Thanks all for the warm welcome and comments on my first light post from last week. The skies, the dew point, and the kids all cooperated tonight so I could finally make it out for my first successful DSO session, so it's time for another report!
I've been trying to soak up as many views of Jupiter as I can get, since it's getting awfully close to disappearing from any reasonable observation around me for a handful of months, and this way it'll be extra fun to revisit it when 1) it's darker, 2) the planet is in opposition, and 3) experience improves my seeing. I only got 20-30 minutes/night with it from my backyard, but I figure it'll pay dividends to put in a lot of early reps. It was good to go through the routine of getting the scope out there, line everything up, align the finderscope, collimate, allow it to acclimate, navigate to the planet, focus the low power eyepiece, switch to the higher power pieces without moving the scope (this is taking more practice than I expected). The sooner all of this becomes totally natural the sooner these nights will get that much more enjoyable.
The Z8 went out mid afternoon today so I could get everything set up for both a Jupiter session before dinner and a DSO session later in the evening. Jupiter wasn't great tonight -- it appeared like something above a fire with wavy distortions even at 80x power. ClearDarkSky had seeing as below average, and tonight did seem to be the worst focus I've had of the planet in the four times viewing it so far. BUT -- the skies were clear and the forecast favorable, so I went inside feeling pretty good about my chances for the evening.
I went back out around 20:30 and was immediately blasted by my (south) neighbor's backyard LED lights. They are a LOT. I don't know this neighbor well (just moved into the neighborhood six months ago, and unlike where I grew up there isn't a whole lot of social interaction among neighbors here), but I decided I'd try to stroll over there and make a nice request. We had a nice little chat and he seemed to agree to turning off the lights so I walked back to my backyard feeling pretty good about things. Strangely, about five minutes later, about 25% of the lights went off but the remainder stayed on blasting. I chose not to press my luck further this evening and will continue to fight that battle another night. Boy are they rough though... it's difficult to look up from the eyepiece without the night vision getting pretty crushed. I may need to develop some additional strategies here.
I started the evening with the Pleiades b/c why not? It's easy to find and looks beautiful through the 30mm (40x). I think it gives about a 1.7° fov, and I think something like 2° might just be that much better. But tonight wasn't about something I could do in binoculars... it was time to try out a few of the challenges I had planned for the evening.
First on my list was Eta Cas. It took me longer than perhaps I'd like to admit to navigate the scope even to a place where I was confident that I was looking in the right constellation. Eventually I got slightly frustrated so I did what I probably should've done in the first place which was grab the binoculars. With these I was able to confidently locate Navi, and I spent a minute studying the patterns of fainter stars between there and Eta. Back to the finderscope, and within a few minutes I finally had it centered on what I was reasonably sure was Eta Cas. I looked at it at low power and didn't believe I was resolving anything yet, but more on that later. I still felt it was the right star, so I swapped in the 15mm (80x) and BOOM: I saw a bigger brighter yellow and then a companion that looked reddish. At the time I was at the eyepiece, I had forgotten what colors things were supposed to be, so I was really hoping that this was what was to be expected (I looked back at TLAO between the session and writing this). I spent some time at 80x and then at 133x, and just enjoyed the satisfaction of my first observed double.
Next on my list was Almach. This one was certainly easier for me to find in the scope than Eta Cas, since it seemed to greatly outshine anything within a few degrees of it. This time when I looked with low power I was reasonably confident I could resolve the double, so I bumped it to 80x and put on a nice big smile on my way to the eyepiece feeling pretty good that I had found it. After focusing I could see a bigger brighter yellow-ish star again but this time with a beautiful blue companion!
With the scope on Almach and my eye on Algol, I figured I'd go after M34. I failed. Tried a couple of times but was struggling to see anything in the finder that could be an open cluster, and I also am just not good yet about tracing a line from point A to point B in the sky with any reasonable accuracy. In any case, the first few stops of the night took a bit longer than I expected, and Orion was now in view for me so I decided to move on and try again another night.
What can I even say about M42? It was spectacular. I could resolve the trapezium (four anyway) even at low power, and was pleasantly surprised at the level of shading (of various grays) I got from the nebula. It was the first of what will be many nights spent swapping out magnifications and slowly poking around the nebula. I found a nice little equilateral triangle of similar magnitude stars to be strangely satisfying.
There was one stop remaining for the night, but Sirius wasn't in my 20° wide window to the southern sky yet, so I decided to revisit M45 b/c why not?? Once Sirius did pop into view, though, it was time to go after M41. This time I grabbed the binoculars first and was surprised at how easily I could locate the fuzzy patch. After pretty easily finding this one in the finderscope, it hit me just how helpful it was at this stage in the game to do my spotting first with the binoculars to get a feel for the neighborhood I'm going to be hopping through.
M41 was lovely -- I saw a nice mix of contrasting yellow and blue stars. The color difference was on the fainter side, and most definitely looked better to me at the lowest power, so I spent quite a bit of time looking around the eyepiece with the nice 2" 30mm.
It had been a little over an hour and a half at this point, and I felt pretty good about the night. I decided to navigate to Almach one more time for practice, and got there more quickly this time. I took one more quick peek through the low power eyepiece just to ensure I was on the right star, and then smiled one last time and packed up.
So we're off to a good start here and I'm having a blast. A couple of firsts tonight, but let's just list them all for completeness:
- First moon, check (Luna, then four more a few hours later!)
- First planet, check (Jupiter)
- First double, check (Eta Cas and Almach for dessert)
- First open cluster that doesn't rhyme with Three'a'deez, check (M41)
As far as general observational notes, there are a few. First, I'm not comfortable at the finder or the eyepiece yet. I don't have the right chair or the right posture or even have figured out the best place for my legs when I want to settle in for a longer look. Next, the laser collimator that came with the Z8 seems like it's kinda a mess. When I rotate it in the eyepiece, the dot on the primary makes a circle a little bigger than the center circle on the mirror, so that was a little disconcerting. I do plan on learning how to collimate the laser collimator, but admittedly my initial goal was to get good at collimation without using a laser. A 2" cheshire is actually on its way so I can begin my education next week. We can talk about all that in a post of its own when I spend some time with it and have something to report.
I appreciated how many people seemed to actually make it through my lengthy first post. My plan was to actually cut back a little on this one, but that seems like it went about as well as my hunt for M34. Thanks in particular to clearwaterdave, JohnBear, Dave Mitsky, Ulmer Spatz and I'm sure I'm missing others for some tips and tricks in the first light thread that helped me to have even more fun tonight!