I'm not a slouch when it comes to observing. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I'm a pretty good observer. I've recorded a lot of "firsts" and "bests" during my random walk through the sky.
I've also observed with some of the world's best observers. Many names advanced amateur astronomers would recognize instantly. Some they would not. Well, add another well-recognized name to my life-list: Dave Eicher.
Sound familiar? He's my boss, Astronomy's editor. But the amateur astronomy community knew his name long before he transformed this magazine into the world's best-selling astronomy publication.
As a high-school student, Dave produced Deep Sky Monthly magazine from his home starting in June 1977 and continuing through the end of 1982. Then, AstroMedia Corp. published Dave's Deep Sky from 1982 to 1992. That period of 15 years established Dave as the unofficial king of the deep sky. I remember sculpting many an observing session around articles that appeared in both Deep Sky publications.
As strange as it sounds, through all those years and through my first 4 years at Astronomy, I'd never observed with Dave. Really observed, I mean. We'd done some parking lot observing sessions for our fellow employees. One, on August 27, 2003, coincided with Mars' closest-ever approach. We've also stood together under the Moon's midday shadow, for the March 29, 2006 total solar eclipse. But we'd never shared an eyepiece under a dark sky.
That changed Monday night, February 12, 2007, when Dave and I visited Arizona Sky Village near Portal, Arizona. Look for my story about this wonderful place in an upcoming issue of Astronomy.
Under one of this country's darkest skies, Dave and I had access to a phenomenal deep-sky object chaser — a computer-controlled 30-inch Starmaster f/4.3 Dobsonian-mounted Newtonian reflector. For hours, we, and about a dozen local observers and astroimagers who heard Dave was visiting, took a tour of some usually faint objects — well, faint in smaller scopes, anyway.
Dave led us on a wonderful ride through the deep sky in Orion, Monoceros, Canis Major, and elsewhere. For a bit more detail on some of the objects we observed, see his blog "The Arizona Sky Village" below. Some of the comments I heard throughout the observing session included, "I've never seen that before," and "Wow! I didn't know you could observe that visually."
For my part, it was a blast. I've observed through 30-inch scopes before, but this time I had a living deep-sky encyclopedia standing next to me. If you ever have the chance to observe with Dave, take it. You won't be disappointed. I just hope my next opportunity comes soon.