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First planet! History of a happy failure.

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#1 radiofm74

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 04:46 AM

Mercury is approaching greatest western elongation, and I have perfect sight to the East from my balcony, almost 0° to zenith. 

First try a few days ago: I don't know exactly where to look (where's 120°??), I sweep the morning sky in a general "East/SouthEast" direction and find nothing.

This morning I get there armed to my teeth. I have noted down position relative to Altair and Vega, and relative to Saturn and Jupiter. I also have exact reference points around my balcony (120° is that antenna). 6.20, up dressed and out. Altair and Vega are still bright. Hoo-raaah!

 

Naked eye, I see my reference stars but can't find the planets. They're already engulfed in the glare of dawn. Binos help though: I spot one planet already relatively high. I move a few degrees down and to the East: there's another one, brighter, just above the buildings. I assume the first one is Saturn, and the brighter one is Mercury.

 

I point my scope but the OTA sits lower than my binos while I am standing – there's a chimney top obstructing the view. I wait a couple of minutes for it to clear it and THERE IT IS! A perfectly round disk shining against coming dawn. I go to higher power… wonderful. Hey, I got Mercury! I faintly see bands. Wait a second… bands? A round disk? It's Jupiter!!  OK, not to worry, I'll enjoy Jupiter for a while – I've never seen it until now! – and go looking for Mercury in a few minutes. 

 

Wrong: when I finally decide to poke around a few degrees up and west, I can't find anything. Sun is not up yet, but the sky is likely too clear already. On one of my attempts, I leave Jupiter, find nothing, and when I go back it's nowhere to be found. Session over.

 

OK, I missed my main goal and make a mental note of my mistakes: I should have centered my sights on the first planet, or gone looking for Mercury immediately on realizing that I had Jupiter in the eyepiece. Good experience. 

 

But I am elated: my first good sight of a planet (Jupiter no less), I loved it, and had Mercury in my binoculars too albeit briefly. I'm confident that from now to greater elongation I'll get Mercury. If I'm lucky with the weather, I'll even get both it and Jupiter in the eyepiece at the same time. Conjunction is expected for the 4th and 5th.

 

… now where's that coffee…  


Edited by radiofm74, 01 March 2021 - 07:17 AM.

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#2 DLuders

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 06:57 AM

Great story!  You can plan your next observing session by downloading the free planetarium program called Stellarium.  You can set it to your location, and go forwards/backwards in time to see the relative positions of the planets against the stars (since they move night to night).  You can see when your session should start (when fighting the glare of dawn), and when the target planet(s) are high enough in the sky to get above your landmarks.  smile.gif


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#3 SloMoe

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 07:03 AM

This site will give you a better idea of just where all the disc's are.

 

https://www.theplanetstoday.com/


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#4 radiofm74

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 07:07 AM

Great story!  You can plan your next observing session by downloading the free planetarium program called Stellarium.  You can set it to your location, and go forwards/backwards in time to see the relative positions of the planets against the stars (since they move night to night).  You can see when your session should start (when fighting the glare of dawn), and when the target planet(s) are high enough in the sky to get above your landmarks.  smile.gif

Thanks a lot! I use Starry Night for just that purpose and am very happy with it – that's how I prepared my little session.

 

Measuring accurately obstruction in all directions is of course another story. I'm taking notes and will get there eventually, but experience tells me that I tend to underestimate altitude greatly. 8° is a lot higher than I surmised, and I can see the sun above the horizon when, according to my stellarium app, it's barely 1.4° high.

 

Anyway: more than any other experience, this one taught me how important knowing your own turf is!



#5 radiofm74

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 07:07 AM

This site will give you a better idea of just where all the disc's are.

 

https://www.theplanetstoday.com/

Lovely, thanks!



#6 rblackadar

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 11:56 AM

Some elongations are better than others, owing to the ecliptic angle. Unfortunately, this one isn't as favorable, in the northern hemisphere, as the one last November.

 

Still, thanks for the reminder -- I'll want to try for the conjunction.

 

Do be careful about the nearby sun, with your scope.


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#7 radiofm74

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 12:04 PM

Some elongations are better than others, owing to the ecliptic angle. Unfortunately, this one isn't as favorable, in the northern hemisphere, as the one last November.

 

Still, thanks for the reminder -- I'll want to try for the conjunction.

 

Do be careful about the nearby sun, with your scope.

Thanks rblackradar,

 

I use two precautions to avoid accidents:

-- I always take care not to be in the immediate vicinity of where the sun will rise (today there were about 20° between the location of the planets and the sun)

-- in any case, I stop looking into any optical instrument as soon as the hour of civil sunrise (0°) arrives. 

 

I hope it's enough – I most definitely don't want any permanent damage to my eyesight – but if there are further, tried-and-tested precautions among amateur astronomers I'm all ears!



