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Night after Lunar Eclipse

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A few people from the group and I went to the dark site last night. Forecast was for clear skies all night long. I arrived quite early on - the sun was still up! There was a bit of high altitude cloud about, but this coupled with the fact the moon was nearly full didn't put us off.

I went with both my Evostar 150 and 200P. The 200P only saw Jupiter as it has still not been collimated, but that will be sorted soon as it is payday tomorrow and I will buy a collimating tool! Standard 10 and 25mm eyepieces and 2x barlow meant I had between 48x and 240x magnification. Let's see how it went....

It was dark enough for me to begin polar alignment. Using the 3-Star Align, I got set up nice and accurately. I was surprised how accurate it was considering i pretty much guessed the position of Polaris - Even with the highest magnification I could achieve, 240x, Saturn stayed within the eyepiece for a good 10-15 minutes before I needed to re-centre it. Goto was a pleasure - Literally press the button and it is in the eyepiece,  and tracking was accurate enough for observing.

The moon had just started to show its face when I had finished alignment. Low on the horizon, I decided to take a quick peep at some planets. Amazing!!...

Mars: 120x magnification showed it as a nice round disc with some dark patches. Whilst the sky wasn't all that transparent and Mars was located close to a nearly full moon, the stability of the atmosphere was very helpful. A few minutes at the eyepiece at this magnification was a nice experience. It wasn't too strenuous on my eyes as the detail was there without any effort. I was kindly offered to use a Celestron Xcel 5mm by another member of the group, so i stuck it in the diagonal and i was blown away... The view through the eyepiece this time was incredible. Having never seen any real surface detail on Mars before, I was very excited to be seeing what I was. 240x clearly revealed Polar Caps, a brilliant yet not-too-subtle white, and dark surface areas, the names of which I have no idea (it did look like it could have been Syrtis Major). It was a very typical Mars colour, a red-orange-brown, and seeing the planet in this detail had me at the eyepiece for a good half an hour over the night. Despite all this, I really didn't notice CA (Not that it wasn't there... I'm sure it was as it is, afterall, a characteristic of an Achro), but I think this is just because the sight of this planet in this much detail had me by the sausage. I haven't once been able to look at mars above 200x, but now i have, I can't wait for the seeing/transparency to allow me to again! 10/10

Jupiter: At a modest 96x, Jupiter and the 4 moons were pin sharp and full of contrast separating the cloud belts. The colour appeared to be a blue-grey with some dark brown cloud belts nestled in between. The size of this planet is apparent when you compare the view at this magnification, to the same magnification but with Mars - It certainly gave me some perspective anyway! I was a little disappointed that I could not make out the GRS - given the seeing conditions, the opportunity was there for some breath-taking views of this planet. Another thing I would have liked to have seen would be the transit of the shadow of one of the moons. This would have topped it off, but we can't have it all can we :) 8/10

Saturn: The night was progressing faster than I could keep up with, and before I knew it, Saturn was above the horizon. It was only a few degrees higher than  tree tops at around 300m away, so I was not expecting much. Again, the proximity and magnitude of the moon, the thin cloud and angle above the horizon would not present such a clear image so I thought. How wrong I was... At 120x, Saturn took on a 'dirty yellow' colour, and the rings were very bright. For the first time I managed to spot the Cassini Division! I also could make out the shadow the planet was casting onto the rings, albeit quite subtle. I spent a good 20 minutes looking at Saturn overall, changing between magnification. I went up to full power on this one again, 240x, and the Cassini Division was even more apparent, however it was lacking the contrast shown at 120x, but still an amazing sight. All things considered - The Moon phase, proximity, the thin cloud and height above the horizon, I have never seen Saturn so clearly before. It really is a graceful sight if the conditions allow, and the sooner it gets higher up, the better! 10/10

The views that I got of these planets were truly breath-taking. I've never seen them like this before, showing as much contrast, features and colour as they were. I was very fortunate to get a taste of the sort of eyepieces I'm after for planetary viewing (thanks Dave). I will definitely be getting a few XCel LX's for this purpose. Inexpensive but perform well above their grade. 

