So off we drove on the designated afternoon to find her house and observatory. After a warm welcome with lemon meringue pie served with a cocktail of rosé and concentrated pineapple juice M. led us to her creation. She has built her observatory on the traditional plan, a sort of giant rotating lemon-squeezer on a circular base. If she wants to view a particular section of the heavens, she rotates the dome, opens a panel and aims the telescope at whatever she wants to observe.
She has also built her telescope herself, everything apart from the reflecting mirror and some of the lenses. Counterweights, gauges, focussing gear, bearings, all these and more she has made herself, often using a lathe she was given for a thirteenth birthday present. A very remarkable lady.
It turned out, very much to our surprise, that we were the only guests, apart from a retired journalist who lived down the lane, whose private water supply had given out and who'd come to beg a shower. So M. produced a half-bottle of champagne and J. and I and the newly-clean journalist toasted her and her new observatory.
Unfortunately the day was overcast, so we saw nothing, not even the sunspots for which M. had rigged up a special viewing screen. The erratic behaviour of sunspots just now is one of the few things that seem to worry M. : auguries for the future aren't good. But we nailed the supernova legend: it wasn't true, M. said. No one had supernovae named after them. She had once belonged to a group of astronomers assigned to search a certain section of the heavens for supernovae, and she had indeed discovered several. They weren't all that rare, but they came and went, and any she had discovered were now very indistinct or had disappeared altogether.
We left at about 10, full of pride in our friend's achievement and also of a Rhineland speciality she offered us, a sort of potato rissole called Kartoffelklösse.
(Apropos of nothing, I see from our local paper Midi Libre that a Ukrainian died after eating Kartoffelklösse in a competition. He consumed 88. I expect Rog would call that deadication.)
Then a few days ago we had lunch with other friends, one of whom is an amateur astronomer, equally full of foreboding about those sunspots, as worried about their continuing effect as people were about Y2K 11 years or so ago, and I hope as needlessly. We told him about our visit to M.'s observatory. In turn he directed us to the supernova M101, saying it was growing fainter by the hour, but we might just catch it if we got the binoculars out that night.
Well, we forgot. The next night we looked again, cricking our necks endlessly scanning the area above Alkaid and Mizar/Alcor at the end of the handle of the Plough or Big Dipper. No luck. It had gone. Will we ever get another chance to see a supernova?
(Blogs come and go, too, and are clearly as unstable as supernovae. Lydian Airs is fading out for a bit. Maybe, like certain comets, it'll come round again. Who knows? Meanwhile, warmest thanks to all you celestial beings who've shone so brightly in the comments columns. You're all first-magnitude stars.)