Movie Review: The Desert Fox (1951)

The Desert Fox (1951)

4 out of 5 stars

I nearly jumped for joy when DirecTV announced the arrival of a ‘new’ HD channel to their line-up:  TCM (Turner Classic Movies).  I much prefer to watch ‘old’ movies when I get a chance.  Just like ‘old’ books, there are so many lost gems to be found, read (or watched).  I spent thirty minutes scrolling through two weeks worth of schedule, seeking the four and five star treasures among the chaff of late night B (or C) 1950s science fiction or horror films.  By the way, if you’re a Johnny Weismuller fan, you might want to check out this Friday’s Tarzan marathon. But I digress.

One of the first movies I flagged to record happened to be The Desert Fox.  I knew some of the highlights of Rommel‘s military career as a field marshal, especially in North Africa, and his mysteriously in congruent and quiet death late in World War II.  Released just six years after the war ended, 20th Century Fox took a risk in filming from the point of view of the enemy, albeit of a highly and widely respected man.

I thought the film held up well (being over sixty years old now).  Jessica Tandy gave a superb and convincing  portrayal of Rommel’s wife as well as James Mason as Rommel.  Actual vintage war footage appeared throughout the film, include a brief clip of Eisenhower addressing the troops, presumably on D-Day.

And speaking of D-Day, the musical score during the war footage flashback montage started off with the Air Force anthem, ‘Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder’ (when depicting the air raids), and switched to the Nay anthem, ‘Anchors Aweigh’ (when depicting the mighty guns of the battleships pounding the European coast).  I did not discern either the Army song or the Marine’s Hymn, but probably just lost track of the melodies amidst the bombardments.

I have added Desmond Young’s biography of Rommel to my ‘To Read’ list.  Unfortunately, it’s not yet available (and may never be made available) in ebook format, but my local library in Leavenworth has a hardcover print copy available and waiting for me on the shelf.  It seems to be surprisingly short (under three hundred pages), so would make a quick read on a weekend.  A bit of trivia as respects the movie, The Desert Fox: the author, Desmond Young, appeared in the film as himself.  He actually met Rommel, briefly, as a soldier in the Indian Army, when he became  a prisoner of war in the North African theater.

Adopting Alexis

Alexis (aka Lexy)
Alexis (aka Lexy) adopted July 2012

Terry started surfing PetFinder a couple of months ago, looking to adopt a female Rottweiler close to Apollo‘s age (he’s six).  While Apollo seemed to be less depressed about Roxy’s passing, he still wasn’t eating enough or getting enough exercise.  We visited nearly every shelter in the Kansas City metro area, and some in outlying cities (like Atchison, Kansas), but could not find many Rottweilers (regardless of gender).  We’d almost given up on adopting, and had started looking at buying a puppy (gasp!) or a retiring female from a breeder.

Midway through the middle week of July, Terry saw a post appear on Petfinder for an abandoned female Rottweiler in Parsons, Kansas.  The listing claimed she was six years old (a likely perfect fit for Apollo).  Terry contacted the shelter, Proud Animal Lovers Shelter, and expressed our interest in adopting her (almost sight unseen).  Alexis (the name given to her by the shelter) would be spayed that day and would need to recover a few days before she could be released to us.  Terry arranged to pick her up on Monday, July 23rd.

I requested vacation (or PTO as it’s referred to now) for that Monday and made arrangements for my backup driver to drive the van.  Parsons was about three hours south of us, between Pittsburg and Independence, Kansas, nearly a straight shot down US 59.  Early Monday morning, Terry met me at my backup driver’s location so I could trade the van to her and become a rider in my own car as Terry drove us south to Parsons.  Because the shelter didn’t open until noon, we took our time, and even a detour through Iola.

