April/May 2002 Issue

From the President's Desk
by Greg Sellek

Over the past few months, I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few members out at YRS on weeknights in the freezing cold. It's wonderful to see the facility used more and more often. As winter starts to wind down, I'm already getting excited about the prospect of warmer nights and more frequent trips to YRS. Hopefully the warm weather will also bring even more members out there.

I'm also excited at the prospect of some more group activities at YRS this year. We have already informally agreed that every Saturday night following a meeting is a Star Party night. So even if you can't make it to the meetings, swing by YRS the next night and say hi. We will also be planning some additional star parties over the summer corresponding with a new moon. There is also the prospect of another Wildcat Mountain State Park campout. If anyone would like to suggest some dates, please let me know.

There may also be some opportunities this year to participate in some public outreach activities. John Rummel is helping to coordinate astronomy activities for several groups of school children out at the Madison School Forest on the following dates:

May 23 (3rd graders)
May 29 (6th graders)
June 3 (6th graders)
August 16-17 (weekend, family camping)
August 23-24 (weekend, family camping)

Any interested MAS members should contact John Rummel for more information. I hope we can make an effort as a club to help bring astronomy to these kids. If anyone else has any ideas or functions that the MAS might want to participate in, please contact me.

Finally, I would like to remind members that the MAS officer elections are in June. I am still looking for members to be a part of the nominating committee to help find candidates for the positions. However, any member may nominate any other member (including themselves) for any position. I myself will not be running for President next year due to family obligations, and I sincerely hope an enthusiastic individual will step forward to take my place.

Welcome!

MAS welcomes the following new members since November: Denny Wright, Philip Grimm, Mark Nash, David Brown, William Simpson, Scott Weberpal, Chris Gullikson, John Campbell and Tom Ferch.

Research Division for the MAS?
by Eric Theide

I am aware of a number of members of the MAS who are engaged as I am in research in such diverse areas as minor planets (occultations and astrometrics), variable stars, and lunar and planetary phenomena. Our regular monthly meetings are concerned with scheduled presentations and business, and as such do not permit much discussion of members' research activities. What I am proposing is another (monthly, bimonthly?) meeting devoted to this, perhaps on the 4th Friday or Saturday of the month, at Space Place or some other suitable central location. Something of this sort was attempted by Bob Manske but it lacked sufficient structure to prevent it from degenerating into a mainly social gathering of tall tale telling.

A little more structure would be beneficial, perhaps along the lines of an informal presentation of a member's research followed by a friendly and hopefully fruitful discussion. Nothing can so stimulate research as an opportunity to explain it to other interested parties and to seek input from them. As in the case of our other more specialized meetings (e.g. the observatory committee) these gatherings would be open to anyone with an interest in attending. Anyone interested in trying to do something like this please E-mail Eric W. Thiede at erixm9507@aol.com.

Banquet to be held April 12

The annual MAS spring banquet will occur on April 12, 2002 at J.T. Whitney's Pub and Brewery, 674 South Whitney Way. Social hour from 6-7 p.m. and dinner served starting at 7 p.m. The speaker will be Professor Robert Mathieu, UW Astronomy Dept. Dr. Mathieu's talk is titled "Stellar Nurseries, Bright Lights and the Origin of Planets."
Dinner choices are Prime Rib au jus ($16) or Fish Fry ($12.50). Anyone interested in a vegetarian choice should call Jane Breun at 832-1583. To register for the banquet, please send a check payable to MAS for the appropriate amount to Jane Breun, 1990 Oak Wood View Dr., Verona, WI 53593 before Friday, April 5. This deadline is important–this place wants an order sooner than any other place we've worked with in the past!

Book Reviews:
Sun, Moon, & Earth by Robin Heath
An Intimate Look at the Night Sky by Chet Raymo
Distant Wanderers: The Search for Planets Beyond the Solar System by Bruce Dorminey

Sun, Moon, & Earth is one of a short series of publications by the Welsh house Wooden Books Ltd.; which also includes the titles Useful Mathematical and Physical Formulae and Sacred Geometry. As with the other books in the series, the publisher has gone for a comfortably low-key and archaic feel, using recycled paper and black-and-white engravings of the author's illustrations to successfully create very comfortable books. The book is laid out in two-page sections (one page text, one page illustrations) with titles like Solstices and Equinoxes, The Moon's Nodes, and Stonehenge, which appear to promise a concise astronomical account of the apparent movements of the Sun and Moon, timekeeping, and a bit of archeoastronomy. Such a book would be a welcome resource in improving the astronomical awareness of a populace which has largely lost track of the sky. Unfortunately, first impressions are often deceiving.

