Beautiful end to a strange and frustrating evening

Photo: Storm over Portage County, Ohio, June 24, 2017 - by James Guilford
Storm over Portage County, Ohio, June 24, 2017 – by James Guilford

Saturday night’s Open Night presented “interesting” situations. Shortly after arriving at the observatory, we saw rain arrive and heard thunder. Rain stopped, then started again as another compact thunderstorm passed over the village of Hiram. To the north we could see clear sky just outside the borders of the storm. To the south, over Garrettsville and Manuta, we could spy towering cumulus clouds and radar revealed intense rainfall. All of this weather around 8:30 to 9:00 and even a bit later. But at the appointed hour of 9:30, the sky began to clear overhead and we opened the dome.

There, in the southern shy, was Jupiter shining brightly. Hope? Nope! Storm delays and perhaps a bit of spring growth allowed Jupiter to slip behind the upper branches and leaves of a neighboring tree! Visitors arrived and we looked at mushy images of Jupiter pulled through little gaps between tree leaves. Surprisingly, occasional glimpses were had of the giant planet’s distinctive cloud bands and blurry dots of light — the Galilean Moons — could be seen. Then nothing, as Jupiter arced deeper into the branches. We fished around for a while, looking at a couple of bright stars through the murky atmosphere to the south. Saturn was lost in other trees and the messy air.

The faint, fuzzy Ring Nebula would be impossible, no? No. The sky to the east-northeast, inhabited by Lyra and the Ring, was crisp and clear. We rotated the dome, swung the big scope into position, and quickly found Messier 57 – the Ring Nebula. Of the night’s 19 visitors, those who were able to wait out the passage of clouds and darkening of sky were rewarded with clear, bright views of the famous planetary nebula; the beautiful end to a strange and frustrating evening.