After ogling the Orion Nebula in my new observing site on January 7, I got a little overzealous and made the mistake of returning with my AR 102 just after a rainstorm, on a humid night that soon clouded over. Hunched over in the mud, I could barely make out anything, and I soon enjoyed the company of a big, barking dog. Someone turned on some really bright spotlights at Sidwell Friends School that I can't remember seeing last time, so observing any deep space objects was out of the question. All in all: a disappointment.
On a partly cloudy night roughly a week later, I stepped out with my 15x70 binoculars and returned to the park. The lights were on again, but I found a dark shadow under hill that shielded me from the glare. I reclined on the hill and had ethereally beautiful view of the Pleiades and Hyades open clusters, which are now too near zenith to be easy targets for my refractor. Of the two, the Hyades cluster impressed me more, both because I know it's relatively near Earth (just a 150 light year trip!), and because bright, crimson Aldebaran contrasted strikingly with the surrounding stars.
Over a week went by before the sky cleared again. Tonight, on February 7, I ventured out with my AR 102 to catch a glimpse of the Moon, Venus, and Mars. It was windier than I expected so the seeing was quite poor, and it again so cold that my hands quickly turned into claws. Nevertheless, the waxing crescent Moon was striking even at 20x. I tried to take a picture using my iPhone and a little gadget I picked up that fastened the phone to my eyepiece. However, the results were disappointing, and I found it hard to keep the phone positioned over the eyepiece. Money poorly spent, it seems.
Before long, I wheeled my telescope from the Moon to Venus, which was beginning to approach the western horizon. Venus is nearing inferior conjunction, which means that it's getting close to the Earth. It is, therefore, both extremely bright and fairly big through the eyepiece. I have always found Venus disappointing, since uniformly bright clouds shroud the planet and prevent visual observers from seeing much more than a featureless crescent. This time, I could make out that crescent just fine at 132x, but it bobbed and flickered in the turbulent atmosphere, and chromatic aberration surrounded it with a purple halo. Not the best view. Mars was little better: it's now so far from Earth that it's just about impossible to see any surface features using my little refractor.
Yes, the seeing was poor, but I wondered whether my optics were also a little soft. It seemed hard to focus the telescope. I turned to a really bright star - the white giant Sirius - and decided that the view was, indeed, a little fuzzy. I from my old eyepieces to a brand new, variable magnification eyepiece and suddenly noticed that the view was a bit sharper. Maybe I'll have to clean those older eyepieces.
My hands were about to freeze off, so I turned to give the Moon a last look before packing it in. Using the variable magnification eyepiece at 83x, the view was just spectacular. In fleeting moments of good seeing, the mountains on the crater rims suddenly popped out in razor sharp detail. It felt like I was tumbling down towards them from an unimaginable height. With my telescope and eyepiece cooled down, I could make out no chromatic aberration at all.
All in all, two satisfying observing nights and one disappointment. Urban observing isn't easy, and with my telescopes it's all but pointless for most deep space objects. Still, it's hard to describe the magic of those stunning views of the Moon, or the standout Winter star clusters.