Usually at this time of year in Laos, the night sky is quite clear, making for some good star gazing. Lately, though, it’s been unusually cloudy, a ruinous situation for astronomy enthusiasts. Finally, the heavens cleared last Sunday night. I pulled out my trusty 10 x 50 Olympus binoculars and braved the outdoors, covering up to avoid the hordes of mosquitos which have been visiting lately.
The viewing was quite good, though there’s always some light pollution from Nong Khai, across the Mekong in Thailand. That wrecks the viewing of, about, the lower 15 degrees of the sky to the north and east. But, I was searching about 60-70 degrees up, looking for a small star cluster designated Stock 23, a.k.a. Pazmino’s Cluster, that I read about in Sky and Telescope magazine. To my delight, I found it right away. In the binocs, it appeared as a small gathering of four stars that I could only resolve with averted vision. (How I long for a medium-sized telescope. I could buy one in Bangkok, but it would be impractical to use up here because I’d have very few clear nights in which to use it.)
I took in a few other views before turning in. The Sword Belt in Orion was, as always, spectacular and the Double Cluster in Perseus showed up nicely. I browsed around the Milky Way, just enjoying all the stars rather than doing a search for particular objects. It was a very rewarding session, especially since I haven’t star-gazed in awhile.
I was reminded of some good times from 60 years ago! My cousins, the Balma family, and I would sit outside their house in Owosso, Michigan at dusk, waiting for the first star to appear. Whoever spotted it would get to make a wish that would (of course!) come true. I don’t remember what we wished for, but I can imagine that some of them became reality.
Every time I spend a few hours or minutes looking into space, I realize how infinite it is and how infinitesimal we are. This is not a depressing thought at all.