Posts Tagged ‘Jupiter’

Ok, I’ll eat my words.

When was it? Last week, perhaps, or the week before? That I tried binoviewing once more and swore that would be my last trip down that road?

See, I have ventured into binoviewing a total of five times now over several years. My most successful experience was with an early Denkmeir and they worked best for me on the 8-inch SCT I had at the time. That was about six or seven years ago. I’m not sure why I stopped using them. Perhaps just too much of a bother to change powers – and they were rather big and awkward and subject to getting knocked about.

Since then I’ve tried the closely related Earthwins and had to return them because – as with the Denks –  found them too large, and awkward, and complicated to use – especially for the kind of public outreach I was doing then. You can’t have people line up for a view and then spend half the  time adjusting the binoviewers for each person. Too bad, because the view can be absolutely stupendous as I found last night when I approached a new, inexpensive pair with an entirely different attitude.

Yes, your approach and expectations matter. In this case I made up my mind that I would treat the binoviewers as if they were a pair of binoculars with fixed eyepieces and that’s all I would use for that observing session. That’s much different  than  the mind-set you have when viewing in cyclops mode and frequently popping in one eyepiece or another with little to do but make a slight focus adjustment.  That approach can’t be taken with binoviewers where they can:

  • radically change the scope balance on a mount
  • the interpupillary distance may need to be changed
  • the focus will change considerably – I mean considerably – from a single eyepiece to a binoviewer
  • the changing focus can mean with a SCT  enough image shift to actually lose sight of your target, or at least require recentering
  • the individual eyepieces may need to be adjusted so they show they both are in focus
  • and, depending on design, you may have to pull the binoviewer out of the diagonal and screw on a barlow lens just to get them to come to focus in a refractor – hey, in my case I also had to change from  a 2-inch diagonal to a 1.25-inch one

Bottom line, that’s a lot of screwing around. Denk, Earthwin – and perhaps others – get around some of these issues by adding lenses that slide in and out in a patented mechanism, thus giving you two or three different powers with minimum hassle – but also adding bulk and weight to the whole set up.

So, my solution? First, i changed my mind set and expectations and it turned out to be a real lesson in how expectations relate to perceived outcomes.  As i say, i decided to treat the binoviewer/scope combination as if it were a fixed-power binocular – with the bonus that with some hassle I really could change powers, but it would be more involved than with a single eyepiece and I shouldn’t do it casually.  This mindset actually complements my observing philosophy where I think too often that I tend to flit around too much and not stay on target long enough.

Second, I bought – new for $179 – a pair of the Chinese imports from Orion – simple, light weight binoviewers, and as it turns out, quite effective in terms of my lower expectations. In these I settled on a pair of 20mm TV Plossls and I decided to use them primarily in the observatory with an 8-inch Meade SCT – a typical alt-az “go to” set up where most of the time I ignore the “go to” part, but take advantage of the tracking. Tracking also encourages time on target and makes using the binoviewer less stressful.

And I loved my initial experience despite really crappy conditions – a nearly full Moon, way too much dew, and high clouds frequently interfering, not to mention abysmal seeing.

The detail on Jupiter was terrific even through a dew-covered corrector plate. The Great Red Spot just jumped out at me – despite the moon being right next door.  And I know it’s just our mind playing tricks on us, but damn, Jupiter looked like a sphere rather than a disc! And the Moon? Hey, it was like taking a helicopter ride over a landscape that was fascinating even though mostly flatly lit. Almach, a favorite double, was pretty darned good as well – and I was transfigured by my view of what I regard as a Klingon Warship – the brighter stars of the open cluster M34.  That cluster has a fascinating set of pairs as well and even though the Moon was washing it out and the binoviewers stealing some of the light the 8-inch mirror was gulping down, I was transfixed. I even liked the view of M31/32, but by this time I was struggling with clouds and quickly gave  up trying to spot M110 in the moonlight and mist – and yes, I did put the 2X nosepiece on and it did give a nice view of Jupiter and the Moon, but I need  more time with it.

So I came in, jotted some notes, then decided there were enough sucker holes to give this thing a try on the TV85 – at least find out if it would come to focus. So I put the LXD75 on the deck, didn’t bother with a battery – just slapped the TV85 on and pointed it manually at the Moon – big blob. Uh huh.  Put on the 2X Barlow – and Orion does warn you that you may need this to reach focus in a refractor. Nope – didn’t do the trick. So I took out the 2-inch diagonal, put in a 1.25-inch diagonal and tried again. This time I could reach focus as long as I used the 2X Barlow. Eh – not bad, but I would have to have real good reason to change things around that much. Binoviewing is nice, but for now I think I;’ll consider that the TV 85 is a clyclops scope – and I really don’t want to try the binoviewer on anything smaller both because  of light loss and weight.

