Amazing Night of Sky Watching

After a quite full day yesterday, I pulled out my telescope for the first in months (since Vermont in July actually), helped in part by the nudging by Jeremy during the week about when I would next do some observing.  The observing forcast looked great, it was a new moon, good transparency and good seeing were predicted, so it was definitely the night to do it.

The neighbors were having a party, so the yard was not nearly as dark as I was hoping.  When I got started at 10, I started with Andromeda Galaxy, which is now up in the east, and a very easy target.  It’s always good to have familiar targets after a couple of months of down time to re-remember pointing and finding strategies.  The two smaller galaxies around Andromeda were quite distinct as well, the seeing and transparency forecast seemed to be accurate.  To give that a test, I went looking for the Ring Nebula.  My off hand memory for it’s location turned out to pretty off.  Eventually I pulled out a book, and realized I was looking in the wrong section of Lyra, and found it quickly enough.  It was magnifiable up to 240x with reasonable clarity, which definitely prooved the night sky was quite good.  At that point I got a call from Jeremy, told him I was out observing already, and he came over.

With Jeremy in transition, and Jupiter nicely moving into the small strip of southern sky I can see from the deck, I decided to give it a shot.  When introducing someone to astronomy, it’s always good to start with a planet, preferably Jupiter or Saturn.  It’s bright, you can see the moons, and is one of the objects that most obviously is different from the naked eye to under magnification.  I put my 48x eyepiece in, and swung the scope around to see what I could see.

I was floored.  Jupiter was more clear than I’d ever seen it.  Every time I’d looked at Jupiter in the past in my telescope the banding in Jupiter had bee quite fuzzy, more hints of shade than anything else.  This time they looked like they were inked in.  Incredibly distinct and crisp.  I didn’t even bother to put in intermediate lenses, but just jumped straight to the 240x one to see how much this would hold.  At that magnification you always get some shimmering in the atmosphere, but that was relatively minor.  The detail on Jupiter was just amazing.  You could see bits of structure inside the think dark bands, and the number of bands you could make out was far more than I’d ever seen with my own eye.  It was enough that I managed to get Susan out of bed to come and take a look.  It was truly the most amazing view of Jupiter I’ve ever had.

Once Jeremy showed up we looked through a few things in the sky, Jupiter, obviously, my previous targets, and some open clusters.  Sadly, no globular clusters were in the view that I had.  Over the course of the evening we each saw 4 or 5 shooting stars (not always the same ones).  Given that I was out there for 2.5 hours, that’s about on par with my 1 per 30 minutes on any given night.  I explained a lot about what we see and why we see it, and had a great time.  That view of Jupiter is something I’m still remembering this morning, the image is just burned into my brain now.  The skies look great again tonight, so I’m going to have to give it another shot.  GIven the clarity, I’m curious if I can make out the red spot with the equipment I’ve got.

I hadn’t realized how much I missed spending time under the sky (due to our totally weird weather) until last night.  It’s great to get back out there.

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