I had the most extraordinary Mars night last night. Seeing was predicted to be relatively poor, and I drove a couple of hours for a dark sky in what was to be a pretty transparent sky, now mostly clear of smoke. Seeing turned out to be low average, not quite poor. BUT last night I discovered something that everyone on this forum probably already knows. Low average seeing that is variable is far superior to very good seeing that is constant. Those brief seconds, say once per 10 minutes, where the view crystalizes, were amazing. Mars stood still and it looked like a processed photo. Not just the big structures, but texture on the big structures. It was just right there, briefly. This was the best view I have seen since an unusual night in 2003. I actually got choked up viewing it. Partially realizing that this is probably the last time I will ever see this, especially given I have not seen it in 17 years.
I was using an 18" f/4.3 Zambuto scope with a Denk II binoviewer, OCS, and 21 Denk eyepieces and 11 Delites. With the high-power switch, I was mostly at about 330x. At 450x and 600x, it was nice but revealed no additional detail to me. In retrospect, I am not sure I hit a crystalized moment at 600x. A breeze came in and knocked me around a bit at the highest powers, but I knew it was good news because it cools the mirror and right after a breeze passes is sometimes the best seeing combined with a cooled mirror. I installed fans, but the breeze does it better.
I so wish I could sketch it. I had another epiphany last night. It's not that my fingers are clumsy. My vision part of my mind is not well connected to thoughts and actions. I can copy a sketch fine if I can see both simultaneously, but even just a moment away and it is gone. All I can do is say yes or no, did the previous view match this sketch, so I do remember in a sense. But I cannot say what is wrong. I have learned to describe a view in words to myself. A lollipop. But when I go to draw, I literally draw a lollipop, look back in the eyepiece and say, nope, no match. Then I say, how does the view not match a lollipop, and I say well there's a bump at 3 o'clock. Back at the sketch I draw a lollipop with a bump, as if I never saw it, and then I look in the eyepiece and say no match. So I say, ok, how is this view not a lollipop with a bump. And so on. It is torture, but still a fun challenge. Photography would solve it but I am not going there. (It's funny because I am a great star hopper, but really I have the same problem. I cannot remember the shape of stars beyond a moment, so I have to describe the shape to myself, then look at the atlas or computer and find that shape in words. But I am great at transforming the description of the shape, which helps navigate the sky. Same for music. Given two notes in the same octave, and cannot tell you which is higher but I can tell you if you just duplicated it. It's weird.)
Here is what I could capture of the big structures, but they in no way reflect what I saw. These structures I could see about 50% of the time.
Great views of M82 and Stephan's Quintet last night, too.