#8 rblackadar

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 12:37 PM

Well, I tend to be more worried about leaving the caps off my scope and finder, and damaging them by accident, than about looking into it at the wrong time.

 

But then again, I'll be putting a camera on my main scope, and any damage would be to that, not my eye.


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#9 radiofm74

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 12:39 PM

Well, I tend to be more worried about leaving the caps off my scope and finder, and damaging them by accident, than about looking into it at the wrong time.

 

But then again, I'll be putting a camera on my main scope, and any damage would be to that, not my eye.

Ah, ok! Well, as any noob scared to damage his equipment, I think that I am even too diligent in putting all caps and covers back on once I've finished observing ;D



#10 radiofm74

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Posted 02 March 2021 - 02:59 AM

Hmm… next time I'll ponder the title of my threads better, because a failure it ain't no more. 

 

This morning I got out a little earlier, coffee in hand, knowing that the first minutes were the most precious. 

Stars were still shining and dawn just starting. Aaaaah, the beauty. No planet was visible with naked eye, but I spotted Saturn quickly with the binos, and centered on it with the scope. My first view of Saturn! I know the time of the year is not favorable at all, but seeing its disk and rings so clearly delineated against the sky was a real thrill. It was high enough, and the sky was dark enough, that I could give it all the magnification I have (≈280x) although the most enjoyable view was at 125-170x.

After a good 10 minutes on it, I went looking for Mercury with binoculars. I did not spot it – it's SMALL – but I spotted Jupiter – big and bright, still low in the sky. I centered on it with the scope, got confirmation that it was Jupiter, and noticed in my Planetarium app that their Declinations were within a few arc-minutes. So with Jupiter in my low power eyepiece, with a FoV of about 2°, I started scanning along the RA axis and Mercury fell right in the eyepiece.

I had a good half an hour with it – not counting a short pause to prepare breakfast for my daughter and keep her company.

While it was low in the sky, seeing was not good, so I did a little back and forth with Jupiter. As it rose, it got dimmer with advancing dawn but seeing improved substantially. Now I could clearly make it out like a small half moon. I'd say that the limit of useful mag was with my 10mm + a 2.25 Barlow (≈170x) but the view at lower magnification was crisper, if smaller. From time to time, I'd see it get a red hue and glow stronger, but I guess it was a trick of the atmosphere. 

 

Well, there will probably be better moments to observe Mercury, and certainly I have dates in August noted down for Jupiter and Saturn. But boy was it great to spend an hour with these three wonders this morning!


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#11 therealdmt

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Posted 02 March 2021 - 04:11 AM

I missed Mercury at it’s greatest evening elongation back in January - like you, I saw nearby Jupiter and Saturn, but unlike you on your second try, I never could pull Mercury out of the bright, thick, hazy atmosphere on the horizon (that could be seen between the buildings and trees).

 

Well, I’m more of an evening guy than a morning person, so I’ll salute you for your pre-sunrise triumph salute.gif and wait for Mercury to return to the evening skies in May and then again in September for my own next attempts.

 

Sounds like you had a real nice pile-up of planets going there waytogo.gif  The Moon will start joining them in about a week too, I see


Edited by therealdmt, 02 March 2021 - 04:24 AM.

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#12 radiofm74

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Posted 02 March 2021 - 04:20 AM

I missed Mercury at it’s greatest evening elongation back in January - like you, I saw nearby Jupiter and Saturn, but unlike you on your second try, I never could pull Mercury out of the bright, thick, hazy atmosphere on the horizon.

 

Well, I’m more of an evening guy than a morning person, so I’ll salute you for your pre-sunrise triumph and wait for Mercury to return to the evening skies in May and then again in September for my next attempts. Sounds like you had a real nice pile-up of planets going there, though.  The Moon will start joining them in about a week too, I see

It was great! I'd have loved to see the conjunction of Jupiter and Mercury, but it will be cloudy. Ah well… But I might be able to see it close to Mistress Luna, you're right!


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#13 rhetfield

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Posted 02 March 2021 - 08:57 AM

Congratulations.  Mercury and Pluto are the only ones I have not seen yet.  Pluto is too small and far for my scope and Mercury never gets above the trees, buildings and haze.


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#14 radiofm74

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Posted 10 March 2021 - 01:54 AM

Just an update for my fellow newbies. That full success of the second attempt  has been followed by three more determined attempts – 2 days ago, yesterday and today. Each time I got up earlier, fully prepared, knowing where to look, but no dice. I managed to get a couple morning views of the moon and, this morning, Jupiter. Every time there were clouds or haze right at the wrong spot. 

 

 

I was still very happy to see Jupiter this morning, but I appreciate how lucky I have been: it's not just good prep. It's also a matter of persistence, patience, and getting the right conditions at the right moment.

 

Clear skies everyone!


Edited by radiofm74, 10 March 2021 - 04:34 PM.

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