Upon arriving in Parsons, we drove around for quite some time trying to find the shelter.  The street sign for Meade was very far back from Main Street, but after passing it for the fifth time, we spied it and found the shelter.  We returned after a quick lunch at the local Brahms just after noon to fill out the adoption papers, pay the adoption fee (and make a donation in addition) and finally met Alexis.  She had just had a bath that morning and was shedding a truly terrifying amount of fur.

While Terry finished the paperwork, I took Alexis outside wiht a borrowed brush and attempted to help her shed more of her fur.  I was only partially successful.  We said our goodbyes and thank yous and walked Alexis to the car.  Unlike every other dog we’ve ever had, she did not jump into our car the moment the door opened.  We had to coax her, with treats, and in the end Terry had to lift her into the backseat.  We could only surmise her last trip, when she was abandoned in a drought scorched field in 100 degree heat, must have scared her and left very bad memories.

I drove the return trip home as quickly as I could, with only a brief stop in Garnett, Kansas by a small fishing lake to allow Lexy to stretch her legs.  Except for the construction and delay of crossing through Lawrence on US-59, we made record time, returning to Lansing before four o’clock.

We introduced Apollo to Lexy (both of them on leashes) in the front side yard.  Since Lexy only weight 75-78 pounds, Apollo outweighed her by fifteen to twenty pounds.  They both seemed to get along (at least they didn’t immediately growl and attack each other).  Terry took Apollo back into the house and I followed with Lexy through the garage.


The next obstacle we discovered for Lexy was how to climb stairs.  Apparently, she had only been a kennel dog as she didn’t know what to do with stairs.  We got her up the stairs into the main floor.  Her first attempt at descending the stairs amounted to a flying leap from the top step, bypassing six or seven intervening steps, and splaying out on the tile floor at the bottom.  I am happy to report that almost two weeks later, she now sails up and down the stairs, nearly as well as Apollo does.

Lexy had an eventful first week.  Terry took her to our vet and his examination revealed a much younger dog.  He estimated her age between two and three, not the six suggested by the vet in Parsons, Kansas.  His reasoning:  her teeth were damaged from chewing on either chain link fence or a chain (or both).  Also, her paws were permanently splayed out, most likely from wire mesh on the floor of a kennel.  We can confirm Lexy is much younger than Apollo because once she became more relaxed in our home, she began playing energetically with toys, shoes, food dishes, water bowls, laptop lap desks, … just about anything that wasn’t nailed down.

Six days after adopting Lexy, Apollo and her had their first major altercation.  It happened last Sunday evening and it upset Terry and I so much neither of us could sleep and Terry took Apollo to the vet first thing Monday morning.  Lexy had latched onto Apollo’s neck and would not let go, even with Terry and I both attempting to separate them.  Apollo received a puncture wound and an abrasion.  Lexy received no wounds, mostly because Apollo is a gentleman and knows when to let go.  The vet examined Apollo and said he would be fine, giving Terry a prescription of antibiotics just to be on the safe side.  He is doing well a week after the incident.  Lexy has behaved better in the following week.

We put the baby gates back in the doorways between the great room and the kitchen, so that visitors would not need to worry about a Rottweiler frontal assault.  We’ve started training Lexy, teaching her how to sit and lay down.  I haven’t walked her yet, but come to think of it, I’ve only walked Apollo once in the least two weeks due to the near constant heat advisory we’ve been under for most of July.

Lexy, relaxing and getting some much needed affection.

We are so glad we found her and hope Lexy spends many more years with us.

Welcome to your forever home, Lexy!

In Pursuit of Liberty and Lincoln

I receive a electronic newsletter from the Kansas City Public Library, usually on Sunday afternoons, alerting me to any special events hosted or sponsored by the Library in the coming week.  All three signature events tugged my interest, starting with a lecture Tuesday evening from a religious scholar on the King James Bible ‘From Ancient Texts to Literary Masterpiece.’  Wednesday’s ‘Meet the Past’ planned to interview William Rockhill Nelson, founder of the Kansas City StarBut Thursday’s ‘Hail to the Chiefs’ event appeared to be the crown jewel of the week, featuring Mark E. Neely, Jr., Pulitzer Prize winning author of numerous books on Lincoln and the Civil War, including last year’s Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation: Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War, examining charges that Lincoln played ‘fast and loose’ with Constitution during his presidency.

