Monday, November 7, 2011

Jupiter Gazing

For the past few weeks I've noticed Jupiter hanging in the Eastern sky in the evenings from the front yard.  I keep telling myself that I'll get the old telescope out and see if it still works.  So, last night I actually did (in spite of the birthday party going on inside, 12 kids in the house is a good reason to hide in the yard.)  I have an old Meade Saturn reflector telescope, it's been sitting idle for years.  Found a few of the set screws are missing, and the equatorial mount is a bit loose, but I was able to put it together.

Brought it to the side yard between the houses, a bit shadowed from the porch lights of the neighborhood.  Very few stars are visible these days in the Northern Virginia area, lots of light pollution combined with the hazy sky.  I didn't bother aligning the equatorial mount for the scope, and the spotting scope is off kilter (that's where the set screws are missing).  First I did some views of the Moon, trying to capture the edge where you can see some terrain relief.  I could play for hours viewing the Moon, something about it is fascinating, probably because I read too much Heinlein.  The twins braved the chilly evening to see what was going on and seemed to think it was cool.

I spent some time finding Jupiter, which would have been easier if I had bothered to set up the telescope correctly; also had to play around to remember which eyepiece to use when scanning.  When I finally found it and saw 4 of the moons lined up next to it I was unexpectedly excited.  I was able to get all of the kids to parade through and take a look through the eyepiece, which went well as long as they followed the rule for "no touching the telescope while looking through" (had to re-find Jupiter once.)

A couple of the kids said they could make out banding on the planet.  I figured that was just artifacts from the telescope being dirty or something, but later I looked again and I agree, I think we could actually make out some banding.  Without the equatorial mount set up right the planet would zoom across the view at higher magnification, so fixing the alignment would make it easier to keep in view and get some more detail.

So, has the stargazing bug bit me?  We'll see if I get the telescope out more often, fix the missing pieces, and figure out how to properly use it.  Anyone up for a star party this winter?