Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Another Traditional Christmas!

WooHoo - our 150th post since June - pretty good, I'd say! Here I am on Christmas Eve, and interestingly enough, I'm spending it exactly like last year's. After chasing the sunset behind Kitt Peak, I'm sitting home alone - listening to NPR's "Tinsel Tales. It is a great collection of Christmas stories from master storytellers from the radio archives, and I dare you to listen without shedding a tear or six! It can be found on the NPR website here. Melinda is off to the hospital to work tonight, but at least they get to share in a potluck holiday dinner tonight. I showed her the "secrets" of the chocolate cheesecake, so that is her contribution. And I got back from my sunset in time to provide a peck on the cheek.

Yes, I did chase the shadow of Kitt Peak up the road to Mount Lemmon north of Tucson. As told a couple weeks ago on this blog, the Observatory on Kitt Peak falls on one of the highway pulloffs a few days before and after solstice. Last week was absolutely miserable and cloudy/rainy and I didn't hold out much chance for tonight, but it cleared through the afternoon so I made the run up.

While not a new telescope, it was the first time I'd used this one for imaging, so had to modify it some to use my camera on it. The reason I'm using this one is that the focal length is just about perfect for getting the image of the sun just into the short dimension of the camera frame as illustrated here. This was taken while setting up - no sunspots at all to register - still just past minimum activity.

There was a lot of traffic on the road - people going down from a day in the snow, or to spend time with family in private cabins or lodges up at Summerhaven. The top of the mountain (over 9,000 feet elevation) had at least a foot of snow the last day or so, and one of the traditions is to shovel the top of your car or back of the truck with piles of snow so you can drive around Tucson with melting snow. A lot of them slowed when they spotted my telescope, but no one stopped to talk this year...

But luck wasn't with me this year. There was a narrow strip of clouds flowing north along the Baboquivari and Quinlan Mountains, and it appeared the Obseratory was in a cloudcap at times. Also seen through my telescope was the very rapid movement of clouds from south to north, as though the latest storm system was upon us, though the sky was mostly clear here in the Tucson Valley. Interestingly, after the sun had passed below this strip of cloud, you could see the shadow of the mountaintop and 4-meter telescope cast on the underside of the offending strip of cloud.
It was still a fun, peaceful trip, and a pretty sunset with the residual clouds around, but i would have been a lot happier with a "successful" (ie, clear) sunset. And now tomorrow (winter storm warning) is the last chance this observing season - as the sun moves north, it is out of my calibrated range of parking positions along the highway. Oh well, there is always next year - there is nothing like a tradition!

1 comment:

David A. Harvey said...

DAOOOO! Sounds like most of my experiences chasing total solar eclipses - been to 4 - seen 0.5 - sigh.