Autumn arrived mid-week here in the Heart of America, but you wouldn’t have known it by looking at the weather forecast: Mid 90s and moderately high humidity. Also with the change of the seasons, I retired my FitBit Charge (or rather it retired itself by falling apart) and upgraded to a Samsung Gear Fit2. The new fitness tracker is spurring me on to be more active, although my sleep pattern hasn’t improved much. I can safely blame work (10 pm to 4 am conference call on a Saturday night/Sunday morning) and astronomy, which requires, well, dark skies, for my reduced snooze time.
I’m amazed at how much I accomplished this past weekend, especially considering my husband had major surgery less than three weeks ago.
Friday night was our first venture out on a ‘date’ since the surgery. I signed up for a free lecture and screening at the National World War I Museum and Memorial entitled “Talking Tolkien: The Two Towers.” We arrived about fifteen minutes early to enjoy some hors d’oeuvres and drinks. We retired to the auditorium and waited a few minutes. At ten minutes or so after the hour, the lecturer strolled up to the podium and gave a meandering introduction of upcoming events in a clear effort to stall. He wanted to give the people in the lobby time to finish eating.
His lecture on Tolkien’s experiences during the Battle of the Somme was quite brief and rushed, not at all what I had been hoping for. He further devolved into a montage of photographs from the Museum’s collection delivered in the manner of a television show’s “Previously on …” wrap of the Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring. You could clearly see where Tolkien (and probably Peter Jackson) got his inspiration for scenes from Middle Earth and the conflict immortalized in the Lord of the Rings. After the lecture, the screening of The Two Towers began, for which Terry and I stayed only about thirty minutes before deciding the movie viewing experience was better at home.
Once back home, I decided to break out the Celestron C8 I had recently borrowed from my astronomy club. Despite dire predictions, the sky remained perfectly clear so I looked forward to an evening of planetary observing, since all five visible planets are ripe for the plucking at this time of year. I got everything attached to the tripod and manhandled it outside to my lower patio, giving it a quick leveling and orientation north so I could get through a polar alignment swiftly. Then I just had to wait for darkness to fall enough for me to see Polaris with my naked eye. Continue reading “Grande Finale to a Grand Weekend”
Very early Friday morning, I caught the waning moon approaching Jupiter and Aldebaran. You could draw a line from Venus to Moon and cross over or near Jupiter. The skies were clear and should stay clear throughout the day and into the night, with a forecasted high in the mid-80s, twenty degrees below what we’ve been experiencing for the past several weeks.
Friday at work was a whirlwind of meetings, including one held off site at another local law firm. I got home a bit early because one of my vanpool riders took the day off, but within fifteen minutes of getting home, my son and daughter-in-law arrived from their all-day road trip from North Texas. We visited with them for an hour and half, when they left to drive into Kansas City to spend the evening with several of their friends who still live in the area.
Terry cooked an excellent southern comfort food type dinner of chicken-fried minute steaks, organic green beans with turkey bacon, mashed potatoes and home-made white gravy. Too bad the kids didn’t hang around long enough to chow down with us. Terry and I let our food digest a bit, watching the Olympics until the skies darkened enough for some star gazing.
I grabbed the XT8 (affectionately known as ‘Dob’) and carefully carried it out to the lower backyard. This time I took a small table to put my charts on. I set my case of eyepieces on the ground. I brought out the Intelliscope handheld device to attempt an alignment. This device, unlike my ETX-90’s AutoStar, is only used to identify objects, not ‘go to’ them (since the XT8 does not have any motors). The Intelliscope can help you find objects with a warm/cold kind of seeking system. I still haven’t bought a stool to lean against, so my back aches a bit this morning. I did a two star alignment, finding and centering Arcturus first, then Vega.
I wanted to revisit the Double Double in Lyra to both confirm that I could find it by star hopping and to attempt to see the double within the double. I asked the Intelliscope to ID what I had centered in the eyepiece and it claimed I’d found the Crab Nebula. Hmmm. That’s in the constellation Taurus, which isn’t visible until early morning hours in the east. I must have done something wrong in the alignment process. I powered off the Intelliscope device and made a note to myself to re-read the manual in the morning. Since I’d already found Vega, I spent several minutes comparing my star atlas to what I was seeing in the finderscope. I found Epsilon Lyrae and observed it with 26mm, 15mm, 9mm and a 2x barlow (using the 26mm and 15mm). Despite the apparent clearness of the skies, I did detect some haziness and thin stratus clouds overhead. That may have inhibited my ability to split the doubles within the doubles.