The first clue to a problem occurs in the introduction where, after chastising science for dispensing with the poetic and serving commerce, the author states "ätoday's high priests of science also inform us which interpretations of the cosmos are valid and which are not." and promises to reveal a "poetic cosmology" underlying the cycles of the Sun & Moon. The first section, Searching for Patterns, dives right into this program. "God is a geometer" appears in quotes with no attribution (a frequent failing) and the "Delphic adage" beloved of astrologers, "as above, so below" is cited as suggesting cosmic patterns are reflected in earthly life "becoming a source of revelatory information." The illustration for this section is the Great Pyramid, showing a proportional drawing of the sphere of the Earth with that of the Moon touching it at the top. A triangle labeled Great Pyramid has its apex at the center of the Moon and its base across the diameter of the Earth. A square encloses the Earth, while a concentric circle passes through the center of the Moon. The caption reads "Defining the Mile" and includes formulas for the sum of Moon and Earth radii and Earth diameter (in miles) as factorials. A date of 2480 BC for the Pyramid given in the text makes it clear that the author intends to infer that the ancient Egyptians incorporated knowledge of these proportions into their architecture and units of measurement. However, even if the reader wished to pursue that unlikely hypothesis, there is too little information given in so brief a space for the average reader to even understand the concepts being promoted.

Attempting to convey more information than is possible with a brief page of text and one or two diagrams is evident in other parts of the book as well. Perhaps the worst example occurs toward the end of the book. After a section describing the possible operation of Stonehenge as an astronomical observatory, a section labeled Time & Tide describes the Celestascope, an instrument based on the same principles to serve as a "practical calendar and eclipse and tidal predictor." Neglecting entirely the hydrographic contributions which make tide prediction an exercise in more than simple astronomy (as does the author), the simple depiction and brief set of instructions are nowhere near adequate to support the statement that "It can be built and used by anyone wishing to become more aware of the rhythms of the cosmos."

To be fair, there is much that is factual in the book and some of the illustrations could be put to good use in an introductory course in astronomy. The only obvious error noted was in the section on the Sun in which it states that leap years occur every four years except once in every four hundred (actually leap years only occur in century years divisible by four hundred). However, even the facts are often confused in numerological musings. The author cannot resist stating that the square of the Moon's synodic period (in years) is approximately equal to the eclipse year in days. After pointing out that the reciprocal of the tropical year in days is approximately equal to the fraction of a day difference between solar and sidereal days, Heath finishes with "It is fun to ask an astronomer why." Both from the text of this book and the titles of the author's previous works, it is clear that goal is less an exposition of astronomy and more the support of the contention that stone circles are proof of a high culture in Neolithic Britain.

The recent motion picture A Beautiful Mind portrays the mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr. as his search for the numerical patterns underlying the world degenerate into a delusion of spies and shadowy government conspirators. When the search for pattern loses the filters which ground it to reality on the individual level, we call it schizophrenia. When an individual sees conspiracies which don't exist, we call it paranoia. When both these things occur on a cultural level, we call it New Age. This book is New Age. (reviewed by Wynn Wacker)

***

In February of 1990, JPL operators turned on Voyager I's camera for one last task, the so-called "family portrait" of our solar system. Though it was nearly 3.8 billion miles distant at the time, Voyager's camera was able to image the planet Earth - barely a 5th magnitude speck (Sagan's "pale blue dot") about a degree away from the -19th magnitude sun.

While Voyager's instruments were not designed with the detection of planets around distant stars in mind, that pixel-wide photo of planet Earth gives some appreciation for the difficulty of the task. Imagine trying to detect Earth from our nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, which is 7,000 times more distant than Voyager I was when the family photo was snapped.

Bruce Dorminey's excellent new book Distant Wanderers does a great job of conveying the exquisite difficulty of extra solar planet hunting. What I had always thought of as a relatively narrow focus for a few astronomers turns out to be an incredibly rich and diverse field. As older technologies are adapted, and new technologies are developed, the field is undergoing an explosive growth phase, characterized by a dizzying array of new discoveries and tantalizing hints of discoveries yet to come.