I decided to attempt to attend the lecture, which meant moving Heaven and Earth (or so it seemed to me).  At least the lecture would be held in the same building where I work, a small consolation for the hoops I soon jumped through and vehicles I juggled into position.  First, I asked my backup vanpool driver if she could drive the van on Thursday.  She could.  Second, I asked my husband to drive one of our cars to my backup driver’s house on Wednesday afternoon to leave it there for me to drive on Thursday morning.  He did and rode home with the rest of my vanpool riders Wednesday.  Now, I could drive the van on the first leg of the commute Thursday, hand it off to my backup driver, and take my car to work (for the first time in months), so I could stay late for the lecture.

All of the above went off without a hitch.  My workday flew by and I left the building briefly to run an errand and grab a quick bite for dinner.  I returned to the building in time to catch some of my coworkers and managers leaving for the day.  They were all shocked to see me still at work, so I cheerily explained my plans to attend the lecture in an hour.

The Library opened the doors to the Truman Forum about ten or fifteen minutes before six o’clock.  I did not realize a reception had been planned, whereby fruits, vegetables and wine would be served.  I bypassed the reception and headed straight to the auditorium, as I could tell from the number of people waiting, a good seat would be hard to find and hold on to.  I also wanted to save two seats for friends of mine who were also attending the event.

I found suitable seats in the fourth row and settled in for the short wait.  I reviewed my email and RSS feeds via my Nook Color and continued reading one of the books I’m currently plodding through.  My friends arrived with twenty minutes to spare so we chatted and got caught up on family and things.   The hum of conversation around us kept to a dull roar despite the place being packed with people, including the overflow areas to the left and behind us.

The person tasked with introducing Mr. Neely couldn’t resist the siren’s call of his soap box (and a microphone) and began a brief tirade (for which he apologized prior to his actual introduction of the speaker) on an editorial published the day before in the Kansas City Star (I believe it’s this one:  Protect Public Money in KC’s Development Deals).  His call to arms for the civic minded audience urged us to protest the City Government ‘stealing’ tax dollars from libraries, community colleges, mental health organizations, etc. and giving that money to wealthy corporations as incentives to build (develop) luxury hotels in the Country Club Plaza or Crown Center.  Not being a citizen of Kansas City, nor having a vote or a say in what it does or does not do with its tax money, I did not know how helpful or fruitful any protesting I might do would be.  I can see his point, as I don’t care for the practice of providing tax incentives to large corporations in the dubious hope that they will produce a boon in the local economy or provide more jobs (which will most likely be outsourced to the Asian continent as soon as the incentives expire).  And on that sour note, with much applause and cheering from the audience, the introduction continued and Mr. Neely ascended the stairs to the podium.

I enjoyed Mr. Neely’s talk and took several pages of notes (if you really want to give yourself a headache, try and decipher my scribblings here).  I have not read any of Mr. Neely’s books, but I may in the future.  He began with a dissection of the Corning letter.  He fascinated me with contextual tales of the ‘true’ use the Writ of Habeas Corpus was put to during the Civil War, specifically several cases across one hundred days during the Summer of 1863.

Mr. Neely rated and graded several Presidents (only dead ones) on his civil liberties scorecard, using three questions as criteria:  1) Was the internal security system proportionate to threat?  2) Once the system was in place, was it used for other purposes, particularly against vulnerable people (minorities, dissenters, non-citizens)? and 3) When the threat ends, is the system sunsetted?  He gave John Adams a D, Woodrow Wilson a C- and FDR a D.  Lincoln, he left to us, asking ‘What grade would you give him?’

