Thursday, 21 February 2013

Clouds, polar bears and greetings

Few nights ago I happened to stumble upon the re-opened website of our beloved old geezer Stephen R. Waldee. Steve asked in this January blog entry "... but what's happened to the regular entries by such interesting writers as David Knisely, Steve Coe, Steve Gottlieb, Mark Wagner, my friend Jaakko and several of his colleagues in the frigid north above the arctic circle?"

Finland: Sibelius, Sauna, Sisu and polar bears... wait what?
Courtesy of San Jose Zoo.
I do not know about the rest of the guys, but the winter here in Finland (which is mostly well BELOW the arctic circle) has been the cloudiest in recorded history(?). For example the town of Jyväskylä, in Central Finland has seen only 18 hours of sunshine during the past 2.5 months! So no matter what you try, there's no beating the clouds. The temperatures, observing conditions in general and cloudy days are something most people living in Central/Southern Europe / US cannot even fathom. The thought of planning an observing session for tonight/tomorrow, is something we're not familiar with. With the weather patterns in here, clouds will always sneak up on you. Not to mention the general changes in weather even I've witnessed over the past few decades: more clouds, warmer temperatures and simply crappy winters in general. So if you want to start astronomy, do it somewhere else than in Finland!

NGC 55
Despite the cold spell on the homepage front, many things have been going on. I still have a huge pile of sketches to be scanned and processed from my trip to the US as well as Tenerife. Here's an example: NGC 55 sketched with a 4.7 inch scope @ 90x (45') from Boca Tauce, Tenerife, Spain (2034 meters / 6673 feet) on 23rd of November 2011. The description reads: "A gorgeous sight. Huge, WNW-ESE elongated galaxy with a mottled appearance. NW part of the galaxy contains a bright, elongated nucleus with somewhat mottled appearance. Two brightenings visible within the halo. Larger and brighter knot appears as slightly NW-SE elongated. The smaller and fainter knot appears as a nearly stellar, roundish spot in the E side of the galaxy's halo with a faint 14th magnitude star just W of it. A darker void seems to separate these two possible HII-regions from each other. Several 10-14th magnitude stars in vicinity / within the halo. Size 20' x 4'. With low power the galaxy is visible in the same field of view with pointy rock formations of Las Cañadas caldera."

Between this post and the latest entry from less than year ago a lot has been going on behind the scenes. I've managed to contribute several sketches to the Las Vegas Astronomy Society's (LVAS) "Observer's Challenge". Four of my "Deep Sky"-columns have been published:
Tähdet & Avaruus 8/2012
  • Hunting the invisible: Cygnus X-1 (Tähdet & Avaruus 4/2012)
  • The Prince of Darkness - E. E. Barnard (Tähdet & Avaruus 6/2012)
  • Colors, details... oh my - Going against the Hubble Space Telescope (Tähdet & Avaruus 8/2012)
  • Fifteen years of astronomy - The fondest memories (Tähdet & Avaruus 2/2013)

The "night sky" in Tapanila, Helsinki
So although it might seem bad on the outside, I'm still alive and breathing. This past year has brought many life changing things to my life. The one with the biggest impact was moving from the outskirts of Vantaa to rural Helsinki. The drop in SQM-L readings, limiting magnitude and huge increase in light pollution has had a really negative impact on my hobby. Not to mention living on the 3rd floor. Trust me, when the SQM-L readings drop below 18, that's when everything that's fun and worthy in observing - dies. When the snow melts away in a month or so, I'll probably try to do some observing before the summer break. One thing I've changed in my sketching is the speed. I've started to spend even more time on a single object than usual and it is starting to pay off. Simply put: more vague details than ever! And Steve, I'm sure you still have my email address. If you don't, you can see it if you're reading this. Use it buddy!