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A Magical Night, Thanks To “KerryLewis”...


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Having just written this into my observing log, I thought others might be encouraged by it. So I have adapted it slightly and hope others may be interested and motivated to have a go too...

Firstly, credit where credit is due... And that goes to @kerrylewis for sowing the seed in his post about 10 days ago, suggesting it might be possible to observe “All the Planets in One Night”.

Well, last night my wife and I managed to rise to the challenge, observing all the major planets within a 4 hour period and having a magical experience to boot...

In truth, this was attempt 2 as we had “fallen at the first” on Friday evening. Mercury had been as fleet of foot as its namesake that night; escaping to the Western Horizon without being spotted from all manner of vantage spots !

But last night we were prepared ! We started earlier and “hunted as a pack” ! And, like our quarry, we resolved to be light footed and swift. I was burdened by nothing more than our 16x70 LightQuests. While my wife went lighter still with her 10x50s...

I think we started far too early to be fair given the lightness of the sky and Mercury’s magnitude. But, in homages to my “Cub Scout Training”; we were prepared! (It also allowed us to hydrate correctly! Sipping the remains of a nice Côtes De Provence Rosé between skyward glances...)

Obviously, at mag -4.1 Venus was “the first in the bag” and was used to orientate ourselves. From the side of the house we wondered whether we’d be scuppered by the Farm buildings across the lane. But we stuck at it for a bit, observing the gorgeous changing colours of the sky and the sun glinting off far distant aircraft making them look like they were powered by Falcon 9 Rocket Motors rather than Jet Engines.

I’m not sure how long we remained in “location 1”, but it was long enough for us to have finished the Rosé and lost our nerve ! We’d convinced ourselves we were definitely being thwarted by the barns !

So, having read of @John‘s endeavours to see Mercury we hotfooted it up to “location 2”...

I can’t imagine what it must have looked like to any passing cars ! Me hanging out of the landing window and my wife doing likewise from the ensuite bathroom window of one of the guest rooms ! All to no avail...

Being unsure, at that point, whether “magnitude readings” work on a linear or exponential scale we were certain we should be seeing Mercury as we’d, by then, seen Venus and -2.3 Jupiter. After 10 fruitless minutes we were sure we were still being hampered by the barn. So we decided to take it out of the equation by going “mobile” ! (As it transpired, I think we were still a little early and we were scanning too low...)

The view to the Western Horizon from in front of the barn was extraordinary. The colour palette behind the lone, majestic Oak in a far field included light blues, lilacs, golds and burned orange.

It was difficult to restrict our views to just the few degrees afforded by our binoculars. But just before 22:00 perseverance and methodical scanning of the sky paid off. There, showing delicately above the Oak was a small, creamy disc - Mercury. We were underway on the “Kerry Lewis Challenge”... The observation was timed at 22:01 in our SkySafari Observation List.

Armed with just our binoculars we couldn’t detect Mercury’s phase, but we were content with what we were yielded. The location, the colours of the sky, the vista as a whole was a joy to behold. This was what Saturday evenings should be about we thought. We elected to enjoy the views afforded to us rather than rushing back to grab a scope that might show little more due to the speed with which “The Messenger” was hastening back to the out of sight Gods... 

From that one spot we turned counter clockwise to observe Venus as best as the binoculars would allow. Previously we’d not lingered, electing to use the Planet as a “sign post” rather than a target in her own right. She shone brightly and reasonably steadily. But, again, not much could be discerned other than a faint hint at the phase. But we could have been imagining that...

Further counter clockwise and Jupiter hove into view, 3 moons sitting delicately one side, with Io the other.

Further counter clockwise, and there was Saturn, showing that distinctive creamy shape through the binoculars. That observation was entered at 22:03. 

We lingered a while. Slowly rotating to spend an appropriate time drinking in the scene, the planets and the sounds of nearby woods and the countryside preparing for the night ahead... We could see all but Mercury naked eye too. It was sensational. And it was made all the more precious by being able to share the moment with someone special.

As we wandered back to the house we decided to not get a scope out at that point. As many have enjoyed recently, we’ve had some stunningly clear days and nights and have been out observing the planets individually previously. We decided that we’d focus on completing our Planetary challenge. Could we see them all from our spot in one session..?

As happens before holidays, I awoke 30 minutes before the planned 01:15 alarm. Not knowing whether Susie was that enthusiastic about phase 2, I dressed as quietly as I could. But 2 of our pack of 5 Labradors sleeping alongside the sofa at the far side of the bedroom had spotted me. And it was them that gave the game away !

While 2 of the pack showed no interest whatsoever, Susie and I led our 3 strong canine band outside to be slapped in the face by Mars sitting just below the Moon. “Well that one was easy. 2 to go” said the Memsahib as I carried the ED120 to the spot at the end of the garden that gives unobstructed views across the fields from North to South South East...

Using Gamma Piscum as our starting point we headed lower and right. Were we too early again ?

Phi Aquarii was found. We were close... But with our landmark being +4.23 and our target +7.9 we weren’t celebrating just yet. Inching right and slightly up, something was spotted and checked against SkSafari. Until we checked properly and noted the magnitude we thought we had found Nereid. But not even our Dob would show a +19 target ! At 01:33 we’d found Neptune !

With Uranus having only just risen, we knew we had a bit of time to kill. So we drifted through Cassiopeia and Andromeda taking in NGC 457, NGC 663, NGC 7662 M103 and the Double Cluster among others.

