Sunday, October 30, 2011

First Light

Sometimes I really hate being right.

Last week, I predicted that it would be a string of cloudy nights as soon as my new Celestron telescope arrived. Sure enough, the skies were blanketed with thick clouds for days. Although the downtime gave me a chance to study the telescope manual and familiarize myself with how to plug all the pieces together, it was like getting water skis for Christmas.

The kicker for the week was the approach of one of the worst October snowstorms to hit New England in decades. This sort of thing never happens - - until someone orders a new telescope, of course.

Two waves of  storms were supposed to pummel the East coast, and astronomy seemed out of the question. However, there was one ray of hope in the forecast: between the two storms was a brief respite near midnight. The sky cover was supposed to thin to 10% overcast, so I took a chance and drove the telescope north to Captain Girlfriend's house.

The Captain's backyard is ideal for sky watching. Except for an annoying clump of pine trees to the north, the yard has a near perfect view of a dark, rural sky. Jupiter, due at opposition that same night, would be high in the moonless sky - - as long as the forecast held up.

This would be my first attempt at letting the telescope's auto-orientation do its business. According to the instructions, all I had to do was point the scope at a planet (say, Jupiter) and the telescope would figure out where the rest of the sky was. It seemed a bit Buck Rogerish, but I hoped it would work like it said in the manuals.

True to the Weather Channel's forecast, the clouds began to clear at 11pm. I stepped out into the dark, lugging a 50-lb telescope down The Captain's back stairs. As I set the telescope down on the driveway, Jupiter popped out from behind the passing clouds. It was BRIGHT - - at opposition, I think it was magnitude -2.2. The alignment on the finder scope was a snap - - the scope had a little red LED dot that covered Jupiter perfectly. I fired up the telescope's tracking computer, told it the scope was looking at Jupiter, and then screwed in a 32mm objective lens to get a close-in view.

This is what I saw through the lens:

Okay, I didn't have the band Train playing through the telescope, but that's pretty close to the view through the Celestron. Amazing. "I Eat Green Carrots" flashed through my head as I was trying to name the four Galilean moons in my eyepiece. It was like I was 11 years old again, looking through my Monolux refractor scope.

Then, the clouds moved in, and the second storm commenced. I packed up the telescope and loaded it back in my pickup truck. The clouds and snow continued through the end of the week.

Now, the telescope and I are back home, and the weather forecast is predicting clear skies tonight. Can't wait to see what this telescope can do without clouds in the way.

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