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My first time


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Well, I've had a few peeks at Jupiter and the moon since I was given my scope for Christmas, but today is pretty much the first clear day we've had since then, so this probably counts as my first real observing session.

Things actually started well this morning, having time to get a quick look at Venus after the kids left for school. It was too late for Saturn though, so that was one of the things I was determined to see tonight.

Here on the edge of Exmoor it's been an exceptionally clear night, the only downside being the brightness of the moon which was casting beautifully crisp shadows and was almost good enough for me to read by. I started off by having a look at the moon, but it appeared very "flat" compared with earlier in the month so I decided to leave that for another time and got on with setting up the EQ1 so it was correctly oriented for Polaris.

That done, first up was Jupiter, mostly because I know what it should look like and it gives me a chance to "get my eye in". Had a lovely clear image of the planet and the four moons, with a clear grey band across the northern hemisphere with perhaps a very faint one in the south.

I then tracked across to Uranus by following stars in the spotting scope as it wasn't visible with the naked eye. It appeared as a very small disc, perhaps blue/green in colour.

Once I'd confirmed the position of Uranus against Stellarium I moved on to some of the suggestions in "Turn Left at Orion". The Pleiades were easy enough to find although it was awkward using the spotting scope when it was pointing so nearly vertical. I could see far more stars than I'd have patience to count.

Auriga was almost completely washed out by moonlight, so I gave up on M36, M37 and M38 and whilst I could find Zeta Tauri and Alnath I think the sky was too bright to find M1 either. Similarly I found the Trapezium, but couldn't really say for certain that I saw anything genuinely constituting M42 or M43.

The A/B, D & E stars in Sigma Orionis weren't too hard to locate either though I couldn't say for certain that I could attribute specific colours to them.

Finally I looked at Castor and whilst the image seemed very "wide", I couldn't split the stars for definite.

I'd have carried on, but Canis Major, Monoceros and Gemini were all very washed out by moonlight, so I had a break to wait for Saturn to rise.

Returning to the scope at 12:45-ish I discovered that whilst I could find Leo (for the first time ever), Virgo and Bootes were barely visible. After thirty minutes or so I realised that Saturn had actually risen and was just coming to the top of a stand of trees. It was at this point I was exceptionall frustrated to discover that the heavy dew had rendered the scope unusable and there was no way I could find Saturn, so I had to make do with a shaky view through the binoculars before calling it a night.

So, lots of firsts tonight. I've never seen Uranus or Saturn before, nor looked at most of the stars that I managed to find. Lots of things to think about for next time, too (Wednesday night, perhaps, if the cloud holds off). I definitely need some sort of cover to keep the dew off the scope when it's cooling down or I'm not using it for a while. I also need to think a bit more about scope positioning (it's hard to look through the spotting scope when the star diagonal is where your chin wants to be).

By no means a wasted evening despite the brightness of the sky though. I've already become more confident using the mount, and I'm certain that the key to seeing things well is plenty of practice.

I can't wait for some "proper" dark nights now...


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