A Prurient Interest in Astronomy

This post was supposed to be about my sighting of the International Space Station on Wednesday night, but it has kind of devolved from there, as you will soon read.  I have had an interest in astronomy from an early age.  In high school, I worked the neighborhood mowing lawns.  The money I made, I saved and used to purchase a telescope.  It wasn’t a real telescope, it was a Sears telescope, but I loved it anyway and I still have it to this day.

My Dad and I once conducted an experiment in the backyard with it.  Dad found this old Leica camera that he mounted to the telescope.  Together we took pictures of a total lunar eclipse.  The photos didn’t turnout half bad, as I remember.  With this experience, the bug was set.

I continued to use this telescope over the years, but now with much less frequency.  The last time that I hauled it out was almost ten years ago.  There was a partial solar eclipse that was occurring over the lunch hour.  Me and about a half-dozen engineers from work decamped to a nearby McDonalds.  While we had Big Macs, I set up the telescope and my friends and I and some of the other patrons observed the eclipse.  Now how is that for geeky?

The photos with this post are from the February 26, 1979 total eclipse.  I had just started working at Chrysler at the time, so I was flushed with cash.  One of the guys at work had a pilot’s license and rented a plane.  A half-dozen of us chipped in we all flew up to Winnipeg, the night before the eclipse.  From there we flew north to a little town called Gimli, just like the dwarf in the Lord of the Rings.  We observed the eclipse and I got lots of good pictures. 

The following picture is a composite of three photos.  From left to right the exposure time was decreased.  This is a technique that my dad taught me.  The leftmost image shows the seeming bright, but really quite faint solar corona.  The middle image shows less corona, but also the brightest red solar flare.  The image on the right shows almost no corona and a couple of flares.  This is what a variable exposure time can show you.  Mind you, my human eye with its incredible dynamic range could see all of these features at once.

Now for those reader that have been lured into reading this post expecting something salacious, I’m sorry.  The title of this post has more to do with stupid than with sex.  I’ll grant you that the two often go well together, but not in this case.  Before we moved to Saint Louis, lo thirty years ago, I had to apply for the transfer.  That meant, I needed a resume.

I had almost two years of experience at Chrysler, but other than that it was still my rather lackluster college resume.  So I tried embellishing it.  Under hobbies at the bottom, I said that I had a prurient interest in astronomy.  Fortunately for me, I had the two-headed Anne to proof it for me.  I can still remember them laughing at me across what was still my kitchen table on seventh.

So let’s bring this post home.  When Dave was in junior high, I chaperoned him to Space Camp, just like Anne had done for Dan.  For those of you that have not been there, Space Camp is like a NASA theme park, complete with rides.  There is some science there too.  Some of that science included a tour of NASA’s Huntsville facility.  I remember viewing the space station’s assembly line.

This year the International Space Station should be completed.  Also this year, the Space Shuttle, which carried the station into orbit, should be retired.  Human spaceflight is at a crossroads.  It was nice on Wednesday to get a clear view of this human achievement, as it orbited directly overhead, only 200 miles away, yet also out of this world.

2 thoughts on “A Prurient Interest in Astronomy

  1. When I worked at the hospital there was a tree in the atrium of the building I worked in. There was a partial eclipse one day and you could just stand in the atrium, back to the sun and each leaf was showing the partial eclipse on the floor. it was totally cool.

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