August 24, 2008 #038 - Kayak Astronomy

As we reach our more mature years we are supposed to take things a little slower. To a degree that is what happened to me except that I have found an occasional new hobby. My latest (the last 5 years) has been Kayaking. Not the kind where young people dash down rushing streams paddle over waterfalls and through roaring rapids but the so called sea kayaking version. It came about when our daughter moved to the Apostle Islands area on Lake Superior where some of the most beautiful freshwater coastline in the U.S. can be found. There is a serenity about silently gliding over the waters, exploring wild shorelines with cliffs and overhanging pines, watching otter, and deer. Listening to the call of the loon right off your bow or an eagle taking fish as you watch.

You might ask what has this to do with astronomy? The first year on the water I discovered that a kayak beats any back yard naked eye and binocular viewing session. It started as I was returning from one of my earliest paddle sessions. It was after sunset and the water was like a sheet of glass. My wife was there to pick me up but the stars were coming out and I can't resist a beautiful night sky! I asked my wife to leave me and come back for me later.

Let me explain. A kayak seat is as comfortable as any chair you might choose to lay back in. With a small motion of the paddle you can smoothly turn in any direction. You are away from annoying lights. Add to this that the Apostle Island area has skies like I remember as a kid. Dark and clear, but with wonderful fresh pine scented air added to the mix. The stars can be hard and rock steady, and I can see down to magnitude 6.5 or sometimes even 7.

Back to the night. I watched the stars, trying to pick out old friends, and glancing through my binoculars. I turned this way and that as if seated in one of the home built rotating observing chairs you occasionally see in Sky & Telescope. Even A few meteors pulled my attention away from stargazing. As I lay back looking north an aurora flickered and danced in waves along the skyline, climbed to overhead, and then began to fade as the moon rose out of the waters of Lake Superior. It was one of those magical nights that you never forget.

Since that time I have gone back many times and practiced my Kayak Astronomy. If you get a chance to try it I hope you have-

Clear Sky - Rich

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