It was at this point the highlight of the night was encountered. With 2 of the 3 canine companions having wandered back to the house it was Wiggo, that evening’s “Scope Dog”, who first heard it... Rustling coming from the copse about 50 metres into the field. 

Our first thought was Muntjac. Susie was the first to spot the ghostly shape as it exited the copse. Against the darkness of the background, even with the binoculars that we still had with us we couldn’t make it out. And then it either saw us or scented us. And “barked” several times... And we were still unsure  Muntjac or Fox..?

Then it ran and, tonight, moonlight was our ally. Against the pale grass of the field there was the most regal Fox in profile. We watched it run to the far fence, barking occasionally when it stopped from time to time. Wiggo growled his “There. I saved you growl” and Susie thanked him with a pat as I swung the scope low and towards the North North East horizon as Wiggo settled back down to snooze.

With the ED120 atop its pier and being pointed almost horizontally, even I needed Susie’s “Caravan Step” to get to the eyepiece ! After a bit of wobbling and scanning, there was Omicron Piscium.

One full span to the left of our landmark in the 6x30 Finder meant we were “back in the Planetary game”. Back to the eyepiece. There was something. But was it Uranus or HR 578 ?

A bit of alternating between SkSafari and the eyepiece and plenty of conferring and we’d oriented ourselves. HR 578 was the fainter, higher one to the right in the eyepiece. Meaning we’d found Uranus at 01:46...

The view was nothing extraordinary and we couldn’t really discern much colour at that altitude, but we were thrilled. Even Wiggo joined in with a celebratory yawn and scratch...

To round things off we swung to M15 and M34 before slipping in the Nagler Zoom to split Iota Cass and HR 8423.

So there we have it. Not the most detailed observations of each planet and a little bit of a “box ticking” exercise I confess. But a fun and rewarding way to spend a bright moon filled evening.

Give it a go if you’re so inclined. We loved it...

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What a wonderfully evocative report. Yes, it is a bit like box ticking in some ways, but the main thing is that if it's fun and you enjoy it then that's what this hobby is about.

I've done it a few times in the past but not yet tried this time. Like you, I'll need more than one location to get good views west and east.

Well done 

Kerry 

 

Edited by kerrylewis
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3 minutes ago, johnfosteruk said:

It may only be box ticking but it’s one of the best reports I’ve read. Evocative as Kerry said. Well done. 

John, that’s very kind of you. I hope it encourages someone to give it a go. Everyone involved had a really fun and satisfying night... 

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Excellent report - really enjoyed reading it :thumbright:

I gave up after Mars I'm afraid so Neptune and Uranus will have to wait :rolleyes2:

It's a fun thing to do though - see the wonders of the solar system on zero altairian dollars !

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Just to echo the other comments, one of the best reports I’ve read for a while. I was right there with you :) 

Haven’t managed this myself but may give it a go at some point.

Thanks for taking the time to write it up :)

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Just now, Stu said:

Just to echo the other comments, one of the best reports I’ve read for a while. I was right there with you :) 

Haven’t managed this myself but may give it a go at some point.

Thanks for taking the time to write it up :)

Thanks Stu. It was a really enjoyable evening. Not really serious observing I suppose. But being out and immersing ourselves in not only the Solar System but the countryside around the house was fabulous. 

Highly recommended... ?

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51 minutes ago, Stargazer McCabe said:

Not really serious observing I suppos

Seems like serious observing to me, you had a goal and you managed to achieve it, plus had some fun and drunk some wine. What’s not to like? :) 

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1 hour ago, Stargazer McCabe said:

Very true @Stu Put like that, I couldn’t possibly disagree ?

 

Quite seriously, I do plenty of observing which is about achieving something with whatever kit I have to hand. Sometimes that might be trying to see the GRS with a 65mm Newt, it is every bit as satisfying in its own way as trying to spot a faint galaxy in a big dob.

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@Stu You are so right. I think there were several ingredients that made this so special for us. It wasn’t just about the end result in truth...

No doubt, many of the things that “made the evening” for us, might have left others cold... And that’s fair enough and is what makes the world an interesting place...

After a year I wouldn’t wish on an arch enemy, just being able to enjoy something as simple as looking up with nothing more than our own eyes and seeing 4 of the planets (3 at once) and a striking sky as dusk fell was incredible. (The scope and Binoculars were essential for the others though). Observing and listening as the local woods got ready for night was a revelation; and had we not been participating in @kerrylewis‘ challenge we’d not have been out there to experience those things...

And being able to put an arm round the Memsahib, with one of our faithful hounds at our feet, as we stood looking at a sky as full of stars as this time of the year allows, while managing to see “the big picture” instead of just the targets themselves, made it all the more special.

It may seem daft, but I’d go as far as saying the added elements possibly led to last night equalling and maybe eclipsing some of the nights spent under Namibian and La Palma skies. But I’m not going to over analyse... 

We’ll have to think of a few more things along the lines you suggest @Stu...

Edited by Stargazer McCabe
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Fantastic write up, Simon. So much more than an observing report with the lovely narrative and lots of good humour. 

The challenge itself is on my list for this week. I’ve had one false start where, like you, I failed to get Mercury. If I can spot Mercury then I think the rest should come quite easily.

Thanks again for sharing!

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This was a great read, and seeing all the planets in one evening seems to be a great exercise! I've never even observed Neptune or Uranus, let alone all of the planets in a single night. Thanks for the report. Also I'm sure you've probably discovered by now that apparent magnitude is a logarithmic scale :)

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