Sunday, 25 September 2011

Going, going, gone


A week or two ago J. and I were invited to the inauguration of a private observatory. Our German friend M. had built one in her garden, with her own hands, down to the last nail, rivet and dollop of cement, and finally it was ready to be put into operation. Local legend has it that M. has a supernova named after her, so clearly she is an astronomer to be reckoned with. A bit of a star, in fact.

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.)

18 comments:

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin said...

Seems to be the season for signing off. Hope it's only a temporary absence.

Z said...

In the happy days when we had dogs, our nightly walk was spent with me looking up at the sky. I have no memory for patterns and picking out constellations and naming them accurately is not easy for me. Which has nothing to do with the matter of course, it's just me swallowing my disappointment with a medium-sized waffle. I do hope you will return before too long.

Rog said...

I would call it pomme deterrant.

Yours is the most quality blog on my blogroll Christopher - we will let you find your muse and bob back up in the listing whenever you are ready. No pressure.

Au Revoir.

Anonymous said...

Like a comet you'll, no doubt, return air long with Anatolian tails to tell wrapped up in a new guise.

Mike and Ann said...

Far too many seem to be leaving the sinking ship at present. Oh well, come back soon Christopher, we'll miss you.

Warm regards, Mike and Ann.

moreidlethoughts said...

Well, that's got the potato jokes out of the way.
As Rog says, do whatever you feel you need to do.
But it would be lovely if you still popped up in comments now and then.
And are you travelling the Anatolian wastelands, or have I missed a metaphor?
Bon chance, whatever you do.

Tim said...

Dropping like flies (not that I've ever seen a fly drop, except when made to). I hope you'll be back - I need the kind of stimulation you always offer - in the meantime, on a personal note, thanks for the support when I needed it.

Geoff said...

Hope to see you in the not too distant future, Christopher.

Tim Footman said...

Admit it, it was that peculiar-sounding cocktail that did it, wasn't it? Well, cheerio, then.

I feel like Robinson Crusoe, sometimes.

Rog said...

Christopher - wake up! Dave's back and it's all kicking off. Your reasoned air of civility could never be needed more....

letouttoplay said...

Oh dear, I fall asleep for five minutes and when I wake up you've gone nova.
I will miss you lots and look forward to your return.

broken biro said...

I nearly stopped blogging too... but am soldiering on... alone apparently. Do come back - I'd only just started following you! *sulks*

Vicus Scurra said...

OK,that's long enough away. This is getting silly.

letouttoplay said...

Happy Christmas Christopher and to all your family.
Miss you a bit - come back soon?

Christopher said...

How very kind, Mig, thank you. Yes, I'll be back, promise, and meantime a very Happy Christmas to you and yours.

Tim said...

Happy Christmas to you and J. If Z's plots come to fruition, we might even meet in '12! Who knows.

Z said...

Digging the garden hopefully as we speak.