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.