The Orion isn’t the weight of the Denk, but it’s not light. The Denk in the old Big Easy package I had most recently used – no special switches or anything – weights 20 ounces. The Orion is an ounce or two lighter. But add the switching mechanism to the Denk and it really bulks up and the price is much more.  I guess price was a major factor here. I could accept the idea of the binoviewer/scope as a fixed-power binocular at the $170 price of the Orion – not at the $500 price of the Denk Big Easy.

Truth is, the Orion binoviewer, even with an extra Plossl eyepiece counted in is roughly the equivalent of one my Naglers on the used market – so this is a binoviewer I can treat as another eyepiece. Again – frame of mind – it means a lot. 😉

Anyway, somewhere I had read – I think it was in the Denk literature – that you shouldn’t use the binoviewer with a focal reducer on the SCT. Hmmm. I wanted to give the  C6 SCT a turn with the binoviewer through the next sucker hole and there was a focal reducer on it. Certainly would give me a wider field and make finding things easier. Hell – I left it on. And guess what – no obvious problems. I need to investigate this more, but my first impression was” “I love it.” There was the Moon again, looking like a 3D globe with some space around it – 47X in a six inch by my calculations. Now that’s a nice step up from my 20X60 binoculars. Yeah! Lot’s of possibilities there.

I went back in, put up a “wanted” ad for a pair of 15mm TV Plossls and quickly ended up with an offer for some 13mm of the old  Circle “NJ” type. I like those, so I bought them. I also think the 13mm a better choice in terms of powers with the  C6  or the eight inch than the 15mm. SO given the   focal reducer, this is what the two sets of eyepieces – 20 and 13mm Plossls, plus 2X Barlow – wo;; offer me.

In the 8-inch I will then have 100X, 154X, 200X and a mostly unusable 308X – on the C6 with focal reducer the range will be more reasonable:

47X, 73X, 94X, and 146X

Take out the focal reducer and the C6 goes from 75X, 115X, 150X, and 230X – not too shabby.

But, of course, I need to return to my mindset of fixed binocular. Switching this stuff around won’t be that easy. In fact, the only relatively east   switch will be to just change to the Barlow. See, changing the eyepieces means refocusing each eyepiece individually. Something that goes smoothly enough, but. . .. well, I need experience with the system with both sets of eyepieces and I won’t have that second set for about a week. It’s on its way now from Canada.  Then , given the price, maybe I should get another Orion and put the 13mm eyepieces in it, then treat the two binoviewer as if they were individual eyepieces, putting one or the other in the diagonal. Don’t laugh.  If the convenience factor is important enough and I continue to really enjoy binoviewing – and I do like using both eyes – afterall, it’s what most people are born with, so . . . stay tuned.

Oh, and about those new binoculars . .. .

Yeah, there was more going on than binoviewing this evening. I was also putting Ed Zarenski’s advice to the test and finding out that I probably do have some astigmatism and this is what has frustrated me with low power binocular use – especially when trying to split doubles.

The binoviewers arrived yesterday just a few hours after UPS delivered a new pair of Pentax 20X60 binoculars. I put them on the P-mount and in darkening twilight – and a whole lot of moonlight – was able to see all four moons of Jupiter with ease. With the 1030IS I could see three moons – two were close enough together to blend as one. OK – that’s inconclusive. I was also able to split Albireo. That was more encouraging, though it was hard to judge because seeing was so poor.

But later the trees moved enough to give me a quick shot in yet another sucker hole at Mintaka. With the 10X30s I could detect the secondary – with the 20X60 mounted I could see it just as plain as could be.  That’s encouraging. But the important note here is that I have tried repeatedly to see Mintaka with the 15X70s mounted and can’t. Now that might relate to objective quality, but I suspect what it relates to is exit pupil and an undiagnosed problem I think I have with astigmatism. The 15X70s have an exit pupil o f 4.6mm. The larger the exit pupil, as Ed pointed out, the more problem you will have if astigmatism is an issue.  The exit pupil with the 10X30s and 20X60s is the same – 3mm. And with both those binos the primary settles down enough to allow me to see the secondary. The extra power and light grasp of the 20X60s just makes it easier than with the 10X30IS.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love IS and I still want the Canon 18X50IS at some point. The exit pupil would be even smaller – BUT, their cost is prohibitive right now. Maybe after  I sell a few more things 😉


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Just did a few quick test. With a near full Moon less than five degrees away I wondered how easy it would be to pick out Uranus in the glare.