The Question and Answer session began at 7:30 p.m.  The audience asked great questions and the event began to wrap up shortly before 8:00 p.m.

I spent a great evening with friends and learned several things I didn’t know before.  I also have a better understanding of the movie I watched just a few days ago, The Conspirator, and the legal landscape during and after the Civil War.

A Triple Line-up in Triple Digit Heat

Waxing Crescent Moon During Twilght
Waxing Crescent Moon During Twilght (23 July 2012)

Despite a withering 103 degree temperature during the seven o’clock hour yesterday evening, I drug out my telescope and camera gear to the backyard in anticipation of an early evening planetary and lunar line-up.  Terry grilled some chicken while I setup the scope, attached it to the portable battery and got the Autostar configured with the current date and time (almost straight up 8:00 pm).  With forty minutes to go until sunset, I could clearly see the waxing crescent moon (see photo above), but the telephoto on my camera just couldn’t get me close enough to my lunar observing goal for the evening.

As I continue pursuing the Astro Quest observing award, created in 1995 by the ASKC Education Committee, I wanted to focus on the lunar section this month.  The first item visible after a new moon happened to be the crater Hercules.  Over the weekend, I researched all the lunar objects listed on the Astro Quest observing challenge, seeking images of the items first.  I then determined I needed to find a lunar atlas.  I have one for stars and deep sky objects (my handy Sky & Telescope Pocket Sky Atlas), but not a lunar one.  Thanks to Google, I found the open source software called Virtual Moon Atlas, downloaded and installed it.  I like it.  The software  makes it very easy to find features on the face of the moon and shows the current moon phase for my date/time and location.

I knew where to find the Hercules crater.  Using my red dot finder scope, I honed the telescope in on the upper quadrant of the lit portion of the waxing crescent moon.  Remembering to flip the image of the moon left to right in my head, I found the Hercules, and Atlas, craters easily.  I spent several minutes using various eyepieces and barlows to zoom in for a closer look.  I forgot to take a small portable table out with me to the backyard, so I didn’t have anything handy to take notes of my observations.  I must get in the habit of doing this, if I plan to pursue other more stringent observing awards sanctioned by the Astronomical League.

I opted to mount my DSLR on the back of my telescope.  I took a half dozen photos, none of which, upon downloading, were focused very well (grrrr).  I selected the best of the bunch, cropped, labelled and uploaded it:

Hercules and Atlas Craters
Hercules and Atlas Craters

By this time, Terry had finished grilling supper, so I retired to the cool, air conditioned dining room to consume honey garlic grilled chicken and grilled Italian garlic bread with rice and Asian-style vegetables. He thoughtfully brewed some sun tea earlier in the day so I enjoyed two or three glasses of iced tea as well, knowing that I planned to return outside to the heat for more observing.

After dinner, I returned to the backyard, where I could now see Saturn, Spica and Mars, as predicted by various astronomy alerts I’d received earlier in the day.  I captured the southwestern horizon at 9:30 pm in Lansing, Kansas from Astronomy magazine‘s StarDome Plus Java applet to share here.  I could see another star, besides Spica, above Mars, but I’m not exactly sure which one in the constellation Virgo it might have been.

Before shutting down the telescope and returning the camera to it’s tripod, and a normal lens with a wider field of view, I turned the ETX90 towards Saturn for a quick look.  I did take one photo of the ringed gas giant, which turned out better than I thought it would:

Saturn through Telescope

I also tried again to see the polar ice cap on Mars, but the ETX90 just couldn’t provide enough light or magnification (through the eyepieces and barlows I own) to get much bigger than the head of a pin. I could clearly tell I was not looking at a star and that the color reflected back to my eye was a ruddy orangy pink, but I could not discern any other features of the Red Planet.