I hopped over to Albireo in Cygnus, just to make sure I could find it again without referring to my star atlas. I used a trick I had read about from some artists who do astronomical sketching where you defocus the stars, especially doubles, to discern their different colors. I did this while observing Albireo and I could clearly see the red and blue for each star in the double. I stretched my back for a few minutes and stared off to the northeast, at Cassiopeia, which I could clearly see as a distinctive ‘W’ shape. I could not see the constellation Perseus, but I did see one or two meteors radiating from the space between Cassiopeia and where Perseus should have been visible (but wasn’t because of the haze and light pollution from the prison just north of my location).
I returned to the scope and began a star hop around Lyra in search of M57, also known as the Ring Nebula. This was a test, for me, not only of my ability to find this fuzzy smoke ring, but also of an 8-inch telescope’s ability to cut through the obstacles inherent at my closest observing site (my backyard). I surprised myself. I found the nebula, quicker than I thought I would, and I even saw it through the finderscope. It probably helped that Lyra was almost straight up above me and the telescope, meaning I had less atmosphere to peer through. Using averted vision, with the 9mm, I could clearly see the ring. I used the background stars to focus, because you can’t really focus well on a smudge that’s fuzzy and faint.
Since I found and saw a nebula with the XT8, I wanted to see if I could find a globular cluster next. And I just happened to know where one was. M13 in the ‘armpit’ of Hercules (see chart above) happened to be overhead, somewhere between Altair and Arcturus. I had some trouble locating the stars that make up Hercules with my naked eye. I took several minutes, stretching my back, to peer overhead, but towards the west, and Arcturus. Eventually, the star dots connected in my mind’s eye and I found the constellation. I oriented the XT8 to the general vicinity where I thought M13 would be. I think I saw it through the finderscope, although I can’t remember specifically. Using the 26mm eyepiece, I centered the globular cluster in my field of view and proceeded to observe this large dense cluster for several minutes with various magnifications.
I stared off into the northeast again, still trying to find Perseus and also Pegasus. If I could see the Andromeda Galaxy (also known as M31), I would achieve a triple crown of astronomical observing from my backyard with the XT8 (1: nebula; 2: globular cluster; 3: galaxy). I spent nearly a half an hour, roaming around my backyard, changing my point of view and line of sight to the northeast and east. I found Cepheus, but no matter how hard I squinted or averted my eyes, I could not clearly identify the box that makes up the body of Pegasus. Frustrated, and with an aching back, I decided to call it a night at about half past eleven o’clock.
I returned the telescope to the band room and replaced all the dust caps. I hugged my hubby, for he had brought me a refreshing freshly made strawberry lemonade to enjoy while bending over the telescope for hours. Off to bed and sleep, at least until the dogs started barking when Derek and Royna returned home (sometime after midnight and before five – not exactly sure as I tried to sleep through the commotion).
My alarm only fires off on weekdays, but most days I wake up fifteen minutes early. Not Saturday morning though. When I cleared the sleep from my eyes and checked the clock on my cell phone, it read 5:45 a.m. and I could already tell the eastern horizon was brightening. I grabbed the tripod and camera and went out to the driveway to take a photo of the Moon approaching Jupiter.
If I happened to live in the Pacific, today I would be able to observe the moon occulting Jupiter. But I won’t be too disappointed, since I can observe the moon occulting Venus next Monday afternoon, between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. I plan to take a pair of binoculars and my camera equipment with me to work. I will setup on the top of the parking garage and hope I have a clear line-of-sight through the buildings to the west to see the occultation as it occurs.
Saturday evening I headed south to Louisburg to volunteer for my second scheduled night of the 2012 Powell Observatory public season. My dad decided to tag along, to enjoy the show and help keep me awake for the long drive home. We left Lansing about twenty minutes after five and my car’s external thermometer reported 106 to 107 degrees, which has been our afternoon average for about a week now, give or take two or three degrees either way. We stopped in Bonner Springs to grab a quick, cool sandwich from Subway and returned to the highway just shortly after six o’clock. I needed to be at Powell Observatory by seven o’clock to help prepare the facility for the weekly public program and observing night.
As we approached Louisburg from the north, I noticed a definite increase in the wind, so much so that my car was jostled several times. At the same time, I noticed a significant drop in the external temperature. By the time I exited US-69, the thermometer read 92 degrees, and was still falling. Except for early mornings the past couple of weeks, I had not seen or felt such low temperatures while the sun still shone. I pulled into the west observing field parking area and realized I was again the first person to arrive. Since the temperature had dropped, I turned off the car and opened all the windows. The breeze felt incredibly refreshing.