Dorminey spent over two years traveling to conferences, observatories, or any place he could find astronomers. He collected both narratives of their research as well as some personal asides on their motives and desires (though the emphasis is decidedly on the science). The text is written in the spirit of Overbye and Lightman. Distant Wanderers is scientific story telling at its best, as Dorminey introduces us to scientists who are not as well known as Butler and Marcy. The story of French scientist Antione Labeyrie (p. 103) and his attempt to develop instrumentation for the Hubble Space telescope for use in planet hunting is political and scientific irony at its ugliest and best.
Instead of a glossary at the end of the book (which I find that I almost never use), Dorminey has peppered the chapters with indented asides containing definitions of major terms in bold print. These are placed in contextually logical places and I found them to be helpful and interesting while reading the text.

It would be hard to overstate the rapid pace of change in this field. As I read Distant Wanderers, it became clear that the search for extra solar planets has forced astrophysicists and geologists to clarify their definitions of both "star" and "planet," and Dorminey gives ample room to a discussion of both concepts along the way.

Dorminey's book also contains what is perhaps the best description I've ever read of how optical interferometry can measure the diameters of super giant stars, and the efforts being made today to extend the use of optical interferometry to the search for planets around other stars. His ability to take thorny scientific issues and explain them in terms anyone can understand is excellent.

Distant Wanderers joins two other excellent books on this topic: Worlds Unnumbered by Donald Goldsmith and Planet Quest by Ken Croswell, both also well worth reading.

Is the field changing so fast that Distant Wanderers will quickly be obsolete? Perhaps, but that is the risk taken by any science writer willing to take on a timely topic. If you're looking for a good general work on how the search for extra solar planets works, this book will remain a standard for many years to come. (reviewed by John Rummel)

***

Raymo's latest book is not a star atlas designed to be carried out- of-doors under a dark night sky. Though it has constellation maps (arranged by season), it is clearly not that kind of guide to the night sky. Raymo hints at his motivation on page x of the introduction."We spend out evenings indoors in front of the television or computer monitor, oblivious of the beauty and terror of the celestial abyss." Raymo's intent is to reintroduce us to that beauty and terror; to renew our (a collective "our;" the human race) intimacy with the night sky.

Organizationally, the 12 chapters of the book are arranged into four broad sections by season. Each section begins with several all-sky charts introducing us to the major constellations of that season. The chapters associated with the four sections delve deeper, covering such topics as the distances to stars, eclipses, comets, meteor showers, etc.

The major attraction of this book is not the science, though the science is accurate and delivered in digestible portions. The major attraction of Night Sky is the way Raymo delivers the content: with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, with a deep respect and secular appreciation for the beauty of the heavens. His blend of science with poetry, history, culture, and music is smooth and never forced.

Seasoned Raymo readers will note that he has recycled much of his material from earlier (and arguably better) books, but that should not dissuade. Night Sky contains the best of Raymo's naturalist yearnings for the ineffable attraction of things celestial. As he discusses the usual suspects (Hubble Deep Field, the attrition of stars due to light pollution, etc.), he is convincing in his deep sense of awe and humility. He has an enviable ability to turn a phrase and communicate via allegory. His polished presentation of the allegory of an island of knowledge in a sea of mystery is beautiful. This piece first appeared in Skeptics and True Believers and is presented in this book in a more abbreviated form. It's his answer to those who think that science removes the mystery and romance from life.

In summary, I recommend this book. My highest recommendation is to those who have not read Raymo before. If you are new to this author, read this book. Then be ready to move on to The Soul of the Night, Natural Prayers, or Skeptics and True Believers. If you have already read Raymo's best, you'll still enjoy Night Sky, but perhaps for different reasons. Raymo is a kindred spirit to all who appreciate the simple pleasures of gazing at the Pleiades through binoculars, or watching a sunset, or huddling in a blanket while waiting for Perseid meteors. This book captures that spirit. (reviewed by John Rummel)

Former ex-editor's note

Wow! For the first time in several issues I had enough material for a full 8-page issue (our norm), and for the first time in nearly a year, I had to set aside some articles for the next issue. A feast of words!

Wynn Wacker returns to this issue with a book review and Eric Theide recommends a forum within MAS for those serious about conducting research. Don't miss Bill Jollie's account of his travels near the equator to finally get a glance at some southern constellations and deep sky objects.

What this newsletter needs most though, is a new editor. Since "resigning" last June, I have now completed nearly a year as a fill-in until a full time editor can be found. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to be able to sustain that for much longer. So this appeal goes out to old members and new. Do you have any desktop publishing experience? Have you ever wanted creative control over an astronomy publication? Consider the position of newsletter editor for the MAS. It's rewarding and frustrating; a good forum for discussion (and occasionally some proverbial cussing). But it needs someone who can give it the time and loving attention it deserves. Email president Greg Sellek if you're interested. -JR

From the Observatory Director
by Tim Ellestad

Please, Please! Painters Needed!