The moon shone just a tad too bright to easily capture the fainter Saturn and Mars in a single photograph.  Of the dozen or so shots I took with various aperture settings, shutter and film speeds, I only found one that appeared adequate:

Saturn Mars Crescent Moon

By ten o’clock, I had all the equipment back in the air conditioned house. I had voluntarily sweated outside during triple digit heat for nearly three hours to make a few astronomical observations. I spent a few blessedly cool moments sitting in front of the fan before downloading, reviewing, editing and uploading the photos I’d taken.  Soon after, I fell into bed (near eleven o’clock and two hours past my bedtime), but tossed and turned all night long.  When the alarm sounded at five o’clock, I slapped snooze three times until it forced me awake at half past the hour.

Another day, a Tuesday this time, and another triple digit heat index predicted for the Heart of America.  Autumn can not arrive too soon.

Sally Ride: Flying to Space, and Beyond

Sally K. Ride (1951 - 2012)
Sally K. Ride (1951 – 2012) ~ photo courtesy her NASA biography

I heard the news of Dr. Sally Ride’s passing when I got home from work last night. I stared, stunned and saddened, at my tablet’s screen as I read about her 17-month battle against pancreatic cancer.

Her name took me back nearly thirty years, to when she first blipped on my radar.  Back in the late 70s and early 80s, I followed NASA’s shuttle program closely.  I definitely remember her as the first American woman in space, because that same year I graduated from high school and pursued a college degree in one of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields of study.  I began in the fall semester of 1983 at Wichita State University as an electrical engineering student, but ultimately transferred my focus to my first love, mathematics, and computer science.

I didn’t completely succeed in transferring my love for mathematics on to my offspring (regardless of gender).  My son had an aptitude for mathematics, but a personality clash early with his high school teacher sabotaged any hope of the local school district fanning the fires of his math passion.  Instead, he became an artist.  My daughter loved chemistry, one of the few courses I struggled with in college.  But her love for music and vocal performance overcame her desire to blow things up in a lab.  Both disciplines required hard work, but she found music much more appealing and satisfying.

Sally Ride had a passion for “motivating girls and young women to pursue careers in science, math and technology.”   She was “an advocate for improved science education,” and wrote “five science books for children: To Space and Back; Voyager; The Third Planet; The Mystery of Mars; and Exploring Our Solar System. She has also initiated and directed education projects designed to fuel middle school students’ fascination with science.” (NASA biography of Sally K. Ride).

My thoughts and prayers are with her friends and family during their time of grief.  I will try to honor her memory through outreach programs via my local astronomy club that inspire the next generation of scientific pioneers.

May she soar through the stars in peace. 

Movie Review: The Conspirator (2011)

The Conspirator (2011)

4 out of 5 stars

At one point in my life I probably knew that the first woman executed in the United States was a member of the ring of conspirators who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.  I’ve slept since then and forgotten all I might have known beyond remembering that John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln and that the term ‘Your name is Mudd’ has it’s origins from that event.

I did not know, however, that Mary Surrat was tried in a military court martial, where the presumption of guilt (not innocence) presides and the rules of evidence are less stringent than a civilian court of law.

The Civil War (and it’s aftermath) have never held my historical attention like 20th century wars seem to (especially World War II).  Even living in northeastern Kansas, near the legacy of John Brown and the Lawrence Massacre by Quantrill, I tend to turn a blind eye to that time period.

But I can see parallels to our own times, one hundred and fifty years later, in the aftermath of 9/11 and our treatment of the accused (presumption of innocence, imprisonment with benefit of habeas corpus and trial by a jury of your peers).  The Patriot Act is not so far removed from what Lincoln signed into law in 1863 or what Woodrow Wilson signed during World War I.  Sadly, we did this to ourselves (the Civil War and afterwards).

This film kept my interest as well as any court room drama does, regardless of what century you place it in.  Frederick Aiken’s closing statement in Mary Surrat’s defense enthralled me.

The BluRay also included a 67 minute documentary (as well as other extras) that provided further historical background about the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln.