My team leader arrived within a few minutes and I received my Powell Observatory ‘Staff’ T-shirt, which I changed into as soon as the building was unlocked. I helped setup the class room for the program, ‘Sounds of Space.’ Another ASKC member arrived and setup his ten-inch Dobsonian for solar observing and I caught a glimpse of some great sunspots before our public guests began arriving. The clouds provided some dramatic solar observing situations.
I repeated my role as gatekeeper and accepted donations from the public and queried them for their ZIP codes to record for future grant petitions. The first group of twenty-five guests began the ‘Sounds of Space’ program at 8:30 p.m., but I soon had at least that many waiting for the second showing. At one point as I sat waiting for more guests to arrive, what I thought was a stray dog wandered into the observing field, soon followed by three horses, two with riders and a third colt between them. They trotted across the field to the west, with the dog trailing after, riding off into the sunset … literally.
As the sky continued to darken, despite a few wispy clouds, we opened the dome so those waiting for the next program could observe Saturn and a globular cluster found in the constellation Scorpius. I didn’t get a chance to look at the cluster through the 30-inch scope, but I believe they looked at M4, which is near the bright star Antares.
We ended up having nearly ninety public guests Saturday evening and ran a third showing of our program. After the last two guests had left the dome a bit after eleven o’clock, I quickly snuck a peak at the Ring Nebula in the constellation Lyra, one of the Messier Objects I’ve been trying go get a glimpse of for quite some time. Lyra is also home to the very bright star Vega, one of the three stars that form the Summer Triangle.
As the final guests drove away, my team members and I began cleaning the building and storing chairs, tables and other items for the next Saturday. I signed myself out of the Observatory at 11:35 and gathered up my dad for the long drive home. He related information he’d gleaned from another team members about various types of Dobsonian telescopes and helped keep me alert as we sped north towards Leavenworth County.
Next week, we present a program on ‘Our Amazing Moon’ and the following week we’ll pose the question ‘Is There Life Out There?’ We look forward to showing you the astronomical sights (and sounds).
I left work Friday afternoon in a pouring rain. Nothing unusual in the grand scheme of things. It is late March and Spring had sprung this week, which usually brings rain. An entire week of rain, in fact. I had hoped, against all evidence to the contrary, that the rain would let up earlier in the day on Friday. I resigned myself to retrieving my vanpool riders and slogging through rain drenched traffic for the next hour. I wanted to participate in my astronomy club‘s Messier Marathon, but just didn’t think the effort would equal the returns. I would have to pack up all of my astronomical observing equipment (telescope, tripod, eyepieces, control device, cables, portable battery, sky charts, observing aids, red flashlight, chair, some kind of table, etc) and then drive over an hour to the dark sky site way south near Butler, Missouri. Early indications from other club members reported the dark sky site field was very wet and since I don’t own a four-wheel drive truck or SUV, I decided to stay in Lansing.
I had permission from my city council representative to contact the Chief of Police to make arrangements to use one of the city parks after dark. I hesitated to bother the police. That is a huge hassle to overcome, for me anyway. And I still needed to re-train my telescope’s Alt/Az drives before packing them up, since that process requires daylight and a terrestrial object to focus upon. Clouds still scudded across the sky while I set the telescope up outside on the lower back patio. I trained the drives for five or ten minutes and then powered down the telescope until later in the evening.
After watching a couple of episodes of Jeopardy and squeezing in my exercise routine (and making my legs wobbly and rubbery by trying a longer version of one of the higher intensity activities), I slipped back outside to see how many stars were visible at just a few minutes past eight o’clock. I spied the small sliver of a new crescent moon hovering just over my neighbor’s roof so I grabbed my camera (already on it’s tripod) and took a few photos (two of which I am including in this post). I even got Terry outside long enough to witness the new moon and point out how much higher Venus has gotten over Jupiter in a week since the last time I photographed the pair of them.
