An Astronomical Anecdote

One of my old observing buddies, the late Steve Chomniak (Toronto Centre), once told me a story about one time that he went to our dark-sky site in the concessions northeast of Oshawa by himself...

It was a cold winter night, crystal clear as only cold winter nights can be, and the deep sky gems of the winter sky were beckoning. So Steve loaded up the car with his equipment and a toboggan. This latter item was a necessity since our dark-sky site lay near the mid-point of an unimproved road, and was not passable from late fall to early spring (this had been learned the hard way, but that is another story...)

Canis MajorDriving out into the country, he soon reached the start of the unimproved road. Here he loaded up the toboggan and hauled his equipment out to the designated spot. It was a great observing session as he worked his way through the usual winter showpieces. There was almost no wind and the conditions were indeed very good.

All was well as he contemplated the universe, until he suddenly felt two hands land solidly on the back of his shoulders! It is very rare in life that one experiences absolute, sheer terror, but this was one of those times. Steve told me that his heart just about stopped! With great courage, he turned his head and saw that it was a big dog that had come across the field (probably from the nearest farmhouse) and jumped up behind him. What a way to meet a new friend! Needless to say, there was no trouble staying awake the rest of the night, with all that adrenaline flowing!

So the next time someone tells you that Astronomy is boring, you can tell them about some of the unexpected events that can occur while observing in the dark... in the middle of nowhere... in the dead of winter... alone. But for the time of year, it would be a great Halloween story!

Photo by Steve Chomniak.



I used to live in Kenya, so astronomizing could likewise involve excursions into wild domains. 

Unlike Steve, my encounter was in a meadow on the slopes of Mount Kenya (a lovely place called Castle Forest Lodge where a young Queen Lizzie and her Duke came on their honeymoon) and being SO entranced stooping over to see Wonderous Things near zenith that a sudden blast of warm, moist breath on my lower back caused caused me to near void my bowels. But I was cooler than that.... “Damn you, girlfriend!” I said, as I turned to chastise her. She did not answer. She did not laugh. She did not run away saying “neener neener”. She just stood there. And, lo!, my dark-adapted eyes found that she was darker than I remembered. And pudgier. And certainly had way bigger horns. And was unexpectedly now one of a gang... of let’s say 40... like herd. That is the last time I ever want to mistake a Cape Buffalo for my better half. Even if you survive, you get killed in telling the story afterward!