Teapot Steam

Star Party Sign In
Star Party Sign In (click image for rest of album)

My dad contacted me Thursday to coordinate conveyances for our weekend astronomical adventure, thinking we would be attending the monthly ASKC club meeting, but he was a week early. Since I had mentioned earlier in the week a desire to see the glorious summer spread of our own Milky Way Galaxy, he had called me several times the past few days to see about driving to northern Atchison county to escape the Kansas City area light pollution. Both Wednesday and Thursday evenings turned out to be hazy and cloudy, so we nixed the road trip north.

Instead, I suggested we attend the monthly star party at Powell Observatory.  I received two confirmation e-mails from David Hudgins, the club’s star party coordinator extraordinaire.  I decided to leave my scope at home because you don’t really need a scope to take in the Milky Way Galaxy.  If the skies grew dark enough, it would stretch from the southern horizon, up over the top, clear to the northern one.

I thought perhaps I was reliving last Friday (that would be the 13th) because when I got home early (by ten minutes) I walked into some surreal drama.  I won’t go into the stressful week at work (we’ve all had weeks like that), but I looked forward to forgetting work and ignoring the excessive heat by reading books and watching movies in a quiet, air conditioned home with my hubby and two Rotties.  I came home to find our satellite on the fritz and Terry needing me to pickup a prescription before the pharmacy closed at seven.  While he cooked dinner, I did some preliminary troubleshooting of the satellite system with little success and decided to call DirecTV customer service, knowing I’d probably be on hold for several minutes.  The technician wanted us to disconnect, check and reconnect all of our cables, which seemed a ridiculous request since the cable runs are static and have not been touched, moved or manipulated in years.  After almost ruining supper in an effort to jump through DirecTV tech support hoops, we hung up on them and sat down to eat.

By now, I had less than an hour to pickup the prescription, so I grabbed my purse and drove to the store.  I got as far as the pharmacy counter, where the assistant recognized me and had the prescription ready for me, but when I opened my purse, my billfold was missing.  I had left it in the van because I stopped at Starbucks after work for a mocha frappacino treat for the drive home.  Now I had to return home for my billfold and repeat the trip back to the pharmacy, a wasted trip, time and gas.  When I returned home the third time, Terry had solved the satellite system glich.  With our excessive heat and drought conditions, the ground supporting our satellite dish pole has dried up so far down into the ground, that the pole can now be easily moved back and forth and twisted on it’s concrete base.  One of our dogs could have bumped into it and messed up the alignment.  Terry used the signal strength meter diagnostics channel on the satellite receiver to dial the dish back in.

Hoping that would be the final challenge of the week solved for the moment, I called Dad just after seven o’clock and told him to head my way.  I gathered up my camera equipment, my pocket star atlas, a large hardcover edition of Backyard Astronomy (to review Milky Way info), my purse (with billfold) and a lidded glass of cool water.  I asked Dad to drive this weekend, volunteering to drive next weekend for the July club meeting.  The hour jaunt to Louisburg passed quickly and we arrived at Powell just moments after sunset.  The evening cooled off nicely, but remained calm, clear and surprisingly dry.  In fact, we experienced no dew (the bane of telescope optics) until after midnight.

Sterling Scope
Mike Sterling collimating his telescope while my dad attends.

Several club members were already present and setting up their scopes in the East Observing Field (click photo above for photos taken upon our arrival).  One member, Mike Sterling, introduced himself to me (asking if I was ‘the’ Jon Moss … apparently my name is known, if not my face or gender, from my blogging).  He was in the process of collimating his 20-inch Dobsonian.  My dad provided an extra pair of eyes to help finish.  Mike also gave us a color brochure published by Astronomy magazine of the illustrated Messier catalog.  This will come in handy in the future when I really get serious about an observing award.

