April 8, 2020
To put it lightly, conditions here have been far from ideal for observing. Our rooftop is now closed, following DC's lockdown order, and even going inside feels increasingly perilous (though some models suggest we may be approaching or even passing our COVID-19 peak). The weather, meanwhile, has been nothing short of atrocious, with almost unrelenting cloudiness at night, even after clear days.
Tonight, the sky finally cleared up for a few hours. The astronomy forecast told me to expect better than average transparency with worse than average seeing. Since I usually specialize in lunar, planetary, and double star observing - the stuff I can do from the city almost as well as the countryside - I typically prefer good seeing over good transparency, so again it promised to be a sub-par night. Still, I had to take a telescope out before the mosquitoes come out in late spring. With the rooftop closed, I may not be able to observe comfortably for a long time when they do appear.
Sadly, even municipal park is closed, too, so I was forced back to my old observing site, in a community garden with rows of plants and flowers that together create a labyrinth. Sadly, in the past two years two new buildings have popped up nearby, each with floodlights, so the spot is much worse than it once was. And even though I brought my FC-100 DC - my all-around, can't miss workhorse - on my lightest tripod, the ten-minute walk with all my gear was nothing if not uncomfortable.
Still, there was Venus, just a few months from its opposition, almost comically bright in the western sky. I recently upgraded the Takahashi with a Rigel Quickfinder, which makes it so much easier to point the telescope. Within moments, Venus was in my sights. I bought a new Baader diagonal too - the best of the lot - and hoped to see a bit more of the planet than I had before.
Indeed, the view was probably my best of the year, although with Venus that's not saying too much. It was quite low in the night sky, and it did have noticeable false color. Still, the seeing was actually probably above average (!), and there were moments when the atmosphere settled down enough for some sharp views of the planet and its striking cusps. I don't expect a better view this year, and wow - I even managed to get a (terrible) picture!
It was atmospheric transparency that seemed far below average tonight. When I turned to the Orion Nebula, for example, the view was pretty disappointing. Orion is getting low in the night sky, and I've discovered that that makes a huge difference for its famous nebula in particular. As soon as the atmosphere gets too thick, the nebula starts to blend into the rest of the sky. Pointing to Rigel, however, I was astonished at the brightness of Rigel B and the separation I could see between it and Rigel A. It was the clearest view I've had of this spectacular star system.
By then, the nearly full Moon was on the rise. It was a "Super Pink Moon," apparently, and although that doesn't refer to its actual color, bizarrely the Moon did have a pinkish hue near the horizon - a product, I suspect, of a hazy atmosphere with high humidity. Taking any pictures proved to be a nightmare. Since I can't sit in the garden, my hands and especially my legs are far less steady than they are on the rooftop. The picture above is the best I got, and doesn't quite capture the clarity of the image.
It does reveal, however, the excellent color correction on the Takahashi. I'd been tempted to replace the DC with a DZ during a recent Takahashi sale, as I mentioned below, but figured that the much lower weight of the DC made it a better bet for me - and that the visual performance would not be noticeable most nights. I felt a bit better about that decision after last night, though still: once you develop expensive eyes, it's hard not to imagine what even better color correction might be like.
Towards the end of the night, a few deer nearly blundered into me, and they seemed a bit reluctant to leave when I greeted them. I kept hearing their rustling nearby. Then, I nearly stumbled across a raccoon on the walk home. With fewer people on the streets, DC's other residents seem to be taking over.