1. Celestron 15X70 Skymaster  – Easy. i could see three of Jupiter’s moon to one side of the planet and could easily pick our Uranus.

2. Pentax 10X50 PCF WII – Moderately difficult. I could catch one – maybe two – of Jupiter’s moons and Uranus, but it helped to use averted vision.

3. Bushnell 6X25 and Pentax 6.5X21 – Very difficult. I felt I could glimpse Uranus, but only because I had seen exactly where it was using larger binoculars.  However, without the competition from the Moon it should be easy even  these binoculars.

In all cases I hand held the binoculars. Handholding the 15X70 Celestrons goes completely against everything I know about binocular use. But. I really enjoy using these for a quick look and while they shake, the extra light grasp more than make sup for the shaking.  I am amazed at what I can see with these, especially since they are very inexpensive. I paid $45 for mine used and  that included shipping. They are in like new condition. The sharpness drops off rapidly as you move away from the center of the field of view,  so I don’t think these would be nearly so satisfactory if you mounted them and used them for serious binocular astronomy. But as a “quick look” device I’ve never had anything so good.

Besides just casual touring, they are also useful doing some preliminary star hopping – surveying a region before I turn the telescope on it.

They were head and shoulders above the 10X50 glasses I usually recommend for hand holding when it comes to finding Uranus, or seeing the moons of Jupiter. They have really changed my thinking about binoculars for astronomy.

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Just back from a wonderful four hours at Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary. Comet McNaught (2009/R1) , in my eyes, remains tailless – though reasonably bright. Jupiter is most definitely still missing its dark, south equatorial belt.  And for me, the best part of the  morning was exploring with the 60mm Unitron in a first attempt to locate what I will dub “60mm Jewels” – objects that actually show well in a 60mm telescope.  In that respect at the top of my list from this morning’s observing are M6, 7, and 8, plus  Beta Scorpii – Graffias –  and M22.

I know McNaught shows a tail in photos, but the tail looks faint in the photos I’ve seen and I could not detect it with an 8-inch SCT using a 24mm Panoptic. What I saw was a strong and quite large nucleus and a rich coma – but no tail. Someone with better eyes, better telescope, and/or better conditions may see a tail, but right now McNaught looks a lot like a smaller, dimmer  Comet Holmes to me – only we could not see the tail to Holmes because of the angle of view from earth – that is certainly not the case with Comet McNaught.  I was surprised at how much it had moved in 24 hours –  roughly three degrees – and I do urge you, if you go after this, use at least a small scope at low power. It shows in regular binoculars, but not to advantage. It should improve over the next week, but who knows how much? To catch it reasonably high in a dark sky you need to look around 3 am – a couple hours before sunrise.

Jupiter is a little more kindly to those who need to sleep – it will show well right up to and past 4 am. In fact, it’s best around 4 am when it’s high enough to be out of the worst part of the atmosphere, but it’s still dark enough to reveal the planet’s marking. And what it showed – in both the 60mm and the 8-inch, was a strong northern belt, but no southern one.  In fact, the whiteness of the southern hemisphere is startling to someone who has looked at Jupiter rather casually for many decades.

I got an early start this morning because the forecast was for clear and steady skies, so while I expected a couple folks from my class to join me at 2 am, I was on site a half hour after midnight and got to work pretty quickly with the 60mm. I know I can see all sorts of stuff with it, including distant galaxies, such as M51. And you could make a pretty long list of things that could be “seen” with it.  But I’m afraid when people make such lists they are really talking about what they can detect.  I have three categories for objects you can see with  a 60mm scope –  the detectable, the seen, and the “oh wow!” It’s the third category  – oh wow! – I’m talking about when I speak of “60mm Jewels. ” I hastent o add this does NOT mean that such objects can’t be seen better in a bigger scope – it means that they can be seen well enough in a 60mm to elicit enthusiasm from a beginning observer.   I know there are plenty of “showcase” doubles that fall into this category and this morning I added another to my list of these – Graffias.  This is a very easy to locate, second magnitude star and even at 28X you could see the split. But it was best at 69X.  With that you had two, sharp, clean “bullets”  – the brighter one with a tint of blue, the secondary with very rich, deep violet – definitely an “oh wow” experience.

