’ve been very busy with the train club recently, which means I’ve not been out with the Astronomy Club for two months. And that’s my excuse for why I wasn’t out when they were showing the masses the various opposition planets tonight. I glanced on Facebook a few hours ago and realized that they were having a star party.
Just as well I didn’t go – outside of an aborted star party earlier this year, I haven’t had the scope out since November. I figured doing a major event rusty like this would just be a disaster. So I figured I’d have a star party of one in my backyard. I’d make a dry run and see how it went, and check out the planets for myself.
Good thing, too, since I got my 11 and 24 eyepieces mixed up as to which was the most powerful. There I was with my 24 eyepiece with the barlow extender, thinking that I thought I’d seen Jupiter much closer. Eventually I decided for the comfortable view and shifted to the 11, only to find the viewing exactly what I’d just left (and, optically and mathematically it was). Eventually I got Jupiter all big and bright and tracked it across the sky. Also looked at Antares for a bit, looking for its binary but no luck. Cast around for the Cat’s Eye but downtown viewing isn’t up to that – didn’t find a hint of it.
Came in to write this and booted Stellarium to reference and found out – hey, Saturn was now up. Went back outside and sure enough, that bright untwinkling star, there it was. I viewed it for a bit and then started messing with the scope. In the dark. Found out it wasn’t balanced at all – the eyepiece end was too heavy and the scope swung in that direction when released. So, the bright idea was to unlock the barrel from the mount and, yes, I damn near dropped it. Managed to catch it as it swung off but it was a near thing. Set it down (carefully) and with the light in my mouth, I managed to get it firmly seated back on the mount. Yes, that was really stupid and the only thing what would have made it even dumber would be to do that in a crowd on a hard parking lot.
So after I got everything squared, I came in to write. I’m a little leery of moving the mount with it all done up but Mars is about 90 minutes away from clearing the Oak Tree Nebula. I think I’ll go out and look at Saturn for a bit more until Mars move into my field of view. I’ve had it with optical circus stunts for tonight.
Later that night…
Mars finally swarmed into view about 11:30pm for me. I was curious to see it – I hadn’t had a close look for over a year (and that had been iffy, that night). I hunched down over the barlow-boosted eyepiece and beheld – a big ball of nothing. Sorry, stargazers – I know that everyone is excited about the Mars-spanning dust storm but it turned my view of the red planet into something as exciting as looking at a basketball. I watched for a while anyway, letting my eyes adjust and hoping for some sort of something to look at (as midnight rolled past, I really wanted a explosion of incandescent gas or something) but, no, it was about as much fun as watching that slow Maitland stoplight. I had the same thing with Venus – I’d looked at it several times and it did nothing for me. But put a crescent on it and yow! But no, Mars was dead on facing the sun, it was cloaked in dusty mystery, and it wasn’t much fun.
Still, it was an interesting night outside. Haven’t done that in ages. Hoping the skies will improve after this lousy summer.