A Changing Sky

Gazing up at the sky while reading the old texts one would not be amiss in believing that the stars never change. Indeed there are many who insist vehemently that the stars are eternal and unchanging. But the stars do indeed change, often quite visibly, sometimes within the span of a human lifetime.

VLT/SPHERE image of the star L2 Puppis and its surroundings
A VLT/SPHERE image of L2 Puppis showing the enveloping cloud of gas and dust representing an early stage planetary nebula. Image credit ESO/P. Kervella used under Creative Commons 4.0

One such star is L2 Puppis.

A bright star, one of the few naked eye variable stars that could be seen to fade and reappear without the aid of a telescope much like the far more famous stars Mira and Algol. On star charts the star is found prominently drawn at magnitude 4, buf if you attempt to locate it today you will not find it without the use of a telescope.

I first encountered this star quite recently while starhopping through southern Puppis with an 8″ telescope from the driveway. The chart showed two bright stars close together, L1 Pup and L2 Pup, while the view in the finder ‘scope showed only one bright star.

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Steve Coe 1949-2018

Today I learned of the passing of Steven Coe, an amateur observer well known and admired in the Arizona community and elsewhere. He had been having health issues on and off for the past few years, but would usually bounce right back and you could again find him out in the dark with a telescope somewhere.

Steven Coe
Steven Coe set up at the 2004 All Arizona Star Party
I spent many nights observing with Steve and the rest of the usual gang at star parties in Southern Arizona. Nights at Sentinel or Farnsworth Ranch, he was nearly always there, one of the most dedicated visual observers in the community.

Go to the new moon events in southern AZ, wherever they were that month, and you would find Steve, AJ Crayon, Tom Polakis, and the rest. If everyone was there, it was going to be a good night. They were very memorable nights indeed.

If you saw Steve setting up at a star party you always wanted to setup nearby, you would learn so much just listening through the night. You were always welcome at his eyepiece, and what I saw there was so often something I had never seen before. A distant quasar, or some obscure gem of a nebula not found in the usual guides. Steve knew so much about the sky, and would cheerfully share that knowledge.

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The morning routine was predictable… Moments after the first notes from the alarm clock there would be a familiar thump at the foot of the bed. That would be followed by whiskers in the face. Time to get up and start the day, which included feeding the cat.

Not this morning, nor tomorrow, nor anytime soon…

Today I buried a cat that had been part of my life for 16 years.

No more expectant eyes standing on the corner of the bed, demanding a skritch while I was attempting to dress for the day. Inevitably sitting atop of whatever clean shirt I had put there moments before. Gone is the purr from beside me while I attempt to get to sleep. I remember an escape artist that defeated my ever more elaborate barriers to keep a litter of kittens safely in a linoleum floored kitchen. I remember hot days of Tucson sun, lying in the shade of the old tangerine tree. I remember hours of yowling as we drove to San Diego, the first leg of the move to Hawai’i.

I picked her from the litter, the little grey furball. Named for the star Epsilon Canis Majoris, Adhara, sometimes spelled Adara. This star was once the brightest star in the Earth’s sky, though it has faded as it has drifted away from Earth over the eons.

Now, all we have in an empty house and freshly turned earth beneath an adenium in the front yard.

Adhara the day before we lost her