Last updated: 3 March 2003
The weather was finally clear on a night when my wife let me stay home (as opposed to going to the opera, a play, a party, whatever). This was an unusual occurrence! So, shortly after sunset, I grabbed (not all at once) the LXD55 8"SC, my Starbound Observing Chair, the small carpet I use for padding, the $99 Meade eyepiece case (with eyepieces), my filter set, the Astrozap dew shield, and the Meade AC Adapter, and went out to the patio to start setting up and let the telescope cool down.
I aligned the GEM roughly to North and put the telescope in the GEM Home position. I rotated the tripod until Polaris was centered in the finderscope. I then proceeded to do an Easy 2 star alignment; unfortunately the dec axis stopped slewing on the way to the first alignment star so I moved the telescope back to the Home position and started over. I have had this problem before and it is always because I forget to check the axis lock to ensure it is tightened. The next alignment worked perfectly even though I couldn't see the 2nd alignment star through my house (so I just accepted it as centered). It turned out that for tonight's purpose this was a perfectly fine alignment.
First up for viewing was Saturn, which was almost at the zenith; GOTO put it almost in the center of the finderscope. The view was nice although it was slightly breezy, causing the image to jump around occasionally (but not as bad as I expected, given the extra area of the dew shield). With the 12.4mm eyepiece (161X) tracking was good and when the breeze wasn't blowing, the image was steady even though the telescope had hardly cooled down (a 20°F+ temperature differential). I put on a #8 light yellow filter, which nicely brought out the visible cloud band. Seeing wasn't good enough for the 6.4mm (312X) but Saturn was a delight in the 12.4.
Next up for observing was Jupiter, definitely the highlight of this night's observing for me. GOTO put it near the center of the finderscope. Again, the 12.4mm eyepiece with the #8 light yellow filter provided a really nice view of Jupiter, several cloud bands, the Great Red Spot (GRS), and three moons. One moon was close the planet's disk so I checked "J-Moons", part of the Star Pilot (Palm OS) package, to see which moon it was and whether it would transit Jupiter or be eclipsed by Jupiter and how soon. I discovered that it was the moon Io and would indeed transit, and it would begin in about an hour. I then began to wonder about it's shadow. So I pulled out the March 2003 issue of Sky and Telescope and yes, the shadow was already in transit across Jupiter's disk. So back to the telescope; I put in the 6.4mm eyepiece (312X) and yes, there the shadow was, just on the north edge of the North Equatorial Band. I had missed it earlier when looking at Jupiter with the 12.4mm eyepiece. But now that I new where to look I could see it in the 12.4mm as well as the 9.7mm eyepiece (206X). In all my years of being an amateur astronomer (with smaller telescopes than this 8"SC) I had never seen a moon's shadow and for it to be small-ish Io, well, this was obviously a big thrill! I spent most of the rest of this observing session just watching Io and its shadow. Of course, the GRS position moved a lot during the session due to the 10 hour rotation period of Jupiter. But the next thrill was watching Io approach Jupiter's limb and then still be visible as a bright point of light even after well onto Jupiter's disk. Impressive!!! Again, something I had never seen.
During all this Jupiter watching, I rarely had to re-center it in the eyepiece, even at 312X. I would say that my Home position was pretty good and that the OTA was pretty well aligned to the polar axis of the GEM (no adjustments in alignment have been made). Eventually, some high clouds messed up the seeing enough so that the shadow and Io were no longer visible.
I then took my obligatory look at M42, the Great Nebula in Orion, which I never tire of, in the 26mm eyepiece.
I then decided to go for one more object before calling it a very successful and fun night. I chose the "Ghost of Jupiter" (which seemed fitting!). It is a named DSO in the Autostar and worth a look if you haven't seen it. In the 26mm eyepiece (77X) it appeared as a small round faint bluish planetary nebula.
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February 2003 observations
November, December 2002 and January 2003 observations
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