Star Party Theme: Star Charts
Star Party Theme: Star Charts/Atlases

The theme for this month’s star party centered around star charts and atlases.  David Hudgins setup a table displaying several popular and easy-to-use books, visual aids and posters.  I indicated to David I already owned the Sky & Telescope Pocket Sky Atlas and a smaller version of the wheel night sky star guide (the circular atlas resting on top of the poster in the upper left hand corner of the table shown in the photo above).

Dad and I wondered among the scopes, waiting for twilight to fade and the stars to emerge.  Saturn and Mars, along with Spica and Arcturus appeared very early and most of the scopes honed in on our ringed neighbor.  By 10:30 pm, the skies had darkened enough to begin hunting for some of the brighter Messier objects.  Mike graciously asked me (several times over the course of the evening) what I wanted to observe next.  I drew a blank every time because my goal had been to see the Milky Way, not any specific object viewable in a scope.   He obligingly filled in the blank by touring through clusters, nebulae and a galaxy found in the constellation Sagittarius, Scorpius, Hercules and Ursa Major.   I tweeted the objects as we found them so I would have a record of what we saw and when.

Brocchi’s Cluster, also known as the Coathanger: a conspicuous asterism easily seen with binoculars in the constellation Vulpecula (via Wikipedia)

My dad and I also used his binoculars just to see what we could see with them (as opposed to a scope).  The highlight of that side project included finding Brocchi’s Cluster (more commonly known by the asterism ‘the Coathanger’).  One of the other club members used the Summer Triangle as an aid to locating the Coathanger.  As stated in the Wikipedia article: “It is best found by slowly sweeping across the Milky Way along an imaginary line from the bright star Altair toward the even brighter star Vega. About one third of the way toward Vega, the Coathanger should be spotted easily against a darker region of the Milky Way. The asterism is best seen in July-August and north of 20° north latitude it is displayed upside down (as in the picture above) when it is at its highest point.”

* Update * (added after original publication):

I completely spaced out tweeting during the eleven o’clock hour.  During this time, Mike disconnected the Goto electronics on his telescope and set me to star hopping for objects near Sagittarius.  The first one he tested me with was finding two small globular clusters a small hop away from the gamma star in Sagittarius (the star the delineates the spout of the teapot).  If I could find these two clusters, Mike told me I should be able to see both of them at the same time in the eyepiece’s field of view.  After about five minutes, I spied a couple of small fuzzy balls, not as distinct as the surrounding background stars, but I thought they might be the clusters.  Mike confirmed I had found them by doing a ‘happy dance’ and sing-songing ‘she found them, she found them’ for all to hear.  The designations for these clusters are NGC 6522 and 6528.

Mike next set me to finding either M69 or M70 (also hanging out in Sagittarius, but in the bottom of the Teapot).  I glanced at his star chart and used his excellent Telrad finderscope (which had a nice large field of view and an easy-to-use red bullseye) to quickly locate one of the Messier objects (probably M69).  Again Mike did a happy dance and song.

Mike went looking for another globular cluster, this time between Sagittarius and Scorpius, designated as NGC 6380.  I found this one especially interesting because of it’s apparent close proximity to a star.

The third test proved my undoing.  Mike moved his scope to Antares in Scorpius and set me to finding M4.  I didn’t review his star chart and spent several minutes attempting to find it.  Eventually, I gave up and Mike located it.

Teapot Asterism (for Sagittarius constellation)
Teapot Asterism (for Sagittarius constellation)

Despite all the mesmerizing Messier distractions, I did succeed in observing the vast sweep of our Milky Way Galaxy.  I learned a couple of cool memory aids and bits of trivia about finding the ‘heart’ of the galaxy and the path it takes.  Cygnus, the swan constellation, also sometimes known as the ‘Northern Cross,’ flies along the Milky Way, pointing directly to the heart of the galaxy.  To find the Milky Way’s heart, locate the Teapot (an asterism for the constellation Sagittarius), visible along the southern horizon during July and August, and imagine steam rising from the spout.

