Howard Eskildsen

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Prehistory of My Lunar Studies

Starlight sparkled over the Nebraska plains where as a child I remember the stars so bright and close that it seemed that they could be stirred with an outreached finger. The Milky Way dominated the summer sky with a neon glow from which the foreground stars seemed to spill. From night to night it was obvious that aboard spaceship Earth a grand tour of the universe emerged, and I was a part of much more than just the patch of ground on which I stood.

I dreamed of learning the constellations, but could not quite figure which star was with what heavenly figure until a grade school teacher pointed out a handful of constellations in the winter sky. With that firm foundation, I used star charts in the front and back covers of a child’s book to learn the rest of the sky’s star-groupings. Next the wanderers amidst the fixed stellar background caught my eye, and I was enchanted by the Moon with its ever-changing phases steadily marching round and round the Earth.

At baseball games, the rising of an orange gibbous Moon caught my attention more than the plays on the field, and I remember dad driving by moonlight through the winding Rocky Mountain road one night as we neared a vacation camping destination. Another time the Moon dominated the overhead view as we lay in sleeping bags under the open sky. One way or another it had always been a part of my earliest and happiest memories.

Along with the stars and Moon, I was also fascinated by rocks, microscopes and telescopes. The later two were portals through which I could see the “invisible,” and my rock collection led to a strong interest in geology. I was given a very cheap microscope kit, and spent hours watching microbes swim about until the slides dehydrated. I read everything I could get my hands on about geology, stars and microbes, but eventually it was the microbes that picked my interest in medicine. Through the course of time I became a physician and completed a family practice residency, and am currently practicing in central Florida.

I was not able to acquire a telescope as easily as the microscope, but in high school did manage to salvage a sadly abused 4.25” Dynascope and get it back in working order. Later, while in medical school I finished the 6” mirror that I had started in junior high and spent whatever free time I could watching the sky.

Professional and family responsibilities, however, allowed little time for observing, so it was put on the back burner for over 25 years. In 2001 I decided to get a better scope that would be easier to grab and go out to observe when possible, with the Moon as the primary target in mind at the time. I had seen an 80 mm refractor in a local store, but my wife suggested spending a little more money for a better one and bought me an ETX-125 for Christmas. It worked well for my needs at the time. One night I had to heartily agree with a grade-schooler who had looked at Venus and the Moon through it, asked where I got the telescope, then exclaimed. “Wow, you sure are lucky to have a wife who buys you luxury telescopes!”

About that time I had the good fortune of crossing paths with the late Jose Olivarez, who invited me to come over for observing at his home in Ocala, Florida. Since it was only about 5 miles from my home, I spent a great deal of time with him right up until a few days before his passing. As a mentor, he taught me much about the Moon, and I had opportunity to observe and photograph through his 8” and 10” refractors. I remember the excitement I felt when he would call and say that he had been looking at the photos of the Moon that I had taken and we should get together to discuss them. After his death, I wrote the poem, “Descendant,” which was my way of dealing with the loss of such a friend. Though I wrote it seeking closure to such a loss, in the process, I discovered understanding and acceptance of the terms of our existence. (It is attached below.)

Through Jose I also “discovered” Chuck Wood and purchased The Modern Moon, and began following “Lunar Photo of the Day.” I never dreamed that any of my photos would be worthy of its pages, but was delighted as the first and subsequent ones appeared on the website. I also participated in his online course in lunar geology, which provided a wonderful foundation for further study.

In the years that have followed I have observed and photographed the Moon with a 6” refractor that I purchased from Jose Olivarez and have read as much as possible about the Moon. I have submitted over 1,000 images to the Lunar section of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers and have written articles and provided images for “Selenology,” Selenology Today,” “The Lunar Observer,” and the “Strolling Astronomer.” I have given lunar presentations at the Winter Star Party as well as at the Alachua Astronomy club, and the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium in Gainesville, and have met several other talented observers. I also observe the Sun as much as possible and have submitted over 3,000 solar observations to Solar ALPO.

The Moon is a wonderful friend and companion to the Earth and its residents. Hardly a day goes by that someone does not hear me say, “Oh! Look at the Moon.” It is like Earth’s little brother, and a rocky soul mate to all who dwell here.

by Howard Eskildsen

How strange it seems
As I gaze towards the sky
To imagine that even
A star must die

But in its final throes
Of nuclear fire
A promise rides
On its funeral pyre

With a core collapse
And a blinding flash
Seeds of life are forged
From cremation ash

The elements of
An Earthly home
And the building blocks
Of flesh and bone

Yet, how strange it seems
As the Sun lights the sky
To imagine that even
Our star can die

But I’ll shed no tears
Nor long will I mourn
For had no star ever died
I’d never have been born

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