Friday, February 27, 2009

Frustrated whining and complaining of Seattle Astronomers

I'm feeling more tempted now to research who the authority is that I must contact to find out why astronomy has been canceled in Seattle - no, make that most of Western Washington - over the last 2.5 years. What did we do wrong? Did we upset one of those "La Nina" weather creatures of the Pacific waters? Does someone keep buying fancy new optics and let the clouds out when they open the box only releasing the curse?
I'm writing this to vent some of my extreme frustration over yesterday. As we know, Comet Lulin is in the skies right now. At this time it's just past Regulus in the constellation of Leo, and well placed high in the southern sky in the evenings. Higher is better, since there is less atmosphere to distort the view. So, all day yesterday (this is the day after another frustrating 3 inches of snow - which vanished quickly) I look out of my 10th floor office window and see Mt. Rainier super clear to the south. You know the days, it's when it's so clear that every time you look over it seems to be closer? By around lunchtime it was just south of Boeing Field "it lifted it's skirt and took a few steps forward" to quote my sister Linda who was also pleased with how the day looked..
Anticipating that we'll FINALLY get a great clear night for comet imaging, I was getting excited about the evening. A couple friends were coming over to play out back in our backyard observatory also. The Clear Sky Chart was even showing perfect conditions until about 2am. PERFECT! Plus, as a bonus it was Friday and we could do a late night of viewing.
3:30pm, I look out and Rainier had put on it's hat and it's "skirt" trailed off to the south. Quick peek at NOAA satellite images showed clouds quickly coming up from the south. Olympia - already 5,500 broken. Arrgghh!
5pm - game over! Nothing. Comet hidden, sky gone, disappointment maxed out to highest level, evening worthless again.

This is basically the typical pattern here in Seattle we have had on clear days for about the last 2 years. Fine during the day, clouds return at night. It does clear up a few days a month - during the FULL MOON! That is useless for anyone into deep sky observing like myself. The two big summer star parties over the last two years have been a total bust. Table mountain - clouds wind, freezing temperatures in August. Deception Pass - Clouds rain.

I'm not done, there's more. Light pollution. When it does clear, for the most part, there is always some haze in the sky, but that falls under the "cloud whining" mentioned above. It used to be that the sky appeared kind of pink here, but now I'm noticing that the sky, at least toward the west, has a bluish tinge to it. I'm thinking that is from the new "The Landing" mall down the hill from me. I was assured by the city of Renton (yes I did contact them about this) that lighting would follow strict rules and not go upward. I think they kept the promise, but I'm sure it's bouncing off the ground and going up. There was bill in the works (HB 1069) to reduce light pollution in Washington state that was going to the legislative session coming up. I just found out that it was canceled or shelved for another Don't they realize that good lighting will save money plus a lot of other bonuses? Everyone would win with this. It would cost something like $72,000 and the state is already in very deep financial trouble. Thanks to the economic mess, I think saving money on lighting has been ignored now.
I've been pretty hard-core into Astronomy for almost the last 10 years now, but I'm getting so frustrated with it all. I want to buy some new filters for imaging, but wondering if I should just drop that idea? Is 2 or 3 marginal nights in a 4 month period even enough to justify a a few hundred dollars for new filters?
The familiar full rows of horizontal disappointment

Now where did I put that bottle of vitamin D3 to cover my sun deficiency....?


Anonymous said...

You're a riot, Tom!

Tom said...

My sense of humor is the only thing keeping me from auctioning off the whole pile of stuff on Ebay and parking my mower in the shed.
I was all set to try something new to get a good image of the comet, but the clouds come back. Comet will be moving out and dimming before long - then it will clear up. Yes, when the stupid moon is full!!

KittyLover said...

How true. I was going to look at the Moon-Venus conjunction on Friday night. It was beautiful all day and I was really looking forward to it. Sure enough, it clouded over just around sunset. My scope hasn't been out for months and is getting very lonely.

Tom said...

Notice that it will always happen around sunset? I did this ALL summer last year - except on a full moon night which is nearly useless.

Sunday afternoon....and I'm still upset.

Anonymous said...

Dude, you need to move. Seriously.

My motto: "The likelihood of clear skies is inversely proportional to the quality and rarity of an astronomical event."

you must have a buncha great and rare stuff out your way.

You could start speaking with a British accent.


Tom said...

Yeah, we do have a lot of rare things visible out on this side!
This summer the LCROSS satellite is going to smash into the moon. I'm thinking of having a backyard moon party for that event and watch it from the observatory and set up a few other scopes. But I'm not getting my hopes up.
Just a few years ago we used to have many good nights in the winter. I had more M42 images than I knew what to do with! Of course they sucked, and now I have better cameras and skills, but I can't practice them.

Also, we are missing out on that 11th magnitude asteroid tonight also. I'm pretty sure I could pull that thing out, but not through clouds....

Weisenheimer said...

Keep the faith! It will clear up soon. Maybe.