Another night at the observatory. Luis Gerard sat at the desk, the massive nine hundred millimeter tube behind him on the heavy steel fork mount. He was so excited while it was being constructed, but public interest died off. There wasn’t a single visitor that night, and why should their be? The air was still and clear but the full moon disrupted contrast of any faint fuzzies.
On the computer monitor before him was the view from the scope. The Praesepe. Clusters were unaffected by moonlight and the subtle nuances of this one made him happy. The computer clicked as it recorded each five second exposure. Tracking was perfect, and he let the computer run on auto-pilot as he stared in wonder at the reddened image before him, counting the little blips of light. The stars scattered gently from the center, each of them easily distinguishable from the next. The pattern so familiar, he recalled seeing it for the first time in his binocular.
He lifted the coffee cup next to the keyboard and put it to his lips, tasting the cool bitterness. His eyes squinted and his lips puckered. The Beehive cluster would have to wait. He hopped up and walked around the gigantic telescope tube and down the stairs into the lobby. Light from the room stabbed at his dark-adapted eyes. With the handrail as a guide, he proceeded to the bottom of the steps without vision.
As he adapted to the light in the room he stomped toward the warm Bunn coffee pot sitting on it’s warmer by the sink. The black liquid reached up to the little white “-8-” marked on the pot. The college could afford a big fancy telescope, but not a modern coffee-maker. He dumped the cold coffee into the little sink and lifted the relic by the handle to pour a fresh cup. Back to the stairs.
He toed carefully through the darkness of the observing dome. His eyes would take another thirty minutes to regain full night vision. Using the red glow of the monitor as a guide, he robotically took one cautious step after the next until reaching the safety of his desk chair, a left-over from the science department, graciously donated to the trash pile behind the building and salvaged by the astronomy team.
For giggles, he fired up his photo stacking software to verify the scope tracking. He stacked the most recent image onto the first. A few pixels wouldn’t be a problem but any more than that would require some servicing to the equipment. At the least it would give him something to do. Clicking the layers on and off revealed something unexpected. One of the stars was moving!
All of the cluster stars stayed perfectly aligned, while a dim trespasser wondered across the bottom edge of the cluster. Too slow to be a satellite. He pulled up his planetary software to check the location of Pluto, which was on the opposite side of the planet. Ceres? That was by the horizon. He searched down a number of known objects, all of them failing to match. What was that little blip?
He set the scope to track it, verifying declination and right ascension with time stamps. If this was a discovery, he wasn’t going to miss it. He logged into the archived data records, entering the object’s coordinates. A list of variable and other stars in the area appeared, along with Messier 44. “No kidding?” he thought sarcastically to himself. No comets or asteroids appeared on the list, and he seemed to be clear of artificial satellites.
“Ha.” he exclaimed. “Finally got one.” With nobody around to share the discovery, he pulled up the submission information, babbling happily to himself about his new discovery and looking forward to how jealous his coworkers would be in the morning.