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Wonderful night for observation


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Truly remarkable seeing tonight, which has resulted in me staying up far too late and getting a headache - but it was worth it.

I started off by taking a walk out towards a nearby village in the hope of catching Mercury and Venus with my binoculars (they're truly terrible, but they do magnify things). Alas, they had either dipped below the hill to the west (likely), or the sky was too bright to view them (dubious). I walked home and decided to look at Jupiter instead.

I hit on the idea of taking my scope out into the road in front of my house; there's a streetlamp there, but it's an LED one and it didn't affect my views of the gas giant. My new barlow is superb, and combined with my new zoom EP it makes for some great viewing. I tried a variety of filters, but the GRS was either on the other side of the planet or otherwise hiding. I discovered that combining the 80A with the ND96 gave some tremendous contrast enhancements to the cloud belts. Really spectacular view. The view of the planet is actually improving with every observation, so I'm guessing my eye is getting trained.

Next up was Saturn. I had heard that a yellow filter helps to pick out the Cassini division, but I wasn't successful here. Switching out to no filter gave me some more wonderful views, but again, no ring divisions as 200x. Maybe I just need more practice.

I decided to retreat to the back garden before the neighbours decided I'd lost my marbles. The view back there was sublime. I often forget how fortunate I am that my housing estate is still bortle 4 due to the use of non-polluting lamp posts. I decided to have a quick tour of various Messier objects. Andromeda first, but the sky was fairly bright so I could only make out the core. Moving on to the wild duck cluster, I got to appreciate how convenient having a zoom lens is as I moved in and out to find the optimum viewing field. M82 and M81, two objects which have previously eluded me, were fairly easily found tonight. Again, I couldn't make out many details, but I guess practice (and darker winter skies) will aid me later on.

Taking a break from the Messier objects, I thoguht I'd look at some double stars. As it happened, the first one I chose was so hauntingly beautiful that it became the only thing I looked at for the rest of the night. Albireo, also known as Beta Cygni is a orange and blue double star in the constellation Cygnus (obviously). I zoomed all the way in and drew a sharp focus when I hit on an idea. I had left the barlow inside - I won't need that for stellar observations, I thought. Well, shows how much I knew an hour or so previously, doesn't it? After plugging the barlow into my focusser and slapping the zoom back in, I zoomed all the way in, focusing to the point where I saw the Airy Disk - and it looked exactly like those pictures you see as an "example of perfect seeing". I know it's probably a minor thing to you seasoned veterans, but to me it felt very special; not only because it showed me my equipment was wonderful, but also because of the science of diffraction patterns and the sheer beauty of Albireo, all combined into this unique sight experienced by me and me alone. As much as astronomy is a lonely hobby, it does make for some great stories for those who care to listen.

I could have stayed out there for hours, but this headache is really starting to pound, so I figured I'd write this report and then hit the hay.

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Great report.

You are right, learning to "see" rather than just "look" takes a while, but produces great benefits.

A trick that helped me was "sketching". Now I don't mean the wonderful sketches that we see in that board on here. My "sketches" consisted of putting X's where the stars were ... or (in the case of many of my earlier attempts) where they weren't! But repetition got me actually seeing where the stars were in relation to one another (and the detail we see on planets is just seeing where a lot of dots of light are in relation to each other), rather than just looking at a bunch of stars. The results are nothing that I would want to share with others, but the benefits were noticeable.

Of course, if you are capable of drawing an orange so that it looks round (which I'm not) try sketching moon craters ... that will definitely get your eye in.

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10 hours ago, Demonperformer said:


A trick that helped me was "sketching".


a friend got me an astronomical sketch book for my birthday, so I'll be trying to sketch as soon as I find some sort of table or easel to rest it on while observing!

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