Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Demon

Letter to the magazine Astronomy:

"Twilight Musings in the January 2011 Astronomy reflected why our household finds the sunset hours so fascinating, especially the cut line "We commonly wait to view Earth's shadow during a lunar eclipse, but it also appears projected against our atmosphere any transparent night."  The shadow of Mauna Kea on the atmosphere made me shiver.

We are -- and probably always will be -- on a giddy, ancient or kid level of astronomy:  identifying bare-eye objects, oohing and ahing at the Milky Way, tracking planets.

In August 2010, walking on the beach on Clallam Bay, on the Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, we saw on airplane over the beach.  Or an oncoming helicopter?  Something too large to be a star or planet, at least not there.  As it lowered winking angrily red and green against the silvering sky, we realized it was much farther out than any man-made object.  Racing back to the house, we grabbed our astronomy texts, and soon identified it as the binary system Al Ghoul, or The Head Of Medusa, in Perseus.

Its powerful appearance as its rising, with nothing else visible in the sky, made us realize why the desert peoples called it "The Demon."  As you can see in the photo at, the ridge we live behind blocks low-level objects.  We're used to seeing Perseus as a pretty but not spectacular overhead winter constellation. 

(Has anybody at "Astronomy" tried my experiment of running down a hill at a green flash to intensify the perceived color?  It can be replicated as a sun sets, allowing anyone, kid or adult, to see a green flash over and over. Admittedly, that might be pushing playing with science a bit far.)."

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