Sunday, January 13, 2008

Astronomy at Last

Before I get on to the business of boring most of my loyal readers to tears, I'd like to mention some big news coming up tomorrow. (Or rather today for most of you by now.)

The MESSENGER spacecraft is flying by Mercury tomorrow, and it's the closest look we've ever had. In fact, it's been 33 years since we sent anything out that way. It's going to take awhile for MESSENGER to settle into orbit, but for now we're expecting great things tomorrow. It's worth checking out the mission website. I have to say, though, that Tom's Astro Blog is my favorite source for excitement on this one.

It's been over two months since I was last able to drive out someplace dark with my telescope and have a good look at the sky. That's a long time when one has an addiction to ancient photons. (The light that hits your eye when you look at far-away objects left a looooong time ago.)

So, here is a slightly modified version of the observation report that I posted to my astronomy group's mailing list today. I haven't changed any names to protect the guilty or anything, but it gives some idea of the number of crazy people who drive on long, twisty roads in order to grab some sky.

Weather at Coe was comfortable for observing. Temp hovered around 45, and there wasn't a lot of wind. The fog mostly covered the valley, and stayed away from all of us until a little after midnight.

My triumph of the night was getting my scope collimated. This sounds silly until I realize that I've never actually managed to get it in decent working order on my own before now. Last summer, Larry introduced me to the world of barlowed laser collimation, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around it until now. Well, I got things mostly aligned before I left home, and then fine-tuned up at Coe. Ahhhhhhhhhhh, success. Thanks to everyone who's ever patiently tried to help me with this!

This was also the first night out under dark skies for my 17mm Orion Stratus eyepiece. I'd been pretty disappointed with it here under the lights in San Jose because I kept getting reflections of my face in all of that glass. Under dark skies, however, it was an entirely different beast. Absolutely spectacular view of the Orion nebula. It is filling the higher quality, multi-purpose niche I had planned for it very nicely.

Seeing last night was decent enough that I had an opportunity to really mag up on some planets and enjoy. Mars was very nice through my 4.8mm Nagler, especially once Peter lent me his orange Mars filter. After I gave that back, I tried my plain old moon filter and I think I'll be happy looking through that. Not much detail to be seen, but I had myself convinced that I saw something darkish in one spot.

Also looking lovely at high mag was Saturn. (Thanks for reminding me it was up there, Daniel. And for sharing your meteorite samples-cool!!!) I could not believe how crisp and clear it looked. Aside from seeing a bit of differentiation in the rings, I saw some bands of color on the planet itself. What a thing of beauty!

It was nice to have a night to just putter. When I asked Peter about "that big fuzzy spot right there" I was delighted to learn it was the Beehive cluster, and had a good time looking at that in both my regular XT8 and the new ST80 I got at the SJAA swapmeet. Tony showed me the "37 cluster" in Orion which was a hoot, and probably my favorite new-to-me thing of the night.

The Feb Sky & Telescope has an article about Serius B that caught my eye. Many of you more experienced hands will be shocked, shocked I tell you to learn that I did not see it with my 8" of aperture last night. :)

And of course, the best of all was being out under the stars with a bunch of wonderful and like-minded people. I've been missing you guys! It's an inspiring crowd, and I always come home too excited to sleep. I hope everyone made it back down through the fog ok, and look forward to more good observing nights soon.

There you have it, folks, my first observation report of the new year! And, as a bonus for those of you who stuck through that report to the bitter end, I will now link to the incredible must-have product for all space cadets. (Thank you, Bad Astronomer.)


Roni said...

I have to say, again, that it's great that you've found a hobby that can last. Not many people have those. On top of that you've managed to share that excitement with your friends and family in a way that makes us more excited about it, too. Again, not many people can do that without coming off as boring or pushy. I've found myself remembering more about the stars lately instead of saying, "huh, that's interesting" and then promptly thinking about something else.

Glad to hear that you're getting outside again after all of that rain.

Roni said...

Oh, and Peter's Darwin shirt came in the mail today. It looks way cool! Thanks for the shout out on your blog :)