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Last week I've finally got my Opticron Oregon 15x70 binoculars repaired - they've been collecting dust since March when they took a graceful fall from the tripod. So when the skies opened up yesterday night I was ready - binos on the tripod, window open, sky chart and sketch book at hand.
And let me tell you - this was one of my best stargazing sessions. What I expected to be a quick glance at the night sky turned into a mind-blowing exploration of the outer Solar System, which until now I've only seen with naked eyes.
I'm listing the observations below along with the sketch that I made while observing. And by the way, all the underlined words are links, with extra info. Alright, let's get going!
I saw it as soon as I opened my window - it was hanging in Aquarius, appallingly bright and very physically present. Two things really struck me when looking at it "zoomed in".
First, I saw four little white dots forming a horizonal line on both sides of Jupiter, as if piercing it. From left to right these were: Europa, Ganimede, Io and Callisto. The first two were both affected by Jupiter's brightness, Ganimede still prominent, being the biggest one of the bunch, and Europa only visible with eyes squinted.
And second was that Jupiter was a circle. Up until now all space objects (excluding Sun, Moon and hazy dispersed things) looked like dots to me. Even the bright-red Mars looked like a dot, but Jupiter had a white-yellowish body with an outline! I tell you, I really took my time eyeing this little 140 000km wide circle.
A little to the East from Jupiter, in Capricornus, was another little dot, which to my absolute bamboozlement resolved into a disk in my binoculars. Like a little sandy-brown UFO it hung among the stars, mesmerising and enchanting. 15x magnification didn't show me neither the moons of Saturn, nor the separated rings with their coveted Cassini division. But the joined outline of the planet with it's rings looked like what it's meant to be - a planet with rings. And I don't think I will ever forget this celestial pictogram.
After checking Neptune's visual magnitude, which is 7.9, I started star-hopping left from Jupiter: σ Aqr -> Hydor -> φ Aqr -> 96 Aqr. From there I leaped to three YBS(HR) catalogue stars that were poking right into Neptune.
Visually, it was a simple dim dot, akin to myriads of stars that don't have a proper name. But don't get an impression that I was disappointed - I was actually stoked to see it, given that it is the furthest planet from Earth visible with my astronomical equipment. I was however surprised that it lacked colour, which I expected to be much more blue. It was instead white, with a veeeery subtle blue tinge. So subtle in fact, that I would've probably mistaken it for a star if I focused on it by chance. Still, I was happy that I have finally met my childhood's favourite planet, the big blue one.
Now this one was a real challenge.
First, the Moon's yellow waning crescent was quite close to Uranus. It was not as bright as a full Moon, but still somewhat blinding through the binos. Second, Uranus was hanging at a low altitude, where the sky was yellow from city lights. Third, it was by then 4AM and the sun was about to peek above the horizon - it was only two weeks since summer solstice. And the cherry on the cake - noctilucent clouds were scattered all over Aries, where Uranus was located. I was also quite sleepy, but decided to give it a go nevertheless.
I tried star hopping eastwards from the Moon, but soon figured out it's really hard to do when you only see one star. So this idea was scrapped. Then I zoomed in on Uranus in the SkySafari app on my phone (no, they don't pay me), used the accelerometer mode to estimate the planet's position in the sky and pointed my binoculars roughly in that direction.
And now for the good part. In-between noctilucent clouds I somehow noticed a vertical pair of stars: π Ari (below) and 40 Ari (above). They were both at least of apparent magnitude of +5 , which was well within the capability of my 70mm binos, but because of the sky brightness, the stars looked extremely dim. Nevertheless, left of these two I spotted another couple, also vertical and sitting closer to each other: ρ2 and ρ3 Ari. And finally, after getting a reference from the app, I made a leap of faith to the right and there it was - Uranus, with ο Ari sitting just right from it.
To say I was happy to see the 7th planet would be an understatement. The planet and ο Ari have the same m of ~5.8, but Uranus stood out from the surrounding stars due to it's colder hue.
But after the whole ordeal, I was not as much affected by the looks of Uranus, as I was by the peaceful perfection of the entire view before me.
In dawning summer skies, covered with ethereal noctilucent clouds, all planets of the outer Solar System lay in front of me, embodying the boundary between Us and the vast Nothing of the Universe. The birds were welcoming the rising sun and I could finally go bed, feeling so at home here, next to our ☉
I say all planets of the outer Solar System because Pluto was also there, next to Saturn. Though it's m was +14.3, so I'll have to write about it some other time.
That night all of the outer planets were aligned in what people call a planet parade.
You might have noticed the Andromeda Galaxy on my sketch. I observed it too, however the viewing conditions were entirely against anything DSO-related, so it's a topic for another write-up.😉
"Takahashi TKP71423 Dovetail male for Mewlon 210 & other Takahashi Tube Holders"
I purchased it for my Takahashi FC-100DC but went with another solution which works just as well.
I'm including 2x M8 bolts which are not included with the dovetail.
Great condition, just a few scratches.
£40 via PayPal (inc. Registered Airmail from Portugal, usually about 3 days in transit to Europe).
This is a photo accurate representation of how I've seen the conjunction through a Skywatch 14" f4.6 Dobsonian, using the 17mm Ethos eyepiece combined with the 2X Powermate during the observation of the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, and how well both of the planets fit into the eyepiece field of view.
My location on the east coast of Australia was totally overcast for the last week and this evening I had a small window of opportunity to actually have a glimpse of the rare event, which no doubt, I will not have a another chance of experiencing in my life time.
This happened about 17 hours after the actual closest point between the planets, and most likely the difference would be so small that it wouldn't be noticeable without direct comparison.
This image was composited by first taking a series of shots through the eyepiece using an iPhone, I chose the best frame of the series than superimposed the overexposed planets with images of the planets captured separately with enough transparency as to accurately show how the planet details looked in the eyepiece.
Observation time was 22 December 2020 @ 09:51 UTC.
So I originally planned to go to a good vantage point from the top of Pendle hill, watch out for witches whilst there. It is a local and well known Lancastrian landmark. However my wife is recovering from hospital treatment and so I didn't want to leave her so made do much closer to home.
A short drive (2 minutes) took me to a place aside the motorway slip road but with a clear-ish view of the setting planets. I was only use 10x30 bins so the view was not particularly well defined but still impressive when considering distances and such.
Anyway it is in the bag but would like to do better if at all possible.
If the skies are more obliging tomorrow I may venture out with the EEVA set up and grab some data, however the forecast is not so good.