This month I have a story to tell. A few nights ago two close friends from Plattsburgh, Ed Guenther and Wendy Gordon, enjoyed a very pleasant wintertime visit with me. During that time another close friend, David Rossetter, drove us to the Chiricahua Astronomy Complex in southeastern Arizona. Although the weather was clear and cold when we left, dense clouds formed quickly and within a few minutes it began to rain heavily. There was thunder, lightning, and a giant tornado that lifted our car into the stratosphere and then gently set it down back on the highway. It was frightening and we thought the car was going to crash, but when it gently came back to the highway, we drove on.
By the time we arrived at our dark site, the sky was beautifully dark. The stars hung like baseballs from the sky. But it was so cold that our observing pad was covered with tons of ice. Yard-long icicles hung from our telescopes and from us. We needed and used cigarette lighters to free our frozen hands whenever they touched the eyepieces. I discovered 47 comets that night but forgot to report any of them. Ed disproved the theory of relativity by recalling how time always slows down when you are with your relatives. We finally needed to call 911 so that they could free our frozen forms and place them into makeshift crematoria. Three hours later they opened the doors of the crematoria and found all of us happy as clams to have warmed up as much as we did. We thank them, treated them to a giant banquet meal, and then headed home. There was a 95-piece symphony orchestra on hand, but since we were approximately 95 pieces short, we just sang an aria or two. (I think that line comes from Victor Borge.)
Dear readers, if you believe a word of what I just wrote, I have a bridge that I could sell you. It is true that I have two very dear friends named Ed and Wendy. It is also true that I have two other dear friends, David and Pam Rossetter. And David did drive us, plus telescopes, to the dark site and back. And now for a few corrections: Although it was cold that evening, we did enjoy a beautiful night of observing. Our first object was Jupiter, long my favorite planet. Although Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 would make Jupiter an obvious choice for that, it is not why Jupiter is my favorite planet. On September 1, 1960, my parents and I looked through my first telescope, Echo. I wanted to look at the brightest thing in the sky that evening: it was hanging in the south. When I finally found it, I was looking at Jupiter. I saw the disk of the planet, his four bright moons, and darker bands across the disk. I have never forgotten that night, and that is why Jupiter is my favorite planet.
We then caught a good glimpse of Saturn’s exquisite rings. As I began a two-hour visual comet search in the cold and lovely sky, the others enjoyed views of some lovely deep sky splendors. At last, I stumbled across Messier 15, that absolutely gorgeous globular cluster I now call Wendee’s cluster.
As we warmed up on our way home, we placed into our memories a sparkling night none of us will soon forget. We had a clear sky, star-filled views, beautiful deep sky objects, and enough sky treasures to gladden our hearts and minds. Despite my continuing deep sense of loss, the exquisite night sky always warms my soul.
By David Levy
David H Levy is arguably one of the most famous amateur astronomers of our time. He has written over three dozen books. Among David’s accomplishments are 23 comet discoveries, the most famous being Shoemaker-Levy 9 which collided with Jupiter.