Donít You Recognize Me?

Observing notes from the evening of Thursday, April 17, 2014

Iíve been away from the astronomy hobby for way, way too long.  I havenít attended a Raleigh Astronomy Club meeting in years.  I still pay my dues, to support the club, but I just havenít been able to find the time, energy, or even the desire to get to a Friday night meeting or observing session.  Work, kids, family, and the daily grind of life pretty much took up 100% of any effort I had.  Looking at my last notes, it seems I havenít written down an observing session since February of 2005.  Holy Moly!  Thatís nine years!  Almost a decade!  Itís not that I havenít done any astronomy in that time frame.  Iíve used my small refractor for various events, and Iíve followed some of the major astronomical happenings.  The solar transit of Venus, in June of 2012 was spectacular.  But I use to be pretty dedicated to tracking down the various objects that lurk in the night sky, while recording them in my notes to remember and to inspire others.  I canít believe itís been almost a decade since Iíve done any serious astronomy.  I had been working on the Hershel II objects when I was last active.  Time to get back on that list.  Though, not tonight.

Tonight Iím trying to get the feel for a new telescope I purchased.  Well you know me, so you know itís a used telescope.  :)  Iíve been looking on and off for a simple Dobsonian scope that was easy to setup and use.  While I had built a Dobsonian mount for my Meade 10Ē Starfinder, it was still big, bulky, and heavy.  I also wanted to get a scope to possibly ignite an astro-spark in my son.  The telescope I bought is an Orion XT8.  Itís an 8Ē Dobsonian.  The scope has its positives and negatives.  The mirror is so-so, and mount bearings are horrible.  I canít do much about the mirror except to keep the scope perfectly collimated, but I am planning on upgrading the bearings for the mount for smoother motion.  By the end of the observing session, after the mirror had cooled a bit, it was producing some decent images.

I observed a variety of objects tonight.  Though none were new to me, many were like long lost friends that I hadnít seen in ages.  I have been gone for so long, I hope they still recognize me.  My main goal was to get back in the swing of using the telescope.  I didnít even break out my computer, but rather used my Sky Atlas 2000 star charts and hopped my way to various celestial goodies.

While my current observing notes style is to list objects, with my observations, at the end of my write-up, two objects stood out as unique so I want to discuss them in more depth first.  Also, I didnít really do detailed observations of the deep sky objects.  Again it was just a test run of the telescope, and I had a pretty brisk, cold wind that no only made the images kind of shaky, but also didnít motivate me to linger at the eyepiece.

Having just past opposition, Mars was really putting on a great show.  Big, bright and red in the eastern sky after sunset, itís hard to miss or ignore.  While this opposition isnít the best as it can be in regards to distance from earth, itís also not the worse.  Mars is still close enough to give great details in the eyepiece.  The dark albedo areas of Mare Erythreum, Niliacus Lacus, and Mare Acidalium dominated the central area of the planet.  Albedo marking Sinus Sabaeus was also prominent, looking like a finger like protrusion on the left side of the image (inverted because of Newtonian optics).  I could see just a hint of the northern polar cap.  And no, Iím not an expert on Martian albedo markings.  In fact, I canít even pronounce them.  But they are easily identified using maps or software.  My favorite Martian software is Mars Previewer II:

This free software can be downloaded from the Sky & Telescope website.  Input your date, time, and time zone, and it will present an image of what Mars should look like through the eyepiece of your telescope.  Hover your mouse pointer over areas of the image to identify them.

The king of the planets, Jupiter, is also putting on a grand show in the night sky.  Conveniently located in the center of Gemini, it dominates the southwestern sky at sunset.  This giant planet always offers up tantalizing details, whether itís at opposition or not.  All four Jovian satellites were visible, though Ganymede was just starting to peek out from behind, having been hidden earlier.  The two main equatorial belts are readily visible, with the lesser belts hinting at themselves in moments of improved seeing.  What really caught my attention was the Great Red Spot.  The term ďgreatĒ seems to vary since its discovery.  For the last couple of decades, since Iíve been observing it, the spot hasnít been red, but more of a pale salmon color.  In fact, itís been quite subtle and hard for beginners to separate from the southern equatorial belt.  But tonight it looked a bit different.  While most of it was its usual pale salmon color, the center was actually darker, and a bright color of red.  I was shocked to see such a contrast.  It looked like a giant, planetary eyeball!

Below is a list of other objects I hunted down tonight:

M81, galaxy in Ursa Major

M82, galaxy in Ursa Major

M65, galaxy in Leo

M66, galaxy in Leo

M104, galaxy in Virgo

NGC2392, planetary nebula in Gemini

M44, open cluster in Cancer

M67, open cluster in Cancer

The cold, steadily increasing wind finally shut me down for the night.  It was still a great observing session, and it felt good to get back under the night sky again.  As I hauled the rest of my equipment back into the warmth of the house, I could hear the stars saying, ďDonít be a stranger, come back and see us.Ē

Jeffrey L. Polston

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