Many of us who live in Seattle and who have somehow developed an interest in amateur observational astronomy anyway, despite the city’s persistent cloud cover, have come to see squandering a rare cloudless night as the eighth deadly sin. Personally, I think it’s worse than most of the others, except maybe wrath.
Thus was created a major moral dilemma this evening. Earlier in the day I finished reading a book about which I’m writing a review for Arches, the alumni magazine at the University of Puget Sound. (Some of my articles for the mag have actually been about space and astronomy.) I’d finished going through my notes and sketching out an outline for the review, which I’d planned to write this evening. I emerged from my basement office around 6:30 for a walk to the grocery for provisions for tonight’s dinner. Lo and behold, the clouds had mostly cleared, it was already good and dark, and there was a lovely crescent Moon out with Jupiter shining as a beacon, high in the southeast sky.
How is a person supposed to write a book review under such adverse conditions?
I had about 40 minutes to weigh the options, about the time it takes to walk to the store, pick out a good steak, find a nice cheese for the appetizer, check out, and walk home. Stick to my guns and write the review? Or put it off until tomorrow, when Jupiter won’t be such a temptation. And maybe I should write a blog post about this deep inner conversation with myself.
This did not turn out to be a difficult choice. As I type this, the telescope is cooling down out back on the deck, an already chilled martini sits on my desk next to the computer, the potatoes are baking in the oven, and after dinner I’ll bundle up and watch the fascinating clockwork of Jupiter’s moons and see how much detail I can tease out in the belts and bands of the King of Planets.
Interestingly enough, even the slightest notion of clear nights gets the interwebs all abuzz around these parts. The promising forecast for the weekend has the Seattle Astronomical Society Google group gearing up for an event that seems more rare than an asteroid passing by Earth with the distance of the Moon’s orbit: a monthly public star party that ISN’T cancelled because of weather. The society has these scheduled into perpetuity—every Saturday nearest the first quarter moon. I would guess that only a handful each year actually happen. Club members have grown so pessimistic about star party weather that most volunteers routinely schedule normal Saturday night stuff, movies and dates, and if it’s clear outside baffled members of the public show up and the outreach isn’t reaching out.