Just a short post this time because, wow, has this month ever been busy for me. Either I've been sick or my kids have been sick, and there's far too much to do at work, so there's no chance for me to observe anywhere other than our rooftop observation deck. I can pack up my telescopes quickly when my wife needs my help - or when I'm just too sick to endure the cold for long.
Luckily, Orion is riding high in the sky during the fleeting minutes I usually have to observe, and that makes for some impressive viewing even from my light-polluted rooftop. Last night my Takahashi refractor gave me some beautifully ethereal views, with delicate nebulosity filling almost the entire field of view at just over 80x. I recognize that the above picture is, of course, terrible on some level. But with an iPhone, held by shivering hands on a cold night? It's not the worst!
The seeing must have abruptly worsened, because I spotted only hints of Rigel B and the white dwarf orbiting Sirius (the "pup") with a Nagler 9mm eyepiece. Both stars danced and flickered. Should I have used a higher power eyepiece? Maybe, but it was just too cold. In any case Betelgeuse was striking, even with the naked eye. It's dimmed to an extraordinary degree over the last few months! It's a sobering reminder that even stars diminish and die (although Betelgeuse may not go supernova for many thousands of years yet).
A crescent moon is always a spectacular sight through any telescope, let alone the FC-100DC, and luckily I set up just before it slipped too low in the night sky. Still, I had to observe through a lot of atmosphere, and through currents welling up from the rooftop (my primary antagonist on our observation deck). As the pictures attest: the mesmerizing detail I can often see when the Moon is higher in the sky just wasn't there last night. But as always, the Moon was worth a look.
Not the best night, but any time I can get a quality view of the Orion Nebula from the city, I'll take it.
It's been cold here, for DC standards, and often windy, and the nights have had an annoying tendency to cloud over at short notice. In those conditions, the TV 85 really is ideal. It cools more quickly than some of my eyepieces, it sets up in a matter of minutes, and it consistently provides views that exceed my expectations. It really is a magical little telescope. I have never been anything other than impressed after using it.
The other night, I walked onto the observation deck just as clouds were rolling in from the west - weather forecast be dammed! They moved far more quickly than I thought possible; after I set up my telescope, they had almost reached the Moon and Orion. I had just seconds to take pictures before they arrived. I did catch a short video of the first streamers beginning to race by the Moon. Just a few minutes later, however, I had to pack up. When the windchill is cool enough to numb your fingers, it's always a mixed feeling when you have to walk in earlier than you expected.
Last night, the sky was perfectly clear, but the seeing was mediocre at best and transparency wasn't great either. Still, the Moon was high in the sky, and not quite full, with intricate vistas I haven't often observed coming into view along the retreating terminator. This time, I was driven inside not by wind-blown clouds but by the windchill. Luckily, I've become quite good at realizing when my fingers are in trouble.
Still, with temperatures at around -1° C before the windchill, the TV 85 gave me some spectacular views in no time. And although some complain that TeleVue telescopes reveal just a bit more false color than, say, Takahashi telescopes, I see no difference between the TV 85 and my FC-100DC. At the limb of the Moon, with the telescope acclimated, there is absolutely no false color. The divide between the brilliant lunar surface and the inky blackness of space is absolute.
Not the best observing nights, but the combination of the Moon and the TV85 never fails to please.
After quite possibly the worst travel experience of my life - thanks, United, for losing two car seats and a suitcase - we returned to Washington on New Year's Eve, where I was happily reunited with my best telescopes. The sky was beautifully clear and transparent on the first day of the new year (and decade), so I decided to ring it in with some Moon watching.
Anything above freezing now feels positively tropical to me, so I was quite comfortable on our observation deck. I would have preferred to walk to a nearby park, since it's too bright on the deck for my eyes to fully adjust to the dark, and that keeps me from enjoying deep space objects as I otherwise might. But my infant son still isn't sleeping, and I need to be on call. Luckily my telescopes pack up in under five minutes.
I began by observing the waxing Moon with a 25mm eyepiece in my Takahashi refractor, for a magnification of about 30x. Immediately, I was simply floored by the difference between that view - which came after about five minutes of acclimation - and the one I'd had through the C90 in Winnipeg. As usual, iPhone pictures simply can't do it justice. The Moon was rife with such extraordinary detail, even at that low magnification, that I could have stared at it for hours, and it had a three-dimensional quality that it never appears to have through a lesser telescope. Although these pictures don't show it, I could clearly see the Moon's ashen light - Earthshine bouncing off its otherwise unilluminated surface - even by naked eye, and the contrast between the sunlight and Earthlit parts of the Moon was glorious through the Takahashi.
Shifting to higher magnifications, I quickly realized that there was something odd about the seeing last night. Looking west, away from the bulk of the city, the view of the Moon was turbulent but stabilized briefly from time to time, revealing glimpses of extraordinary detail. Looking east, towards downtown, the seeing was consistently below average. The Trapezium at the heart of the Orion Nebula, for example, was a disappointing sight. In Winnipeg, the C90 had provided a better view - proof of the obvious fact that, no matter which telescope you use, light pollution and atmospheric conditions will play a huge role in determining what you see.
Betelgeuse danced wildly through the eyepiece, but still I was struck by how much it had dimmed over the past few months. Will it explode soon? It's vanishingly unlikely, but still possible . . . and if so, I'm happy I paid my final respects through the eyepiece. I've always loved comparing it to Rigel.