Jim's Greatest Hits!
How does one make a list of the best astronomical memories of one's
lifetime? Simple - make a list of everything, then throw out the ones that
don't fit. (?!?)
The first step was to peruse my journals, looking for the highlight objects
and events in my astronomy life. Trouble is, my journal effectively started
in 1988, long after several top-notch events had taken place! Furthermore,
computer crashes and simple neglect have resulted in plenty of gaps where
records should be, so I can only hope that no major events have slipped
through the widening cracks of my memory. With those caveats, here is what
amounts to a top eighteen, in chronological order:
1970: comet Bennett - naked-eye and binoculars
1979: solar eclipse from Pine Grove
Apr 1989: first Virgo/Coma traverse, (10")
Jun 1989: 'best meteor ever', 30-inch telescope views
Jul 1989: Saturn and 28 Sgr, ten solar-system objects, noctilucent clouds
Mar 1990: Messier Marathon: 101 objects (10")
May 1990: 18-hour old moon
Jun 1990: incredible night with homemade mirror (6")
Aug 1991: five excellent hours at OSP Steens (14½")
Jul 1994: Jupiter and comet S/L 9 (8")
Oct 1995: Klondike site discovered
Mar 1996: comet Hyakutake
Mar 1997: comet Hale-Bopp
Aug 1997: Oregon Star Party with refigured 22"
Mar 1998: Messier Marathon: 97 objects with 70mm binoculars!
Nov 1999: Mercury solar transit (90mm)
Nov 1999: Leonids & digital camera; new 'best ever'?
Nov 2001: Leonids - two more 'best ever's?
This leaves three comets, two eclipses, several instruments, several
solar-system specials, and a few special events. Allow me to prune some more
and sort this out!
1996: comet Hyakutake
1997: comet Hale-Bopp
1979: solar eclipse from Pine Grove
1989: 'best meteor ever', 30-inch telescope views
2001: Leonids - two more 'best ever's?
1989: Saturn and 28 Sgr, ten sol-sys objects, noctilucent clouds
1994: Jupiter and comet S/L 9
1999: Mercury transit
1989: first Virgo/Coma traverse
1990: Messier Marathon: 101 objects
1990: perfect night with 6-inch
How does one break down these events into comparable units? Any method will
produce controversy, so how about giving out awards based on time-span? NOW
we can make some decisions!
- Best multi-night session goes to the 2002 Oregon Star Party. Each night
from Tuesday to Saturday was a success for this one, with Friday so shockingly
good my eyes were too blurry to decently evaluate Saturday. Others told me
Friday was best, but of course that made them blurry too..
- For my best night ever, the '89 Saturn/solsys/cloud event beats out the
101-Messier marathon, wonderful night with the six-inch, and first Virgo/Coma
- For best half-night, OSP91 (Steens) beats out the '01 Leonids
by a slim margin.
- The best two hours would again be Saturn's event, with
the Virgo/Coma Traverse in second.
- The best hour is a tough one, since
any hour from the above events is in play. I suppose the most breathtaking
hour was spent basking in Hyakutake's glow.
- The best half-hour goes to the
'79 solar eclipse, with a special merit award for the breakneck driving to get
away from the clouds with about five minutes to spare.
- The best fifteen
minutes goes to the 2001 Leonids, with Mercury finishing a respectable
- Now for the tough one: the best nearly-instantaneous observation! Was it
1996, when I kept my head down after parking until I was somewhat dark-adapted
and mentally prepared for Hyakutake? The long, slow meteor that broke into
several pieces in '89? The strobe-light meteor of 2001 that left a train
visible to the unaided eye for over fifteen minutes? The first time I focused
on M42 with a mirror I made myself?? The three scars on Jupiter left by comet
Shoemaker/Levy 9, visible even in my low-power 8" from northeast
The winner, by a head, is comet Hyakutake 1996b2. If you saw it
from a dark site, you know.