Various structures at YRS need routine painting. This is simple and easy work but it remains to be completed. The MAS will provide all materials, brushes, rollers and equipment. Please volunteer some time this painting season and help us get caught up with our very necessary preventative maintenance.

YRS New Equipment Orientation Required

Equipment orientation "update" classes for all MAS observing members will be given at the Yanna Research Station beginning at 3:00 PM on Saturday, June 15th, just prior to the MAS picnic and annual meeting.

Some generous donations of new equipment from MAS Life Member Richard A. "Doc" Greiner have been installed and made operational at YRS. The MAS Board of Directors has decided that in order to avoid any confusion or technical mishaps in the operation of this new gear an orientation session on the operation of this new equipment is mandatory for all observing members. This is consistent with the MAS requirement that all observing members must have received orientation on the use of the YRS equipment and facilities from the Observatory Director prior to having access to or using the MAS buildings and equipment.

This new gear provides some sophisticated new controls and conveniences for the observatory. The new dome on the Art Koster Observatory (AKO), a gift of Doc Greiner that was installed last year, has been fitted with Digital Dome Works, a hardware/software computer control system that automates the operation of the dome and can slave the dome control to the slewing and tracking of the telescope. This function further facilitates the complete operation of the AKO entirely from within the clubhouse - particularly nice on frigid winter nights. Also, Doc Greiner has built and installed a new right ascension drive on the 16 inch telescope in the Koster Memorial Observatory (KMO). This new drive provides completely electrical control of slewing, finding, and centering on the RA axis - manual control has been eliminated. New finders have been installed and a flexible shaft control extension has been added to the declination control, again thanks to Doc Greiner and his nifty machine shop.

Operation of this new apparatus is user friendly but not necessarily self-explanatory - hence the need for these update sessions. Orientation classes on the new dome controls will be given by our friendly and congenial President, Greg Sellek. The improvements to the 16 inch will be enthusiastically demonstrated by the Observatory Director.

Soft and Muddy Lawn at YRS

If you didn't receive my recent Email message concerning turf conditions at the observatory or were wondering if the status of the grounds has changed, here's a report.

Due to the continuation of chilly, snowy, rainy, drizzly weather conditions the YRS mowed area remains soft and, in places, muddy. Vehicle traffic is currently prohibited because it was leaving notable ruts (miserable to stumble into in the dark) and tearing up grass which is hard to re- establish at YRS because we have no water on-site for reseeding (and besides, who then wants the resultant mud every time it rains). So a barricade had been put in place right where the driveway passes between the Arbor Vitae rows at the south edge of the mowed area. As I indicated in the Email message, please be aware and remember that the barricade is there the next time you are arriving at YRS with reduced or extinguished vehicle lights. We don't want you surprised by finding the barricade abruptly! Plan on parking in the parking lot until the lawn dries out and firms up.

The Old Clock On The Wall

YRS finally has an official, highly accurate observatory clock. Shortly after the beginning of the year, I installed an "atomic clock" high on the west wall of the clubhouse above the bookshelf. You've seen clocks like this advertised in Astronomy or Sky and Telescope. They're called atomic clocks because they keep themselves extremely accurate with daily automated time corrections, zeroing themselves to the cesium atomic clock that is the reference time standard for the country (and probably most of the rest of the world, too). This is accomplished by the daily reception of a super-accurate radio time signal from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) broadcast station WWVB in Fort Collins, CO.

The clock is a handy glance up to the left as you are signing in or out. Its also within easy view when operating our computers. So far, it has been staying within a small fraction of a second from the WWV audio time broadcast at any time each day. This is the kind of accuracy we MAS observers like for nailing down our RA positions or for doing minor planet work, hunting those elusive giant space potatoes.

MAS Picnic June 15th

The annual picnic at the Yanna Research Station! Come whenever you'd like to socialize and fraternize. Grills will be lit at 4:00, we'll eat at 4:30 or 5:00, and officer elections will be at 6:00 sharp. Burgers, brats and buns will be provided. Please bring a dish to pass, your own drinks, silverware, plates etc.

For those who may be coming to YRS for the first time, please contact Tim or Mary Ellestad (233-3305 or ellestad@mailbag.com) for directions. You are also encouraged to RSVP your attendance since that makes it possible to predict the number of burgers and brats that will be needed for the whole group. Plan to stay for an evening of observing if weather permits, using YRS equipment or your own.

