Category Archives: Planets

Weeping to the Heavens

Moon photographed with iPhone and Z12
February 5, 2013

We had a fantastic night last night in our group observation for the Eastern Ozarks Astronomical Society. It was the usual crew plus a couple of newbies. Of course Russ and Karen were there. Kaleesha made it back for her third time at the scope and with her Blueberry and Seth. It was Seth’s first time and he took to the scope very naturally. Our new Farmington astronomer friend Mark made it for the second night in a row and though we were clouded out first night, last night we had perfect skies from sunset till sunrise. It’s always nice having new folks in attendance. We discussed open clusters, the use of the word nebula in the initial naming of galaxies which, at the time, were not known to be galaxies! We also went over star hopping with the 8″ dobsonian with a red dot finder and folks got a chance to find a few Messier objects. Lots of fun! We also saw a very nice green fireball!

After most folks left Russ and I had an excellent conversation about the scientific method and the importance of skepticism. After that I took a brief dinner break and then set back out for some solo galaxy observations from my Herschel 400 list.

After about six galaxies I took a break to just look up with my eyes and the beauty of it was just too much. I suppose all there is to say about it is that I cried and I kept on crying. I thought I’d finished and then I cried more. No doubt, a part of what was going on was that I’d set a particular song on repeat, The Cinematic Orchestra’s song To Build a Home and I’m fairly certain that it was the song, combined with what I was seeing, that sent me over the edge. To be honest there have been several such moments  during my nights at the scope over the past few months. I’m usually able to control it but sometimes it is good to just let go and accept it.

Saturn photographed with iPhone and Z12
February 5, 2013

It’s not the first time I’ve had the sensation, a sort of heightened alertness and emotional intensity that just comes in like a slow motion wave. Usually it’s just the result of really being in the moment, be it under the night sky looking at stars or standing in the cold watching my breath seemingly frozen midair or any number of other similar moments. It is as if time slows down and in those moments I am not just seeing what’s around me,  but being in what is around me. To put it simply, it seems like a convergence of emotion and intellect that results in something not quite our normal day-to-day experience, something overwhelming.

I’m guessing most people have these moments at various times in their lives… I certainly hope so. I’ve mentioned to a few folks recently that I feel like, more often than not, I exist in this sort of low level bliss. In part I think it comes with this kind of simple life. I own so little and live in such a small space that my life is not about owning but about being, about experiencing… searching and exploring. Our lives are short and so it makes sense to me to live it as my life but to do so in constant connection and ever deepening relation. I made a choice to never have children so being connected means something different for me. It’s frogs and stars, geese and planets, friends and family, it is belonging to life and to the earth and to this cosmos. When you belong you are free.

Viewing Jupiter and Saturn!

There is little doubt that when viewing planets in our solar system the two most likely to elicit a gasp of surprise from a first time planetary viewer are Jupiter and Saturn.

In recent weeks Jupiter has been rising at a time early enough to be high in the horizon by 9pm. If you view too early, 6pm or so at the time of this writing the planet is too low and will likely result in poor seeing conditions which means that air turbulence will cause a bit of blurriness and shimmering. If however you view later in the evening there is less turbulence and it is higher in the sky so what turbulence there is will be less. This is especially noticeable at the high magnification used for viewing planetary details. With my 8″ diameter scope I use a 5mm eye piece which results in a magnification of 240x (this is figured by dividing the focal length of the scope by the eyepiece, in my case 1200mm/5mm=240x). This lens pushes the limits of my scope and unless seeing conditions are excellent my views are poor.

This past week I’ve had several occasions to view Jupiter and it has been a fantastic view each time thanks to excellent conditions. At high magnification I can view several distinct cloud bands as well as the Great Red Spot as well as several moons, usually four depending on the time.

Saturn is a bit more tricky at this time due to its position in relation to our planet’s daily revolution. At the moment Saturn rises just before the sun in the morning and sets just before the sun sets which means that to view it you have to look to the south east just before sunrise and it will be visible to the naked eye below Venus which is by far the brightest object in the sky at that time. At 5:50am Saturn will look like a small star midway between the horizon and Venus. Through my 8″ scope with the a less powerful eyepiece such as an 18mm the rings are visible but the planet appears fairly small. With the 5mm eyepiece and good seeing conditions the rings are easily visible and the overall image is stunning even in the bright morning light. In fact, I was still able to easily view the planet after it was no longer visible with the naked eye. Of course with a bright sky the color and details are not as clear.

Of course this changes with each day because Saturn rises earlier in relation to the Sun and within just a couple weeks will provide a much better view with a much darker sky. At the end of November Saturn will be easily viewable at 5:15am when the sky is significantly darker. Around November 26 and 27th Saturn will be passing behind Venus which should provide an interesting view! By mid December the planet will be well above the horizon by 5:15am and the sun lower which will provide an incredible view.