26 September 2010

Spring apparently means clear nights!

Well, this is Melbourne, so when I say 'clear nights' I really mean 'one clear night amongst the many murky ones.' Nonetheless: today it hit 20C for the first time in many months, there were lovely clear blue skies for most of the day - I sat outside and read! - and it stayed clear for the evening.

We started off looking at Venus, which was a delightful thin crescent. Then, waiting for the sky to darken at least a little, over to Alpha Centauri; split beautifully.

It didn't ever really properly darken tonight; probably we didn't leave it quite late enough. Anyway, Antares (the anti-Ares, ie Mars; cool!) was a lovely reddish colour, and I discovered that beta Scorpius, aka Graffias, is a double: a pair of whiteish-blue stars. Another of the Scorpius stars is also a double, but I did not split it - although it did look quite bulbous, so perhaps I was close.

Close to Scorpius is M7, which I managed to find all by myself - at exactly the same time that J found it through Copernicus, which was quite funny. It's a lovely open cluster, with a nice scatter of stars. Close to it is M6, but I did not manage to find it, which made me a little grumpy. To make up for it J pointed me towards Cr316, which I'd been thinking of finding anyway. It too is an open cluster, but (optically at least) much tighter than M7. Through the 35mm lens, it was quite spectacular.

Testing out just how good my eyes are, and how light the sky was, I next looked at the star G Scorpius, because next to it is a globular cluster, 6441: very faint from here, and you'd just assume it was a smudge if you weren't looking for it. In fact, my next target - M22 - I didn't even see even though I was looking for it. I got - ahem - a little petulant; J had a look to see where I was at... and it was there, in the eyepiece, I just hadn't noticed. Too faint!! - it's another globular cluster.

Really, all of this was a prelude to the main event, which was Jupiter. In order to get the earliest view possible, J decided he needed to do some gardening: bits of a climbing rose were waving about too high. Up a ladder, with secateurs, with only a red headlamp for light... awesome. Anyway, it was a totally classic view of Jupiter tonight. All four Galilean moons lined up, nicely spaced out. Jupiter itself still looking kinda weird with only one dark belt of clouds.

It was a great night's viewing, in all, and not even too cold. Also, not many insects! I'd like to observe in conditions like this all year rounf!

17 September 2010

A cautionary tale

We were outside, last night, at 6.30pm. It was a mostly clear sky, and the moon looked awesome. While I fussed over dinner, J set up the 'scope, and reported that Venus was a lovely crescent - and that the moon was going to look awesome too.

He then came inside, to help me with dinner, because some clouds were scudding over.

Approximately five minutes later came a sound that generally I love, but - 10 seconds after it started - I realised was something of a problem at that particular moment. It was the sound of rain.

Fortunately, J had put the cover over the 'scope's element, because it was a bit dewey. We hurtled outside and frantically brought it in, rather worried that the rain was going to get heavier. It didn't, but it was enough to put a dampener on everything (boom boom), and of course the clouds stayed put, after that.

That, my friends, is one of the perils of observing in Melbourne.

12 September 2010

The moon just never gets old

I hope I never ever get bored by the moon. Because tonight, we took the scope out for all of ten minutes, just too look at the moon, and you know what? It was awesome.

It's still a little crescent at the moment - although not a wafer-thin as it was on Friday, and don't I wish we hadn't been driving to Ballarat that night! Still, it's only a few percent full; Mare Crisium was looking pretty awesome, and the crater Atlas was right on the terminator looking awesome. I love that bit of the moon, maybe because I look at it all the time when the moon is new. I also had a look at Mare Fecunditatis; the southern half of the moon is somewhere I'm really not as familiar with, maybe because it's more chaotic than the north. I got totally lost around the very southern section, so I gave up.

I love the moon. I just love it.

07 September 2010

Clear skies are here again

It's been a while. Tonight, for the first time in a while, we had both clear skies and the energy to do something with them. Here's hoping Melbourne gives more of the same! - after the rain that's forecast for the end of this week, in any case.

Anyway, given the skies and the fact that even when the sun was barely down I had a good view of crescent Venus, I messaged some friends just down the road that they should bring their kids over for a look - I'd been meaning to do so for ages. They promptly arrived with two in tow, the eldest being sensible and staying home, feeling sick. We trooped out the back and had a good look at Venus, and Mars - just a blob these days - and had a chat about planets. Then, because the stars were coming out and they were enthusiastic, J decided to show off and show them the Jewel Box; I met that with Alpha Centauri, which split beautifully and particularly excited the youngest. All of which was very pleasing.

We went back out a few hours later, because it amazingly remained clear. Sagittarius and Scorpio are back to being high in the sky - it's like seeing old friends! It wasn't particularly dark, but J hopped around some clusters in the two - M4, M6, and M7; M20 and M21 - the Triffid, looking pretty awesome even with the light pollution. Right when we thought we were ready to pack it in, J had a last look all round the sky. And there, my friends, at -2.5 mag, was dear old Jupiter! I can't tell you how ridiculously exciting it was to see it hanging there so brilliant. Io, Europa and Callisto were nice and obvious, as was the one dark band of clouds that it has left. J thought he might have caught sight of the Red Spot, but I am unconvinced. I stared at that disk for quite a while before achey eyes drove me inside.