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To get away from compulsively checking poll results last night, I shut down the computer and went outside to do a little backyard astronomy. It was cold, but the sky was clear and the stars were calling.

(I should point out that my 12" Meade LS90GPS GPS telescope's drive is still dysfunctional due to a nuked hand controller. The one I purchased from eBay to replace it? Doesn't work with my particular model of drive, so I'll have to update the firmware in hopes that it might do me some good. So this means I was bouncing around the light-polluted Lawrence sky using only my Mark I Eyeball for object-identification. Happily, these objects are very simple to pick out among the stars.)

First up - and how couldn't I, what with it blazing as the brightest other than the Moon night-time object in the sky! - was Jupiter. I will never weary of its beauty and majesty, the drama of its bands and zones rushing past one another at hundreds of miles per hour, in their wake creating vortices larger than the entire planet Earth. As a kid who read too much Heinlein, my great dream was one day to explore the moons of Jupiter, to live in the realm of the Giant Planets, far from the Earth and all its attendant troubles. Can you imagine what it must be like to wake up, look out the window, and see something like this every day?


Click the image to see more of Jeff Bryant's astro-art.

Here's a video of Jupiter taken through a telescope like mine. He gets a little nicer views than one can see with the naked eye, but it's a good indication of what's possible to see with a backyard instrument:


Click the image to see more great astrophotos by Mike Salway.

Because it floated nearby, I next moved on to the Andromeda Galaxy. This is one of the very first astronomical objects I ever photographed (and developed the film!) through my Crown 6" f/8 Newtonian German-equatorial reflector when I was 13, using a Minolta XRT201 (I still remember!) 35mm film camera. Visually in a city's light pollution, one doesn't see much, but here's what you can capture with a CCD camera and a little patience:


Click the image to see more of Leo Taylor's astrophotos.

Visually, not terribly exciting, but let your imagination conjure up hundreds of millions of stars spiraling around a suprmassive black hole at the core; think of all the thousands or millions of planets harboring life... a galaxy is an island universe (click to see what Andromeda looks like through an observatory 'scope), everything that we'll ever likely see in person should we go to the stars. Our galaxy is every star in our sky, every nebula, every globular cluster, everything within millions of lightyears. That's a galaxy. So even if it's just a smeary fuzz in the eyepiece, you know what you're seeing, and that makes all the difference.

Finally I pointed the 'scope over the roof of my house, through some tree branches, to catch a glimpse of the Orion Nebula. Not the optimal viewing scenario, so I didn't expect much, but figured I'd catch my favorite deep-sky object while it floated between some naked branches, then head inside. What I didn't expect was the phenomenal, dramatic, awe-inspiring view my 78°-field-of-view, 17mm eyepiece provided. Holy emission and absorption nebula, Batman!


Click the image to see more great astrophotos by Mike Salway.

It was so beautiful that my breath caught; it was as if I had never seen this nebula through a telescope before. In the foreground, dark lanes of dust and gas billow, partially obscuring the bright background nebulosity lit by the Trapezium cluster (those four bright stars at the core of the nebula). I'm sure I expressed my awe verbally. Just wow. I swapped out my eypiece for an 82°-field-of-view, 33mm unit in order to catch the companion cluster and nebula (below in the photo above), but reducing magnification hid some of the details, so next I installed my f/6.3 focal reducer into the back of the 'scope and re-installed the 33mm eyepiece... but by now Orion had passed into the trees. Time to call it a night.

So I went from disappointed and disgusted to filled with delight. This is why I love astronomy. When I need a lift, when I need to know there's something beautiful in the universe, when I need to feel that good ol' sensawunda, the sky never lets me down.

Chris

Comments

weaselmom
Nov. 3rd, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
This is one reason I miss seeing you. I have all these astronomy-related questions but they're too dumb to ask in public.