View of Dawn in the Tropics:
-The Night Sky from Grenada, W.I.
by Bill Jollie

When did you last see Scorpius at zenith? This image conjures up impressions of galaxies, nebulae and clusters never seen at our far northern latitudes. Typically, the southern hemisphere images and articles in Sky and Telescope or Astronomy originate in exotic locales such as Australia or South Africa. However these delights are available in closer and less expensive destinations.

Grenada is the southernmost of the West Indies, a small island located at 12° N. latitude. Known in the US chiefly for an American led intervention to topple a Marxist regime in 1983 – during which 28 American Servicemen lost their lives – the island has a long history of banana and sugar plantations, alternating British and French colonial rule, and more spices per square mile than any other spot on earth. The island is volcanic, with black and white sand beaches rising quickly to mountainous rainforest in the interior. Most population lives near the coast, which provides excellent snorkeling, diving, and sailing. The friendly culture betrays its complex history (the population speaks English and adores cricket, but is largely Roman Catholic, and eats its meals as the French, with dinner starting around 8PM). The cuisine is excellent, with even the humble cinnamon bun taking on a complex flavor due to the incredible freshness of the cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and sugarcane used in its local manufacture. The small island (12 by 26 miles) also contains three distilleries, each producing several varieties of rum.

All of which provides an excuse to vacation during Wisconsin's winter, but what about the Southern Sky? The dry season runs from January through May, with temperatures constant at 85F by day, 77F by night. In February I had a chance to make a brief (3 day, 4 night) visit, and I was determined to venture deep towards the South Celestial Pole. My adventure started with study of southern star charts and object descriptions. These are not as plentiful as one would hope, but I complied a list of 45 deep sky objects I thought would be evident in two broad watches, from 8PM to 12AM, and from 12AM to 4AM. The list was comprised exclusively of objects with negative declinations, below the celestial equator. I was looking forward, however, to seeing a few northern familiars. Would Orion appear "upside down"? Would Polaris be visible? Would these familiar objects help to orient the southern targets?

I had never observed the Southern skies. In many ways, this would be a return to naiveté even more encompassing than my first introduction to deep sky observing. At least during those first few frustrating months I had had reasonable knowledge of the constellations. South of the equator, everything was new to me.

The practical complexities of observing from a strange land can be daunting. Three factors we take for granted in familiar locations suddenly loom large: transportation, a low horizon dark sky site, and personal security. The best way to quickly overcome these challenges is to make contact with a friend or club. I was unable to do so; therefore each night included application of the previous night's lessons.
My plane arrived at 11:15 PM local time (9:15 Wisconsin time). After checking in to the Grand Beach Resort I aimed to get my first view of the Southern sky. Armed with 10x40 binoculars, I took a stroll along the Grande Anse, Grenada's best-known tourist beach. Here I discovered the practical evidence of the challenges noted above. The beach orientation afforded views over open dark sea to the West and North. The South and East were hidden by palm trees, ridges, and worst of all, the glow of security lights from the row of beachfront resorts.

Yes, Orion was right side up. The Hyades were breathtaking and Ursa Major was 2/3s visible. The dipper pointed towards Polaris, hovering barely one fist off the water. M81, M82, even M1, the Crab Nebula, were easy targets, with tremendous views of the California nebula and other objects. But the South – my true goal – was obscured by hills and washed out by light pollution.

My parents (the ostensible excuse for my visit was to check on their health status after a particularly nasty fall) learned to their bemusement that dinner the following night was selected solely on the basis of the restaurant's southerly aspect. The peninsula of Lance aux Epines juts almost due south from the island, and the Rendez Vous resort and restaurant was the southernmost public area I could locate on the peninsula.

We arrived by taxi – three diners, accompanied by three cases of astronomical gear (C-5. tripod, lenses, binoculars and star charts). Here the easygoing friendly attitude of the West Indies came into play. As guests for dinner, of course we could have free reign of the beach afterwards. We were invited to stay the whole night and have breakfast with them. Only one catch: at 10PM the restaurant closed and the whole compound locked up.