From  here I went to M4. A nice, easy-to-find globular – easy because it is so close to Antares – but not impressive in the 60mm. M4 can be “seen” in a 60mm.  Quite dull, really, though some of the outer stars resolved at  69X, I don’t think this would impress a newcomer. M7, though, elicited a “wow” and became my second “jewel” of the evening. This is really best at 28X – I could easily see 40-plus stars.  It’s easy to find, as well, being just above the Scorpion’s tail. M6 came next and it’s another jewel that in my view deserves its nickname the “Butterfly Cluster.” So there was jewel number 3 and the 60mm also did a good job with M8, though I’m not sure beginners will pick up the nebula portion of it, it’s worth a try. I think M22 belongs on the  60mm Jewel category, but I need to do some more comparing of it with other globulars while using this scope. It certainly can be “seen.”

At 2 am Paul and Sybil arrived and we settled down to an enjoyable two hours with naked eye, binoculars – including the 20X80s on a p-mount – and the 8-inch SCT and 60mm refractor. Naked eye highlights were numerous, since we had a 360-degree horizon and the Milky Way was nearly directly over head.  With binoculars simply prowling the Milky Way especially between Altair and  the Teapot, gave the most delight.  While Comet McNaught did well in the binoculars, it was much better in the 8-inch SCT. There it looked a lot like a globular cluster that you couldn’t resolve – a snowball with soft edges.   Jupiter and a 25-day-old lunar crescent were really cool in either scope. Also nice were the Messier objects mentioned above – particularly M7 and M8 –  plus Almach. And it’s always fun to look at Uranus, though even in the eight-inch it looks like little more than a blue star.   There were plenty of familiar stars and asterisms available –  Arcturus, Spica, Antares, Deneb, Altair, Vega, Almach, Mirfak, and Algol. Scorpius, a constellation that actually looks like what it’s called, was beautiful, though it was far enough to the west that a couple of the lowest  stars were being blocked by some houses in that direction.  My favorite asterism for the morning included the Teapot, the Summer Triangle and the Great Square that we’re used to seeing in the fall. Limiting magnitude was approaching 6 and it’s simply awesome to note how the plane of our solar system relates to the plane of our galaxy. To top it all of it was too cool to be buggy, yet warm enough to be comfortable -who could ask for more – but there was. Paul made a discovery and I made a mistake .

Paul discovered a couple of tiny green glowing spots on the shell parking lot that had the look of firefly droppings – but, of course, I haven’t a clue what they are. One was on a small piece of shell and I took it home. A little natural mystery. I want to see if it is still glowing  tomorrow night. Any thoughts? We’re talking specs – like the size of dust motes – but quite bright.  Not astronomical – of course – unless residue from extra terrestrials  😆

Near the end  – about 4 am – Paul also pointed out a bright “star” on the northeastern horizon battling it’s way into our consciousness through the increasing twilight. “What’s that,” he asked. And I didn’t know.  I just could not think of any bright star that would be rising in that location at that time. Then I remembered that Mercury was supposed to put in a rather poor showing just before sunrise. Could it be Mercury. It seemed so far to the north.  But I had no other answers, so I said that was my best guess – then said the correct thing. “But I’ll get home and probably send out a red-faced email correcting it.” And I did.

I was partly  right.  Mercury wasn’t that far north and at that point was barely above the horizon, so we didn’t see it.  But I was convinced for the moment we were seeing it. No. The star was indeed a star – one that is visible at some time every night of the year – Capella. Capella – which on these early June evenings you can watch set in the northwest! Capella had had it’s moment off stage and even in this very short June night was making an appearance again!  How cool! How embarrassing!

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Well, you could never have convinced me, even just a few years ago, that I could have a very satisfying observing experience with nothing but a 60mm telescope  – especially when there’s  a full moon with perhaps 70 % cover of drifting cirrus/stratus clouds! But I just observed for over an hour last night. And I followed up with two hours this morning – moon still full, but no obvious clouds, just some high haze. It was wonder full.

Major thing learned? In a word – context!

I’ve frequently pushed context as important, which is why I want folks to look through binoculars or a smaller telescope at low power before stepping up to the 15-inch. But what I have never encountered before is the context that can be provided by moonlight. This first hit me last night when I turned the little scope on Jupiter and at 40X found I had a nice view of the planet, it’s four bright moons, and the leaves of a foreground tree! It was the tree, of course, that provided a unique context. Sure, we’ve all seen Jupiter with our naked eye near some foreground object –  a building, or mountain, or whatever.  It was the impact of seeing it magnified with the foreground object clearly lit by the moonlight that gave me the unique experience. And yes, the fact that I was using a small scope at low power with a correspondingly wide field of view certainly helped.

