The View from Afar

My birthday present from my wife arrived today (it was backordered)… an Orion Skyquest XT10 Dobsonian Telescope. This is a 10″ Newtonian Reflector (primary optical element is a parabolic mirror) mounted on a Dobsonian-style alt-azimuth mounting.

I’ve been an astronomy buff ever since I was a kid. We used to take family vacations to an island off the coast of Maine, where my father grew up. The view of the night sky on a clear summer’s night was breathtaking. Far from the light polution of the cities and suburbia, the sky was awash with stars. On some nights the Milky Way was so bright that it could be mistaken for a cloud at first. Ever one to need to master my environment through knowledge, I bought books on astronomy and began to learn my way around the night sky.

Last summer, we had a real family vacation… my parents, my brother and his fiance, and my family all rented a house on the island for a couple of weeks. As always, the wonderfully clear night sky rekindled my interest in astronomy. In addition to picking up a couple of new books, I picked up a magazine, and learned about the upcoming (at the time) Mars’ opposition in August, which would be the closest Mars and Earth had been to each other in around 30,000 years. After we returned from vacation, I continued to spend time outsite at night, albeit with alot of light polution. I continued to improve my knowledge of the constellations, and tracked Mars’ progress as it grew in brightness each night. Adding to my interest was my son, who at 8 years old is intensely curious and loves to learn about the planets and stars. Teaching him is as much fun as learning myself.

Since that time, my interest has continued. Over the past few months, first Saturn, then Venus, and now Jupiter have come onto the nightly scene along with Mars, which is still visible although much fainter than it was last August. Through it all I’ve lamented my lack of telescope. I have a smaller telescope my parents gave me years ago, but the eyepieces are lost. Every time I considered buying new eyepieces, I ended up contemplating a larger scope instead. It’s finally here, and it’s even bigger than I expected. Of course, tonight was cloudy, but not a total wash. The clouds were mostly high, thin cirrus clouds, so some celestial citizens were visible, if a bit hazy. I got a nice view of Jupiter, including four of the moons, and some visibility of the darker cloud bands. I spent alot of time tryng to see Saturn (I still need to better align my finder scope in daylight). When I finally found it, I giggled like a madman. When I increased the magnification a bit (100x), I was stunned. Incredible. I called everyone outside.

My first supplemental purchase will be a Barlow lens, a device that increases the magnification of any eyepiece. While magnification is not the most important feature of a scope (light gathering power is), for planetary viewing, higher magnifications are very useful. After seeing Jupiter’s clouds and Saturn’s rings at 100x, I’m reallying looking forward to a closer look. Common Barlow options include 2x, 2.5x, and 3x; any of these will make a nice improvement to my views of the planets.

Eventually, I’d like to start a second blog dedicated to astronomy. I’ve tinkered with it a bit locally on my Powerbook, and I have some ideas for how I’d like to set it up. However, I have a couple of projects I need to deal with first. For now, I have a lot of sky to explore.

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2 Responses to “The View from Afar”

  1. Sean Says:

    Camera<br/>

    See if you can somehow hold your digital camera up to the eyepiece and take a picture for us..:)

  2. Florian Warners Says:

    light pollution<br/>

    Do you have pictures of light pollution a few years ago and recent?