Lured like a moth again, I am;
. attracted to it in unconscious obedience,
. drawn by its magnetic scarlet orange radiance,
. overcome by the sheer pulse and shimmer of its magnificence,
. in high hopes of lingering forever under its luminous orange influence.
It’s been almost two years to the day since I first laid eyes on a focused image of Eta Persei in an inexpensive Orion 90mm f/10 achromatic refractor. Since then, I’ve returned to Eta repeatedly — many, many, many more times than any other star that circles the vault of sky above me. I know its remarkable scarlet orange radiance has something to do with that, but there’s more to it than that — much more — and most of it well beyond reach of the descriptive limits of language. That repeated return — again and again and again — to Eta, is in response to an urge to satisfy a primeval craving, an ancient nutritional hunger, that can never quite be satisfied, and certainly never satiated.
Stargazing can be a rough and tumble-ous kind of life . . . . . . but somebody’s gotta do it. 😉
And anyway, I’ve learned some things.
Of all the many things I’ve learned from Eta, one of the most surprising was how to look at a close double star with a wide range of magnitudes between its components. Two years ago, I thought my averted vision was reasonably well developed, having honed it on the faint photons of dim galaxies brought to focus in the mirror of an eleven inch SCT. But it seems that averted galaxial vision and averted double-stellar vision are two different things. Or maybe I just wasn’t as far along as I thought I was — or should have been.
At any rate, it all came into a sort of blurred averted focus on one component of Eta, the inimitable 11.61 magnitude “C”.
|Eta (η) Persei (Miram) (Σ 307) HIP: 13268 SAO: 23655|
|(AB is H IV 4, AC is H VI 21)|
|RA: 02h 50.7m Dec:+55° 54′|
|STF 307 AB:||3.76, 8.50||31.40″||295°||2012|
|STF 307 AC:||3.76, 11.61||64.00″||269°||2014|
|SHJ 34 AE:||3.76, 9.24||242.90″||297°||2012|
|WAL 19 AF:||3.76, 11.44||57.40″||24°||2012|
|WAR 1 CD:||11.61, 12.70||5.10″||116°||2012|
|Distance: 1331 Light Years|
|Spectral Classification: A: M3 or K3 B: A0 C: B E: A2|
(WDS data updated as of 10/5/2014)
Two years ago, I looked and I looked and I looked, but “C” was not to be seen. Not in the 90mm Orion, not in a 127mm Meade AR-5, and not in a six inch f/10 refractor. Not there, not at all, not anywhere. In fact, I was just about convinced the “C” I was looking for was a variable star that had varied itself right into a dim state beyond the reach of my vision.
On one of those many return trips, somehow I suddenly saw it — and what amazed me most, it was in an 80mm short focal length refractor. Staring right back at me, and laughing like an hysterical hyena just escaped from a big city zoo. But then I may have imagined that laugh out of sheer embarrassment over how easy it was to see “C.”
Whatever the case, there it was — very distinct, very obvious, even in the glowing circles of light thrown into the surrounding damp air by both “A” and “B.”
It was a stellar revelation.
And it wasn’t simply that atmospheric conditions had combined in such a way to make it possible — because since that night, every time I’ve been urged back to Eta for another lingering view of it, “C” has been there every single time.
And after I learned how to see “C,” I was introduced to “D” — which you can see in the inset of the sketch above. That was no easy assignment on the first few attempts, but eventually, as I sharpened my averted vision technique, I broke out of the mediocre middle of the class and found my way to the photon-rich front. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes the first time “D” emerged from the glare of all the glow thrown out by the three senior members of the Eta entourage — it was every bit as thrilling as my first sighting of “C.”
So what else have I learned from Eta . . . . . . . . . . . .