By the time I finished snapping a few photographs, I had enough bright stars to attempt an alignment of the telescope with my newly retrained drives. The Autostar easy alignment selected Sirius in Canis Major as the first star in the alignment process. After I found and centered the Dog Star, the next stop on the alignment workflow became Capella in the constellation Auriga, another easily spotted star in the evening sky. The Autostar reported a successful alignment so now for the first real test of the retrained drives. I instructed the device to find Jupiter. Surprise! The telescope found Jupiter on the first try! I did have to recenter Jupiter and it’s four glorious moons in the eyepiece, but I did not have to use either of my finder scopes. I inserted a 2x barlowe and a 26mm eyepiece and could clearly see the cloud striations on Jupiter. I could even see a hint of color. I again pulled Terry out to the telescope to take a look at the gas giant and its beautiful alignment of moons.
Next stop on my pre-Messier tour became Venus. Again the Autostar found our sister planet successfully. I only had to re-center the very bright planet in my eyepiece. I should have put a filter on the eyepiece, because even at only half-full, Venus almost hurt my eyes to look at. I felt confident enough in the telescopes alignment and the retrained drives to begin my mini-Messier Marathon.
My Messier Marathon Observer’s Form lists the objects in a ‘best viewed in this order’ arrangement. I knew I would not be able to observe the first two items on the list, due to the nature of my site. My house rests in a valley, behind a large hill to my west. In addition, I have several tall trees in my backyard, as do my neighbors to the west and north. Thanks to the highway just a couple of blocks to my west, I have ample ambiance (aka light pollution) and nearly all my neighbors must be afraid of the dark because they insist on illuminating nearly all exterior surfaces of their residences. Still, I told the Autostar to go find M77, a spiral galaxy also known as Cetus A. Unfortunately, the telescope came to rest pointing northwest, through at least three trees. I moved on to the next item, M74, another spiral galaxy in the constellation Pisces. But again, I saw only trees. A shame, really, as I would love to see that beautiful spiral galaxy (shown in photo above and to the left).
The next three stops on the observation list also happened to be galaxies, including the famous Andromeda galaxy, designated as M31 on the Messier list of objects. Since the telescope did not move appreciable away from the area of M77 and M74, I again couldn’t see the stars for the forest. Yet another galaxy I desperately want to observe, so to ease the pain of defeat, I’ll provide another image of that marvelous gem. The image above and to the right also includes M32, one of the other two galaxies I couldn’t observe.
I began using my Sky & Telescope Pocket Sky Atlas to assist me in locating Messier objects that I could actually view in my limited sky scape. The Pocket Sky Atlas‘s last pages contains an index of Messier objects and the star chart they appear on. I skimmed through the list of the next few objects and determined that M45 could be seen with the naked eyes. The Pleiades is an open star cluster. I still told the telescope to go find it and spent a few minutes marveling at the cluster of bright stars peering back at me through the eyepiece. Finally, I got to check off one of the 110 objects on my Messier Marathon Observer’s Form, writing 8:42 p.m. in the blank provided.
The next two objects I found easily included M42 and M43, both found in Orion’s sword and more commonly known as the Great Orion Nebulae and De Marian’s Nebula (really part of the other one or an extension of it). I wrote 9:07 p.m. in the blanks on my form.
I spent the next thirty to forty minutes trying to track down several objects I should have been able to find since they were south or directly overhead. I could not find the Crab Nebula (M1) and began to suspect I had messed up the alignment on the telescope. I had nudged a tripod leg more than once, so I reverted the Autostar to star mode and went searching for Rigel, Betelgeuse, Sirius and Capella again to retune the alignment. After that, I was successful in viewing several star clusters, including M44 (aka the Beehive Cluster), M48 and M50 (between 9:45 and 9:51 p.m.).
I got even more excited when I spied M95 on the list just two below M44. This spiral galaxy gained fame this past week by spouting a supernova. My earlier research also showed that Mars was just a few degrees away from M95. So I took a few minutes to realign the telescope and enjoy the ruddy beauty of the fourth planet in our solar system. Then I went on the hunt for M95. I spent many frustrating minutes attempting to find the elusive spiral galaxy but to no avail. The skies above Lansing are just not dark enough for my small telescope. It can’t gather enough light and my aging eyes can’t ever seem to get acclimated to the annoying and obscuring local ground illumination to spot such a faint (9.7 in magnitude) object. By a quarter after ten, I decided enough was enough.
And, for some unknown reason, the telescope had twice decided to go off on a tangent, causing the altitude drive to run off for no reason and would not stop when I entered commands into the Autostar. Hmmm. There must be a bug in the latest firmware I downloaded last week. I should probably hook the laptop up to it today and see if a ‘fix’ has been made available from Meade.