Given the seeing, as said, I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn't be able to get such good sights of DSOs. Not bad for a 6" aperture, standard/supplied eyepiece, and the moon washing things out through a thin high altitude cloud. I can imagine the potential of this scope under dark, stable, clear skies, and I just can't wait for the opportunity!

M81: At 48x, M81 clearly displayed a moderately bright fuzzy core, and it was a pleasure to look at with some foreground stars setting the stage. The HEQ5 Pro put it right in the middle of the eyepiece which I was still impressed with despite pointing to numerous other targets.

M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy was very faint indeed under these skies, but with averted vision I could make out two close fuzzy patches - The cores of the main spiral and it's sister.

NGC 869: The double cluster looked, as always, stunning, displaying hundreds of stars. I was offered a view through an Explore Scientific 18mm 82 degree eyepiece, and it was just breathtaking. The stars were absolutely pin sharp with no noticeable distortions until around 75% to the edge of the FOV. Very impressive eyepiece, and definitely on my wish list for viewing clusters.

M13: As always, just a smallish blur at 48x, but at 96x it took on a much more pleasing form. Subtle hints of individual stars with averted vision, increasingly fuzzy toward the core. With the standard 25mm eyepiece and 2x barlow, M13 filled approx 20% of the eyepiece. Very impressive Glob' as always.

The above were the only notable DSOs last night, however the session didn't stop there. Keen to make the most of the clear night, I felt that splitting some double stars would wield good results, as the conditions wouldn't affect the result that much.

Mizar/Alcor: A nice sight at low power - Two bright stars opposing each other in the eyepiece. I upped the magnification to 240x and split Mizar into Mizar A and Mizar B - Both displayed a deep yellow colour, and appeared reasonably close together. I haven't much knowledge of double stars, but looking at them is enough for me.

Porrima: Porrima was a stubborn double at first. I think the stability of the atmosphere came into play a lot more with this one, as the pair are very close together. Initially, I used the 25mm to get the star into the centre of the eyepiece. I then pumped up to 240x to go straight for the split. No messing around, there it was. Another double, yet very much closer together than Mizar A/B, showing similar colours. 

They were the only doubles I got round to. I ended the night being blinded by a bright moon at low power. It was like looking at the Sun! Blimey I shalln't be doing that again :) .

A very enjoyable observing session indeed. The Evostar performed incredibly well. Its ability to split doubles and resolve details on planets I had not yet seen before is admirable considering it's an achro. I guess the larger aperture helps with contrast - I took a view of Mars through mine, and a fellow observer's 4" Apo, and I heartedly felt that my frac was giving me better views. I can't wait for the moon to budge, my 200P to be collimated, and the seeing to be better! That will shape up to be an amazing night exploring the universe with my own eyes.

Clear skies all :)

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Great read Jimmy. Just shows what a difference a dark sky site can make, even in a moon lit sky.

I got my first view of Saturn last night for many months, very low and fuzzy. Hope to be at a dark site for its opposition next month.

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Thanks Orange Haze :) I think it's good to describe what you saw after an observing session as it gives others a taste of what to expect and provokes a lot of interest. Like I said, the conditions weren't favourable, but did it put a stop to play? Definitely not!

Saturn looks lovely at the moment with it's tilt showing us the ring system from a lovely perspective. Opposition seems exciting indeed!

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Great write up. I'm mulling over the idea of getting a bigger refractor so will be interested to hear how your 200P compares to your Evo 150 :)

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I'm currently trying to get a collimation tool for this very purpose - I want to be able to adequately compare the two. I don't think there will be that much in them. The frac is going to trump the reflector for planetary/clusters etc, but then the reflector will beat the frac for fuzzies... Let's see what actually happens.

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