Much of what I’ve learned just cannot be translated or forced or tortured into words without losing the full effect. If you’ve ever sat under the stars on a quiet black night and lost complete touch with where you are and what you’re doing, you have some idea of what I mean. You almost literally disappear into another world, and what happens at that point depends entirely on what you’re looking at. In that sense, the experience is unique, it can’t quite be duplicated on another object — which is not to be taken as meaning the experience can be turned on and off like a light switch, either. It can’t — it happens when it happens.
I remember one post-midnight night . . . . . . . . . . . .
. when I attached a pair of bino-viewers to my six inch f/10 refractor and pointed it at Eta. A yellow-gold almost-full moon was peering over my shoulder, the Pacific Ocean was humming serenely away half a mile off in the distance, and I was looking into a pair of old Celestron 26mm Plössls (59x) —– and lost touch entirely with the solid surfaces around me.
The immersive three-dimensional view that bino-viewers do such an exquisite job of providing transported me right out of my chair and onto an invisible scenic observation platform in interstellar space. I felt myself drifting above the complex of stars that surround Eta, hovering over them in complete silence. The stars I was staring at seemed insubstantial and fragile, mere flickering candles whose light could be extinguished forever with one huge exhalation from an omnipotent observer. I remember thinking, this must be what it’s like in the depths of space, staring into a limitless black void populated with only these scattered pinpoints of starlight.
Eta and its companions shimmered and wavered slightly, as if in a dream. That remarkable radiant scarlet orange was hypnotic, firing laser-like beams of its rich light right at me. It’s boon companion, the 8.5 magnitude secondary, bristled turquoisedly with what Admiral William Henry Smyth described as “smalt blue”. It always amazes me how full and overflowing with color that 8.5 magnitude star is –- I have yet to see another star of that magnitude in possession of so much color. And “C” –- in the bino-viewers, I had to look closely to pick it out of brother “B’s” glow, but it was there, smiling back at me, grinning cheerfully, as if to say –— see, I’m still here!”
And there was a moonless night . . . . . . . . . . . .
. when my six inch f/10 refractor and I were camped out under the stars, soaking up the mysterious whatever-it-is that I absorb from Eta, when I decided to swap out the 18mm Radian (84x) I was using for an old 20mm HM eyepiece (76x) of the .965 variety. The view came as something of a jolt to my eyes.
Gone was the relatively wide sparkling and gleaming field of stars I had been entranced with, and in its place was a shrunken version of the same view — but possessed now of an alluringly attractive neatness. That last word tends to get over-used, but it fits in this particular case –- the view was just very neat, very tidy, very orderly –- as if it had been laid carefully and deliberately in measured place by a highly skilled stellar hand.
Eta “A” had lost a bit of its radiance – not much, though – and Eta “B” was still just as blue as smalt blue can be. “C” was a mere whispered point of barely there light –- but the finishing touch was that line of three stars stretched across the western quadrant of the view. I think of them as forming the top of a “T”, with Eta “A” and “B” occupying the base. Those three stars form one of the straightest interstellar lines I’ve ever seen –- not that there aren’t others (Alrescha sports a similar trio), but these are special because they were the first I saw.
As many hours and as many nights as I’ve whiled away with Eta, I suppose I could be forgiven if some night I skipped right over it quickly and moved onto the siren-like attraction of another celestial sight. But I wouldn’t dare . . . . . . . and I couldn’t . . . . . . . not now, anyway. I had a vision one night of what would happen if I was to take Eta for granted in that way . . . . . . . .
There I stood, with one hand on the back of my scope, just beginning a well-planned slough in search of another source of starry-eyed inspiration, when there was a lens-shattering crash behind me —– and the smoking fragment of a fractured meteorite bounced and rolled up to a luminescent halt just inches from my right foot. And when I looked back to the not-yet-sloughed scope, I could see Eta’s angry scarlet-orange glow filling the entire eyepiece – even though I was standing a couple of feet above it.
No, I wouldn’t dare . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . I’ve learned some things.
And now, in honor of these very Eta-fying experiences —– a musical metaphor . . . . . . .
Over to you, Maestro Zimerman . . . . . . . 😎