I enjoyed my mini-marathon of Messier objects and learned quite a bit about my abilities and the capabilities of my amateur astronomy equipment. Tonight I will attend the monthly meeting of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City and tomorrow I will probably head south to Powell Observatory for a training session on the club’s large telescope. By Monday, I should have purged my system of all astronomical cravings, at least until the next new moon.
Much of my March will revolve around Mars. For example, this Saturday, March 3rd, according to Sky & Telescope‘s ‘This Week’s Sky at a Glance‘ (both for this past week and the one ahead), Mars shines highest in the south, in the sharpest telescopic view, around midnight.
Mars is at opposition, appearing opposite the Sun in Earth’s sky. This is the most distant opposition of Mars in its 15-year cycle of oppositions near and far, so the planet appears only 13.9 arcseconds wide. At its next time around in April 2014, Mars will reach a diameter of 15.2″.
My goal is to stay up late enough on Saturday night to allow the moon to set (or almost set) and Mars to be either directly overhead or just over the top and falling towards the western horizon. That will optimize my viewing, reducing the amount of atmosphere I must look through and minimizing the effect of the light pollution in my area.
For this first weekend of March, I think I will limit myself to my own backyard. I did receive the new power cord I ordered for the ETX-90 yesterday, so I will test that out tonight with the portable battery pack my father reconditioned and gifted to me. The following weekend will present more difficulties observing Mars since the Full Moon will be two days old on Saturday the 10th.
Just a day or two after the vernal equinox I hope to join other members of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City (ASKC) in the annual Messier Marathon – an attempt to find as many Messier Objects as possible during one night. Since the new moon occurs just two days after the equinox, my only concern would be clouds to obscure an otherwise perfect dark night sky. I don’t plan on needing a tent, since I wouldn’t be sleeping until the sun broke over the eastern horizon anyway. I will really regret giving up drinking tea and coffee (or any kind of beverage except water) for Lent during that long night. I just hope the excitement of discovery will keep me awake.
While I scanned the early evening skies for Mercury, Terry stayed at home, installing a secondary finder scope on my telescope. I bought the red LED finder scope months ago because the original finder scope attached to my ETX-90 becomes unusable at near vertical viewing orientations. Only the larger ETX-105 and ETX-125 came with a right-angle view finder.
Now all I needed to do was dial it in. And I had at least two (if not three) easily seen objects to do it with. I took the telescope out on the lower patio and set it up. I opted to do an easy align this time with the Autostar handheld device and thankfully it picked Sirius as the first star to align upon. Sirius was the first non-planet object I saw after sunset earlier in the evening during my hunt for Mercury. After Jupiter, I saw Sirius appear about thirty minutes after sunset. The Dog Star was clearly visible through the bare branches of my mulberry tree and the Autostar got within five degrees of it on the first try. So, I at least had oriented the telescope to it’s home position on it’s mount correctly this time.
The second star for the easy alignment was Pollux, the twin to Castor in the constellation Gemini. Since my house is over two stories tall and I had setup the telescope ten feet west of the tallest part of it, seeing the constellation Gemini was quite a challenge. The two brightest stars (Castor and Pollux) had just peaked over the roof. Then I had a moment of panic. Which one of the two is Pollux? I knew Castor was brighter (because it’s actually a binary or double-star that I hope to one day see separately) so I zeroed in on the less bright star. The Autostar reported a successful alignment. Incidentally, Castor is the ‘star of the week’ over at Earthsky.
To test how successful the alignment might or might not be, I told the Autostar to go find Venus. Since I could clearly see Venus shining brightly next to the Moon, I knew I would be able to further tune the alignment of the telescope and the new finder scope using it as a guide star. The Autostar again got the telescope within five degrees (or less) of Venus so I proceeded to update the red LED finder scope’s focus. I had been so focused on my finder scopes that when I put my eye to the telescope’s eyepiece I realized I hadn’t even gotten one out of the case yet! I grabbed a 26mm eyepiece and quickly focused on Venus, but it was so bright I couldn’t get a crisp clean focus. I at least centered it in the telescope’s field of view and let the Autostar slew for a few minutes. Venus kept creeping slowly out of the center (nothing new but something I need to look into). Next stop, Jupiter.
Again, the Autostar got close, but not quite. I’m beginning to think I need to recalibrate and retrain the drives in the ETX-90 mount. Jupiter in all it’s glory with four moons visible (two on either side). I grabbed Terry out of the band room to take a quick look, but he retreated back inside because of the cold. I hardly noticed it, having stood outside during sunset for over and hour and now observing from the backyard in just a t-shirt and jeans (the house provided a substantial windbreak).
