|Telescope. And, incidentally, my truck.|
The last two nights I've been over at my uncle's house messing around with his telescope. As you can see in the pictures, it's the real deal, a pretty serious piece of hardware, complete with a computerized tracking system and star/object database. We had some trouble with the tracking program, getting it zeroed in on Polaris and a second star for triangulation, especially the first night. So at first, until we figured it out, we mostly did things manually with the spotter scope, looking at the planets and the crescent moon; they are, in the end, more interesting anyway.
The Moon is especially fun to look at, because you can really zoom in there and study the craters and mountains, and with it in the crescent phase, the shadows and relief were excellent. Sorry these pictures aren't. I tried playing around with ISO settings and such, but am new to night photography, and anyways, my camera isn't at all set up for telescope photography. I was just using the Macro setting and trying not to catch glare off the telescope lens.
I assure you, this looked far more impressive to me than it does to you. I tried to reduce the glare and brightness, and improve the contrast here, which is why it's kind of dark. By the way, this isn't even the "close up" eyepiece we later put in. Through that, you half expected to see the American flag and the lunar rover.
Saturn was the by far the capstone of the experience. I couldn't get enough of it; it's so bizarre to be able to see the rings, at least 7 moons, the gap in the rings, and even a hint of cloud bands-- again, these pictures are just to give you an idea, and I'm sorry they fail miserably to really show what I saw.
|Click and look closely to see 2 moons|
For a second it almost looks fake. When I was a kid visiting him at his house, outside of Manistee, Michigan, where the stars are far brighter, I missed an opportunity to see the ringed planet. I was tired and had gone to crash in my sleeping bag on his living room floor (some things never change, eh?). My dad came in and woke me up, said Saturn's rings were visible, but I was sleepy and declined. Regretted it ever since, and am glad I was able, almost 20 years later, to finally get another chance.
|Gordon zeroing in on Regulus; Moon and Venus in background|
Once we got it all sighted in properly (above picture is our failed first try), we could use the database to slew straight to various objects, such as open clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. First up was the Orion Nebula, that second "fuzzy star" in the sword hanging from his belt. I thought it would just be a fuzzy patch of light, but it was in fact an awesome sight. Awesome in it's original sense. The gas cloud was lit up, seemingly from behind, and though there was no color, as in the renderings NASA gives us, it was beautiful nonetheless.
Later we looked at a bunch of other Messier Objects, including some galaxies, none of especially bright magnitude, and somewhat limited by trees and Gordon's house, and further impaired by the light pollution. Andromeda, the closest and therefore brightest galaxy, had already set; should have done this 2 months ago. Still, the ones we were able to find were interesting, if only because we knew as we looked that we were seeing not just a fuzzy nebula, but a massive conglomeration of hundreds of thousands of stars, equals to our own Milky Way. You can't get your head around, really, one galaxy, let alone a universe full of them, and the implications for distances and even other civilizations. It was enough to leave us silent, necks cranked backwards and eyes wide open.