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Posted (edited)

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!

 

Observation sketch. 4/07/21. In Aquarius: Jupiter along with Europa, Ganimede, Io and Callisto. In Capricornus: Saturn with some stars around. Also in Aquarius: Neptune, dim with a dimmer start next to it. In Aries: Uranus with o Arietis next to it. In Andromeda: barely visible cloud of the Andromeda Galaxy. Also a sketch of a waning crescent Moon with some Plato and some smaller craters. Also a sketch of Uranus and the Moon among noctilucent clouds.Jupiter

I saw it as soon as I opened my window - it was hanging in Aquariusappallingly 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.

Saturn

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.

Neptune

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. 

Uranus

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 

 

SkySafari app screenshot. On the dawning sky, left to right in a slightly curved line: Uranus, Moon, some empty space, Neptune, Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto

 

P.S.

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.

P.P.S.

That night all of the outer planets were aligned in what people call a planet parade.

P.P.P.S

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.😉

Edited by Cloudberry
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  • Cloudberry changed the title to Planet Parade and Noctilucent Clouds - Binocular Observation

Nice report and you are so lucky to have managed the planet parade, so jealous ( miserable weather for the past 3 weeks here). Nice sketches to go with the report.

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Hi Cloudy ... great report , the thing that shines brighter than those planets is your enthusiasm .  A really enjoyable read that anyone branching into astronomy would do well to look up .

Well Done 

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Love the report, and like Stu, the enthusiasm.  Brings back memories of my first glimpses of Saturn's rings that looked more like ears in my cheap 60mm frac, but boy was I excited to have found it by myself and seen it with my own eyes. Sketches are a nice touch, really brings things to life. Thanks for posting.

 

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That was a great session. What an interesting report too and I love the drawings....

These sort of reports really give me inspiration to get out there as I have become quite lazy over the last year or so....

Keep them coming.

Mark

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