Thursday, January 12, 2012

Astronomy For Dummies: (Almost) Naked Edition


First, welcome to the second installment of Astronomy For Dummies. Second, I bet you're as excited about this post as I am, aren't you? Come on, admit it. Space is so cool, and we're in it right now (!!)

And .... no, I never claimed to be funny or even consistently witty. Shhhhh.

Third, this is called the "(almost) naked" edition because I was almost entirely viewing with the naked eye last night, the exception being when I took part of my telescope upstairs to help me out. Sorry to disappoint you, but this ain't Skinemax!

Last night was an incredibly clear night in San Francisco. Of all the nights I've stargazed on my roof, I've never seen conditions as clear and dark as last night. The Pleiades (my favorite) looked huge, even from the ground, and it was sparkling like champagne. It took my breath away. Orion's nebula was also glimmering much more brightly than I'm usually able to see it, and from the moment I stepped onto the roof, I knew I would spend a lot of my night there. 

A couple of hours later, I returned to the roof, this time armed with Star Chart (Android app, truly awesome, only $2.99 in the app store) as well as the finderscope from my larger telescope. I usually use the finderscope when we're not feeling up to setting the large telescope up and spending hours on the roof at a time. It's nowhere near as magnifying as the large telescope, but it does a great job for a little guy, and I love being able to see a bit more than usual with minimal effort/no calibration. 

I went up several times during the night. Confession: the first time I brought up the finderscope with me, I accidentally stayed up there for 45 minutes! It was that fascinating, and oh my goodness, does time ever fly when you're looking at the stars...at least, it does for me.

Here is some of what I saw last night. All of these were firsts for me.  I've tried to find photos of each on the internet that are approximately the same size I saw. Keep in mind that this will be far less impressive-seeming than pictures of what I see out of the big telescope, but that's your problem, isn't it? I can assure you, it was just as mind blowing at a smaller scale. The universe is amazing:

Messier 13, aka the Great Hercules Globular Cluster ... this looks a bit larger than what I saw. 

Antares (Alpha Scorpii) & most of Sorpio & Libra. I hadn't glimpsed either one before, so that was fun!
Arcturus; I'd never seen it because you have to be up right before dawn to see it.
The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies ... this is a bit generous, I could barely make it out but I could! Exciting!

You kind of had to be there.

I also peeked at the usual suspects: the moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, The Pleiades, etc. I went on another incredibly frustrating and inconclusive search for the Andromeda Galaxy & the Crab Nebula, both of which I might have seen, but due to the hand held, small nature of my finderscope, there isn't any way to be sure until I get the big 'scope out there. I can't wait to do that, but at the same time, it was really nice to have as much fun as I did last night without the major assembly/calibration.

Perhaps, if you're not having winter this year like us in SF, this post will motivate you to go outside at night and gaze upward. If you do, please let me know what you saw! We can geek out together.  And besides, what's more "dummy friendly" than these instructions: GO OUTSIDE. LOOK UP! 

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