I even attempted to photograph the Milky Way using my simple tripod and DSLR camera, but without an equitorial mount of some kind with a tracking system and the digital photo editing software (to stack multiple repetitive exposures), the best I could accomplish was a three or four second exposure (using ISO 800) and fiddling with the brightness/contrast after downloading:

Steaming Teapot
Steaming Teapot (tilted slightly so that the Milky Way
appears centered/parallel to the frame of the photo).

I also took photos of Cygnus swimming in the Milky Way, the Summer Triangle, the Big Dipper over the dome of the observatory and several of the southern horizon.  To see the entire album, click on the photo at the top of this blog.

Soon after 12:30 a.m., Dad and I thanked Mike Sterling for the guided tour of the summer sky.  We packed up our gear and drove the hour home, where I finally drifted off to sleep after two o’clock with visions of Messier objects dancing in my head.

Dad and I had a blast and my husband is now having second thoughts about  staying home last night.  Many thanks to David Hudgins, Mike Sterling and the other members of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City for throwing a fun mid-summer star party.

Cool Early Morning Trio

Early Morning Trio
Early Morning Trio – Venus, Jupiter & Aldebaran (click image for rest of album)

Cool, because at 72 degrees, that was as cool as it was going to get on Friday, but also because I could clearly see bright Venus (lower left of triangle), slighter dimmer Jupiter (top of triangle) and even dimmer Aldebaran (middle right of triangle).  I like the cloud arrangement this morning a bit more than yesterday, but either one provides refreshing relief from the heat.  Here’s a close-up of the trio:

Early Morning Trio

I heard on the radio this morning our forecasted high was set for 105 degrees (our third or fourth day of excessive heat) with an extension of our heat advisory until next Wednesday. Ugh. My daughter in Texas is enjoying cooler weather than I am in Kansas. That just seems wrong.

Wispy Moonless Sunrise

Wispy Moonless Sunrise
Wispy Moonless Sunrise (Thu 19 Jul 2012) – click image for entire album

I didn’t plan to get my camera out for the third morning in a row this week.  There was no chance of seeing any moon, since only six hours had passed since the old moon became the new moon.

But when I went outside to take out the trash, I looked east and saw some nice pastels caressing the thin wispy clouds. I could still easily see Venus and Jupiter and barely discern Aldebaran, at least for the first few minutes.

Wispy Moonless Sunrise

Then the bolder colors began to shine forth.

Wispy Moonless Sunrise

At one point, I could see Venus shining brightly through a pink cloud. The photograph I took did not do justice to what I actually saw with my naked eye, but if you look closely, you can probably spy Venus behind the cloud.

Wispy Moonless Sunrise
Venus in the Pink

Nothin’ But Haze

And not much of it even purple.

Hazy Eastern Horizon

I could easily see Venus, Jupiter and Aldebaran throughout the twenty minutes I vanely searched for the rising moon.

Venus and Jupiter

But I finally gave up looking for the last vestige of the waning moon with ten minutes left before sunrise.

Ten Mins Before Sunrise

And just before I took the camera off the tripod, I turned it north to capture some pink and purple tinged clouds.

Pink and Purple Clouds

But alas, I spied no moon amid the sea of haze washing up along the eastern horizon. Not surprising since the Kansas City area is under a heat advisory until Saturday evening (four days from now).

When I checked the star chart for the eastern horizon at moonrise later, I realized the moon wouldn’t even reach the five degree mark above the horizon before the sun rose.  From the photos I took yesterday morning, I could discern the haze exceeded that height easily, which made an even thinner, dimmer crescent moon that much more difficult to find.  I may have set myself an impossible task considering the amount of humidity in the atmosphere during  the summer months in Kansas.

Perhaps I’ll have better luck next month capturing the elusive barest glimmer of the waning crescent moon.

Mostly hazy sunrise