At this point, I was happy with the installation, configuration and usefulness of the new red LED finder scope. What could I attempt observing before packing up everything and returning it to the band room? Ah! Something in Orion. Thankfully, Orion appeared high in the sky, almost due south (just a bit to the east). Since I suffer from an extreme light pollution epidemic in Lansing, the higher up an object, the better to minimize the amount of light and atmosphere I need to peer through. Having a clear cold night to make the air dense also helps. I searched the Autostar’s object database and found the Great Orion Nebula. Fetch! I said and off the telescope went.
The telescope stopped in the general vicinity of the belt of Orion. I didn’t think that was the exact location of the Orion Nebula, so I grabbed my Sky & Telescope Pocket Star Atlas and confirmed the location as being in the sword, not the belt. Using both finder scopes, I slowly got the telescope oriented on the objects in the sword. Using the eyepiece, I slowly scanned the much smaller field of view and saw a grey cloud like smudge pass by. I stopped. I returned to the smudge. This must be it! I put in a stronger magnification eyepiece and spent several minutes taking in the sights of a nebula. Only long exposures with very sensitive camera equipment equatorially mounted … or the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit (outside of our dirty atmosphere) … can produce stunning color images like this one:
I hope it was the Orion Nebula. I am almost convinced it was, but since my telescope is a reflector (not a refractor), the image I view in the eyepiece is not only upside down, but reversed right to left, and almost always black-and-white (or gray). When I compare what I see to a star atlas, I have to do mental spatial gymnastics on the fly. I did get Terry to come out one more time and view the smudge that was a nebula before packing up the telescope and putting astronomy to bed for the night.
I woke up before sunrise this morning (no surprise … I always do that with or without an alarm). I fed the dogs and when I let them out the back patio door, I noticed to bright objects in the western sky. They both had to be Saturn and Mars. I went to Terry’s computer and logged in to my Astronomy.com account (since I subscribe to the electronic edition of Astronomy on my Nook Color, I get ‘extras’ on their website). Using their StarDomePlus Java application, I confirmed the contents of the sky at that exact moment from my location in Lansing. Yes! Mars was the bright spot in the western sky and Saturn appeared just up and to the southwest of it. If only I had gotten up an hour or so earlier, I could have set up the telescope (again) and looked at Mars and Saturn both. I think I just found my next astronomical hunting expedition.
I couldn’t sleep. Not surprisingly, insomnia occurs more frequently as I age. Sometimes, an external force interferes with my snoozing, but I refuse to point fingers.
Laying in bed, staring at the vaulted ceiling in my bedroom, I wished I could wave a hand and temporarily retract the roof. Then I’d be mostly above the treeline and able to setup the telescope for more comfortable viewing.
Sighing, I slipped on my clothes at 3:30 a.m. and retreated downstairs to the vaulted great room, grabbed the telescope I left mounted to the tripod there and took it outside. I quickly realigned it roughly on Polaris and waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. I surveyed the northern sky, quickly found Cassiopeia and Perseus, but the light pollution from the Lansing Correctional Facility and the tall trees in my northern neighbor’s yard didn’t help find Comet Hartley 2. I think a field trip to Perry Lake may be in order for this weekend.
Turning to the southeast, I quickly spied Orion directly over my chimney. I aimed the telescope at Orion’s belt and may have seen a monochromatic glimpse of the Orion Nebula in his sword. Both Orion’s belt and sword contain many nebulae, but I need a darker sky to view them properly. I survey Rigel (beta Orion – brightest star in Orion (left foot) and sixth brightest in the night sky); Betelgeuse (alpha Orion – 2nd brightest star in Orion (right shoulder) and 12th brightest in the night sky); and, Bellatrix (aka ‘the Amazon star’ (left shoulder).
If you draw a line through Orion’s belt, it points to two of the brightest stars in the sky: Sirius (aka ‘the Dog star’ – the brightest star bar none and only 8.6 light years away) and Aldebaran (alpha Taurus and the 13th brightest star).
I turned the telescope to the west, where I found Jupiter peaking through the branches of one of my pine trees. Yep, it was still there and still had moons, although one of the four I observed earlier was hidden behind Jupiter.
I forgot my sweater so after about thirty minutes I brought the telescope back in and should probably retreat back to my quiet dark bedroom. Nah … my alarm goes off in two minutes (it’s now 4:58 a.m.)