It’s hard to believe tonight was the first night I’ve gone on an observing session since we moved into the house (and, in fact, probably long before…). Of course, I’ve taken the scope out to view the moon, or the odd planet, but those events hardly count. And with beautifully clear skies (albeit quite bright) and wonderful weather, I could hardly pass up such a wonderful opportunity.
Of course, with Jupiter currently big and bright in the sky, it goes without saying that I started there. The Galilean Moons put on an lovely show tonight, with Calisto and Europa to one side, and Io and Ganymede to the other, forming a nice chain with the planet in the center. As for Jupiter itself, tonight had to be the finest seeing I’ve had of the gas giant, allowing me to view the atmospheric banding clearly. This, by itself, was worth the effort to lug my scope outside.
With my appetite whetted, I decided to split one of the most famous multiple star systems in the sky: Mizar. This star forms the bend in the handle of the Big Dipper, and in a dark sky, it’s 4th magnitude companion Alcor can be seen with a good unaided eye. In my 4” scope, Mizar itself was easily split into it’s two components, Mizar A and the 4th magnitude Mizar B, forming a nice pairing. I just can’t believe I’ve never observed it before, or that it’s the first double I’ve split. Very lovely.
Next, I decided to move on to some deep sky objects. Now, because of our northern latitude, and the fact that I chose to observe just a few days after the solstice, the sky is quite bright. As such, I chose the Hercules Cluster, aka M13, as my next target. This bright (magnitude 4.5) globular cluster is very prominent in the northern sky, which makes it all the more surprising that I hadn’t observed it before. In my eyepiece, it forms a surprisingly bright, fuzzy blob with ill-defined edges. Of course, my telescope isn’t powerful enough to resolve any member stars, but it’s still an impressive object to observe. Especially when one realizes it’s composed of several 100,000 stars…
Lastly, with one deep sky object under my belt, I decided to go for another. This time, M39. This open cluster near Cygnus is remarkably large, easily filling my wide field, low mag eyepiece. It’s quite pretty, with many stars of varying brightness. A lovely object to observe.
So, with that, my observing session was complete. However, I was given one last treat. Far off in the northern sky, high altitude clouds were reflecting light from the sun, which never really sets at this time of year. But, rather than red or orange, as is typical, these clouds appeared a ghostly blue. The resulting pattern looked like light refracting through a pool of water. Absolutely beautiful.
As an aside, tonight was also the first night I had the opportunity to use my Palm for observing purposes. I gave Planetarium a whirl, and I gotta say, it was excellent! Having an easy-to-read starchart in my pocket is incredibly convenient, and with Night Mode, I can read the chart without needing a filtered flashlight. Fantastic! This is definitely a program I’m going to purchase.
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