Sam WHITBY #202

Letters to the Editor

from Sam WHITBY in CMO #202

....... I am sending you, as a gif file, a recent image of your CMO readers Randy Tatum (on the left) and Sam Whitby, made at the observatory of the Richmond Astronomical Society in Bon Air, Virginia. The telescope is a 7 inch, F/15 refractor with a guide scope and finder. On the wall behind Randy there is a good example of one of his hydrogen alpha photos. A 13 inch Dobsonian is behind the writer. Also visible are a stool, a ladder, and a storage area for charts. There is a heater that we do not use. How or why it is there is a mystery. If you would like, I will send you a better quality jpeg image of the attached.

  Please offer Mr. Murakami my sorrow regarding the loss of his dog. As a teen ager I had a brown mutt that slept on the floor beside my bed each night and waited for me every afternoon as I walked home from school. The little dog was always willing to accompany me on my hikes and always tolerated my interest in any odd item from nature. My dog was shot at about this time of year in 1963 by, we think, a mentally ill person who shot himself within that year. I remember being very hurt for a long time because of the loss of my dependable companion, and I therefore sympathize with our colleague. I hope also that he will retain enough sun to continue. We also have violets blooming now, the so-called common blue violets. I sometimes pick a flower or two to put in salads to give them more various color. Later we will have lance leaved violets.

(24 March 1998 email)

......... After having complained about the relative lack of impressive parhelia this year, I had the pleasure of seeing a fine display last Friday afternoon. At times the Sun Dogs seemed to rival old Sol in brightness, and at times they were quite colorful and stretched for ten degrees or more. I was able to point them out to numerous friends and passers-by. There was also an upper tangent arc, and for some time we could see a brilliantly colored circumzenithal arc. All of this was beautiful and impressive, but I had seen similar things before. Then I saw something I had never seen before. As one of the Sun Dogs became more diffuse and less colorful, I saw narrow vertical lines begin to move through it, in the direction toward the Sun. The lines moved too fast and I was so surprised to see them that I could not count them precisely, but I would estimate that there were around thirty. They were visible for approximately ten seconds. A companion of mine also saw them and shouted that the Sun Dogs were vibrating. The source of the lines seems to have been thin clouds moving between the Sun and the cloud source of the Sun Dog, casting shadows. I was reminded of shadow bands that I saw during the total solar eclipse in 1970, and I also thought of the waves of light that sometimes are seen when one turns on a fluorescent light. I have read of rainbows seeming to vibrate with the occurrence of lightning. The shadow explanation seems the simplest and most likely. Have you seen similar "vibrations" in parhelia? I have written to Fred Schaaf of Sky and Telescope and asked him his opinion. He has written about open air phenomena for S&T.

  Our weather has rather suddenly become uncomfortably warm. I cut our grass for the first time this season this afternoon, and I also saw the first snake of the season, a garter snake. Gartners are nonpoisonous, but they are nervous little snakes that will quickly bite you if you try to handle them. I usually shoo them away and try not to get close enough to be bitten. My next door neighbor is terrified by snakes, and he thinks I am a menace to civilization because I prefer to let the snakes live. We do have, thankfully only rarely, dangerously poisonous snakes called copperheads. Their bites are not always fatal, but they can be fatal, especially to children or individuals in poor health. I do not tolerate their presence any more than my neighbor does.
  Tyler had his first haircut, and he seemed to take the loss of his curls quite well.

(30 March 1998 email)

....... Thank you for your email. Although Cherry trees are not often encountered here, I will offer for your consideration, from memory, one of my favorite poems. It is an old one by the English poet A. E. Housman, and it is copy- righted, so you cannot use it except for your enjoyment in this letter. It goes like this:
Loveliest of trees the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now of my threescore years* and ten
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score
It only leaves me fifty more,
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room
About the woodlands I will go
To see the Cherry hung with snow.
(*A score is an obsolete measure of twenty, so threescore years and ten is the traditional human lifespan of seventy years.)

  One of the things that I do at work is to try to teach English and other things to young men in the state juvenile prison system. I am able to say, "You will like this poem or pretend to like it, or I will....(get tough with you)." I sometimes use the poem by Housman to drive home an appreciation of the brevity of our lives and the waste of choosing a life that leads one to incarceration.

  A parhelion (sun dog) is a concentration of light on one or both sides of the Sun, usually on the outside edge of the twenty two degree halo, at the same distance from the horizon as the Sun. Perhaps I can write you a little essay regarding such atmospheric sights, with illustrations, which may be worth sharing with your readers.
  We wish your colleague's cat a swift recovery. We do not have a cat, but we like cats, and Uta's mother has a very tolerant cat that is patient with Tyler. ........
 I will soon try to catch Jupiter in the morning sky.

(31 March 1998 email)

...... Let me confess that when we upgraded our system I lost some addresses, among which was yours at Kyoto. I took a chance that I might remember it and tried to send a message to you earlier, without success. Now that you have written me from Kyoto, I have once again added that address to my address book- and will try not to lose it again.
  I am indeed pleased to learn of the halo phenomena seen from Okinawa. .......
  Yesterday I used the Housman poem again with my students and dedicated the lesson to my friends in Japan.
(4 April 1998 email)

....... Thank you for your very interesting letter and the news about the cherry trees and your researching the halo phenomena.
  It is indeed possible to see Moon Dogs, although they are much less frequently seen than the solar ones. I have seen them perhaps five times in as many years. Once, only about a year ago, I saw a 22 degree halo around the Moon, a very bright and red upper tangent arc, 2 bright Moon Dogs, and a 360 degree horizontal arc. This latter is the sort of thing that is very rarely seen, even around the sun. When I occasionally talk to small groups, usually very informally, I am sometimes asked what are the most unusual sights I have seen in the sky, and I have the task of trying to describe a 360 degree horizontal arc around the Moon and the Parry (solar) Arc. These atter phenomena are, of course, not really astronomical, but they are unusual and quite real. (I do mention having seen some interesting clouds on our planet Mars.)

  The City of Hopewell has undertaken to improve our environment by cutting down some trees in the alley behind our house. The City is also putting a concrete trough in the place of the small, admittedly very polluted little stream that has run behind our house. This improvement has already evicted many birds and squirrels. I have a feeling that the snakes will simply move to other areas. One could hope that they will all move in with the neighbors who have demanded such dubious improvements. The muskrats which have amused Tyler and me will soon be gone. In case you do not have such things in Japan I will mention that they are harmless rodents which live mainly underground along creeks and streams. They do not attack people or animals, and, because they live in wet areas and move usually by swimming, do not enter people's homes and damage property. Their main offence seems to be that certain sensitive people do not like the way they look. The so-called improvements will open the alley to movement by groups of teen-agers, and I surmise that the muskrats are less dangerous than the teen-agers. From my selfish point of view, the only advantage is that the loss of the trees will give me a relatively unobstructed eastern sky for the first time since we have lived here. I judge that the world of science could have done without my projected observations of Mercury in order for the animals to live. .......

  This afternoon the US Post Office delivered to me a letter that I had very clearly and properly addressed to your English observer David Graham. Whoever did that is the one that needs the real help.

(10 April 1998 email)

Samuel WHITBY ( VA, USA ) :