In the background, various people were lobbying me to start a column about Lunar & Planetary observing - mostly because I was the only SJAA member who would admit to doing it at all. Well, other than Rich Neuschaefer and his Great Big Refractor.

So finally for the October 1997 issue, I started a column called The Shallow Sky. The name may be familiar. It covered the action on the planets and, of course, the Moon. When I wrote it, I thought it stunk.

I still do.

Two months later Akkana Peck started a mailing list of the same name.

Four months on she started writing the "planets" column, absorbing the name "Shallow Sky" completely.

So I needed a new moniker for the column: Lunacy, as it turns out. It was just me and the Moon.

At that time, "Mrs. Crazy Ed" Carol Erbeck doing the layout. She kept at it until July of 1998, when the task fell back in my lap.

For whatever reason, at that time I changed the name of the column to "Mooning," which first appeared in the August 1998 issue.

Seven years ago.

Some confessions:

I have no particular expertise about the Moon; that task falls to people like Bob Garfinkle. I haven't memorized all the crater names or anything like that.

I have still probably spent more time doing deep sky observation than lunar. Toss in planetary and it's likely still true.

My favorite single target is Mars, which I consider the most interesting and most difficult object in the sky. This year should be a humdinger.

Things have changed in the last seven or eight years. Planetary observation, and in particular CCD imaging, has undergone a renaissance. There has been a good Lunar Observing column in Sky'n'Tel for some years.

Solar system observers have made it back into the mainstream, and everything is respectable once again.

Much of what annoyed me about the amateur astronomy scene has faded away - I doubt because of anything I did, though it would be nice to think so.

But it's time to take a look at all that stuff on the other side of the terminator, just as we did last night at Fremont Peak.

Out of the glare.

Which is of course just another way of saying, time to wind this column down and make room for something better in the Ephemeris.

There's always a terminator.

Here it is.


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