Tonight was the night to give it a spin again. Granted, there were many reasons not to.
- The mirror is filthy, hasn’t been cleaned in years! (But on Mars, Opportunity’s solar panels are also covered in dust and working at only a fraction of their capability, but it’s in its FIFTEENTH YEAR of its ninety day mission, so suck it up, Buttercup.)
- With all of the rattling around over the past few months, the optics probably aren’t aligned at all! (They’re not perfect, but they work.)
- There’s no way that pesky finder ‘scope is still aligned! (I must have done a hell of a job the last time I aligned it, it was still spot on.)
- I can’t find any of the eyepieces, even after looking through box after box last night! (Okay, this one almost stopped me, and in a day or two I’ll have more to say about the problem in general, but this was solved by a quick trip to Woodland Hills Camera & Telescope, a wonderful place that happens to only be a half mile from my office.)
- I’m in the middle of LA with all of that light pollution! (True – so what?)
- There’s some haze building up tonight! (Again, true, but it’s far from being a show stopper.)
Fortunately, after spending half the day listening to my stupid head think up excuses to not even try, I finally decided to put on my big boy pants and “waste” a couple of hours seeing what could be seen.
Even with the fuzzy, dirty optics, the phase of Venus could been seen. I would have guessed about 60% to 65% illuminated – the National Observatory app says 69.2%. Close enough for government work.
Jupiter is (as always) spectacular. The four Galilean moons are clearly visible as well as multiple cloud bands on Jupiter.
I moved the scope around the yard a bit – the trees there are bigger and block more of the sky than I had thought before I tried to point a telescope through them. But there’s a nice spot over on the patio where the light from the streetlights in the front is all blocked, while there’s a lot of clear sky toward the zenith and toward the south. I think that’s a winner for now.
From there, Scorpius is clearly visible. That’s also looking toward the coast (south) and that’s where that haze was the worst, so there wasn’t a lot to see in the Milky Way and all of the nebulosity areas down around the tail of the scorpion and over toward Capricorn. (But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be better seeing on another night now that I know where to set up the scope.)
From most of the back yard the North Star, Polaris, is clearly visible above the houses next door. The hill starts to drop off that way, which means that I don’t have someone’s second story blocking my view. That in turn means that it’s a piece of cake to eyeball the alignment of the telescope stand, pointing the polar axis straight at the pole. Which meant that with the drive turned on, there was almost no drift all night, even when I let it sit and run for well over an hour. That’s awesome!
All of that in turn meant that I should have been able to spot M-13 in Hercules, the big globular cluster that should have been almost straight overhead. I didn’t. Probably a combination of the haze, the dirty optics, the light pollution, and being more than just a bit rusty in remembering which guide stars to use to point it in the right directions. A minor disappointment, but one which can be rectified with a bit of research and a bit of practice. This failure shall not stand!
The neighborhood hawk has a nest just down the hill and I could hear it calling almost constantly until the sun set. Or maybe the neighborhood hawk was out silently hunting while her chicks were calling almost constantly until sunset. It was amazing to listen to.
Several times after dark I heard an owl – not too surprising since I heard them at the old house at night and we only moved less than a mile. It was amazing to listen to also. I would love to see it some time.
If you’re quiet you can hear frogs. Down at the bottom of the hill are the flood control channels that used to be Bell Creek, which in turn form up with a bunch of other local creeks to form the LA River a mile or two away. But the creeks aren’t 100% concrete and blacktop these days with some efforts to let them go back to a more natural state where possible in some areas – I suspect that’s where I’m hearing the frogs.
The 737’s coming into Burbank Runway 08 were lining up right over the house tonight as they come down the coast from San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland, Seattle, San Jose, and so on. They’re at about 5,000 feet as they go overhead, which is about 4,000+ feet over ground level, but it seems like they’re much lower. It’s fun, so long as I’m not doing astrophotography.
Despite the bats (I love the bats!) in the evening, we still have a few mosquitoes. Probably from the same place as the frogs.
It’s only July 2nd, but there are fireworks going off all over the place. Often followed nearly immediately by police sirens. Because every now and then the police sirens are followed by fire truck sirens. It’s way too hot and dry for this shit, but people are morons.
Having easily lined up Jupiter with my dirty, misaligned optics (riding on a rock solid alignment of the polar axis!) can I take a picture using only my cell phone camera being hand held up to the eyepiece lens?
Why, yes! Yes I can! It’s not going to rival anything done by NASA, but as with the dancing bear, it’s not that it’s not being done well, it’s that it’s being done at all.
How about with a bigger eyepiece?
Dang, you can actually see those aforementioned Galilean moons! To get them the disk of Jupiter’s overexposed so you don’t see the bands, but that doesn’t completely suck.
What are we looking at here?
Europa, Callisto, Ganymede, and Io. Better yet, wondering about Ganymede so close to the planet, was it coming out from behind, going behind, going in front? Yes, the app could tell me that, but it was more fun to check back in a couple of hours. (It was coming out from a transit, passing from right to left across the face of the planet and moving off toward the lower left, nearer to Callisto.)
And if I had clean optics and at least slightly better viewing conditions and could stay up for a few more hours, I could watch Ganymede’s shadow cross the face of Jupiter.