Agony of indecision: no water, two aging parents, one of them injured. I elected to stay only until 10 and escort my parents home. The skies were pristine from 8 till 10. The C-5 performed past my expectations, delivering views that were razor sharp with a velvet black sky and pinpoint stars. M31, the Andromeda, filled the eyepiece at 40x. The galaxy was perfectly framed in the binoculars, so high in a clear dark sky (with open sea below it) that it extended 3° 30', its central core clearly visible. M104, the Sombrero, was a treat at 140x, hinting at its dust lane as it coasted quickly through the eyepeice. The capstone, however, was Omega Centaurii, which I estimated at twice the size and brilliance of the Hercules globular M13. At 100x the field was practically full of densely packed stars, over 1,000,000! (No I didn't count them myself). However more moderate views at 35x–and even through the binoculars–created pleasing black deep space around this amazing globular cluster, with tendrils of stars seeming to snake into its depths. My parents wanted to see a few of the familiar northern gems, including the Pleiades, The Orion nebula, Jupiter (with two belts easily visible and hints of a third and swirls and festoons suggested in moments of steady seeing) and Saturn (Cassini division clearly identifiable at the edges of the rings).

But what about A Crux, the Jewel box, and Eta Carinae? Where were the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds? Alas, obscured by a grove of palm and nutmeg trees. As night advanced, the subtle hints of nutmeg, cloves, and other spices became more noticeable, and the brown tree frog whose call sounds like a bird (KEE Kow, KEE Kow) helped ameliorate my disappointment. Great restaurant, but the observing site wasn't quite perfect.

With Parents safely ensconced back at the Grand Beach, I set my clock for 2AM. Armed with binoculars, I planned to stalk the entire Grande Anse beach until I found some site with adequate southern exposure and few resort lights. And find one I did, a service road that ran along the north side of the old university campus to a small bar right on the beach.

The Southern Cross at last! The jewel box cluster, although combating distant airport glow, was still worthy of its name. Magnificent open clusters in Centaurus that created the best binocular field of the night. Scorpius, while not at zenith, appeared so high that its lowest open clusters were easily resolvable, floating in inky black rather than the horizon's muck. Both M4 and NGC 6541 were easy and gloriously compact objects. But our planet's inclination meant I had just missed Eta Carinae, now down in the Sorryo trees dotting the far side of the campus.

As dawn silhouetted the volcanic peak of St. Catherine's I noted something else. Quarantine Point, at the extreme southwest end of Grande Anse Bay, was really dark. So dark and so high it could be the perfect spot for the telescope. Later that day I hiked to Quarantine Point to ascertain that it was accessible, correctly sited, and not adjacent to rough and tumble places that could prove problematic to tourists. Two restaurants (La Dolce Vita and the too expensive but exquisitely named La Luna) confirmed we'd once again eat dinner with optics at the ready. But this time I'd pack water, a light jacket for the sea breeze, and send my parents home.

It was not to be. The bright sunny day gave way to clouds and squalls in late afternoon, which had turned to steady tropical downpour by 7PM. The last night was equally frustrating. I planned a dinner at home base, pack, a one way taxi ride to the Mariposa (the hotel closest to Quarantine Point) and a predawn hike back along the beach to my hotel, in order to catch my early morning flight. The first raindrops splashed down as I exited the taxi. Demonstrating my new appreciation of Caribbean weather during the "dry season," I asked the driver to wait ten minutes while I set up. Before the tripod was level the shower had turned into a downpour. Sprint back to the cab, enjoy a steamy ride home. The alarm at 12, 2, and 3:30 confirmed the extent of the new foul weather front.

The island of Grenada represents the charms and challenges of astronomy in a strange place. The best locations for serious stargazing are by definition remote and little known without immediate access to local astronomers. It may take two or three days to track down and evaluate the potential of good sites. It also takes time to evaluate security: remote sites used by thieves and drug peddlers or even post bar time revelers are distinctly unsuitable.

The 30° change in latitude represented a comparable celestial challenge. My knowledge of the northern sky created only partial orientation in the south. I found it difficult to calculate horizon lines and passage times for the most southerly objects, which seemed to appear earlier and at a more "tilted" aspect than I had plotted. With an unfamiliar sky, unfamiliar surroundings, and rain two of four nights, I only managed to acquire 20 of the 45 targets I had selected. In retrospect, perhaps for a visit of less than one week I should have taken only binoculars (Nah). But a planned circuit armed only with binoculars would allow one to charter a cab in order to visit and evaluate several spots in a single night, rather than committing to one based upon extrapolations.

Grenada has a lot to recommend, including its people, food, water sports, beaches, and the tropical rainforest interior. It also shows great potential as an outpost to the Southern Sky, with clear dark views available, once you know where to look.

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