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June 17th, 2010

Place Dropping, 2

 A friend sends this great story of clouds and observing in the southern hemisphere (reprinted with his permission, with names removed at their request)...

"When we were first in Australia, in 1987, we were there for an entire week, and we were completly clouded out. Then we flew to New Zealand ("Land of the Long White Cloud") and were completely clouded out for the next week.

"This was my wife's first time south of the equator, so she was anxious to see all the great sights. (I was an old hand, having been to Chile a lot.) We went to Te Anau, sailed up the lake, took the Milford Track (regarded as something like the best long hike in the world), and the views were magnificent. It had been raining a lot (hence it had been cloudy), so all the edges of this narrow glacial canyon were flowing with a zillion waterfalls.

"We finally go to the top of Milford Pass (the high point in several ways), and we got our first lucky break as the skies cleared. Without the rain we had an awesome view from the top of the Twelve-Second Drop (you work it out).

"Later that night, we were watching the clear skies, and M. got her first southern view. The skies were limited to an open area to the zenith, as we were hemmed in by canyon walls and fern trees. M. looked very close, and later remembers what might have been a new star.

"It turned out that the zenith overhead had 'only' the Large Magellanic Cloud. The time was 8PM (local) 23 February 1987. If M. correctly remembered the star, then she was the very first to see the supernova SN1987A as it was at that exact time brightening through 6th magnitude."

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