That experience was repeated this morning when I looked at  the Pleiades at 15X as the branches of a nearby cedar reached up to enwrap them.  Tennyson’s fireflies became tiny Christmas tree lights, tangled in the branches. Context?  Yes – the branches were about 40 feet away, the Pleiades about 400 light years! Nice thought to tickle your mind.


This is a simulation from Starry Nights Pro planetarium software - not a photo or drawing - but represents wel what I saw.

And  I had entirely forgotten about Mars and the Beehive. But near the end of the morning I turned the little scope towards Mars and here was a different sort of context, not aided by the moonlight, but not diminished by it either.  At 40X the planet revealed a small disc as it nibbled at the edges of the star cluster in which I quickly counted 60 stars visible under these conditions in this small scope. So now I had Mars, perhaps 10 light minutes away at that moment, playing dodge ball in a star cluster roughly 600 light years away. Nice!

All of which I think makes the point that you can not only have an essential astronomy experience with a small scope, but you can actually expand your experiences breaking new ground. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not recommending everyone switch to small scopes. And I’m not at all certain they’re a good idea for beginners. All I’m saying is that for me using a small scope offers some special advantages that move me closer to  my essential goal of experiencing the universe. Perhaps the key is it’s a machine that is of a size I can easily accept and incorporate as an extension of my eye. In any event, three hours of use were filled with several highlights, including, in chronological order:

  • Splitting the Double Double in Lyra at 144X using a 2.5mm Nagler eyepiece. The split was clean and steady, which also says something about the seeing last night and got me off to a great start.
  • Picking out the Ring Nebula – M57 – at 40X. Hard to believe this is larger than Jupiter in angular size, but I’ll leave careful examination for a darker night.
  • Splitting Albireo – easy, of course, even at 15X, but real nice at 40X.
  • Capturing the Coathanger cluster with plenty of room to spare using the 24mm Panoptic.
  • Splitting Almach – Gamma Andromeda – at 40X. The gold of th =e brighter star has more orange in it than the gold of Albireo’s primary.
  • Examining the full moon with plenty of space around it – again, the 9mm Nagler at 40X gave a real nice perspective,

And in the morning:

  • Splitting Castor, high overhead, with a 5mm Nagler delivering 72X. The fainter of the two companions was, well, quite faint.
  • Splitting Rigel about as well as I have ever seen it split in any scope – no kidding. This is a challenge star. Again, 5mm was used, as well as 2.5mm.
  • Context came into play again, this time all in the sky, as I took a wide field view of the Great Orion Nebula. The 13mm (28X) gave such a view, yet enough power to split the Trapezium – charming!
  • Mintaka split in the 24mm at 15X which gave a wonderful view of Orion’s Belt with plenty of breathing room around it.
  • Fainter star clusters like M35 did not fare as well, diminished by both the small objective and the moonlight. I look forward to seeing them under dark skies, though.
  • Only real frustration came in trying to track down W Orionis, a carbon star. I think I eventually did, but I need to go back and make my own charts so it isn’t such a challenge in the future.

Bottom line – wow! This was fun. Of course, being seated in a rolling office chair in the observatory while using the little scope on the massive (for it) Universal Astronomic T-Mount certainly helped!

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Let’s face it, I really am not a planetary observer – I’m what you might call a tourist – one of those who drops by and goes “ooh” and “ahh” and then moves on.

And that’s how it was with Jupiter on Monday morning, July 20, right after an alert Australian amateur spotted a huge new scar on Jupiter probably caused by a collision with a comet. I think of it as a black eye and except for the fox I might have seen it, but I doubt it. Heck, if I’m honest with myself I might have seen it anyway and just didn’t know what I was seeing!

My little adventure began at 2:30 am when I was enjoying the special solitude of my observatory and was observing Jupiter because, although low in the south, it was just passing through a large gap in the trees that usually would mask anything in that area of the sky. All four moons were visible and I noted how each showed a tiny disc, but Ganymeade’s disc was bigger, as it should be. I could see more detail than usual on the planet and I looked for the Great Red Spot, but didn’t see it.  Also I looked for Neptune, which is very near Jupiter right now, and then I suddenly heard  barking. Just a single bark or two at a time, but quite chilling at that hour from someone with an active imagination – and given my poor hearing – very unusual – so it meant whatever was doing it was very close.

I got up from the scope, grabbed my bright flashlight, and climbed the little ladder so I could look out the open shutter  of the observatory and see around the yard.  My light picked up a pair of bright, gleaming eyes about 50 feet away. He/she barked gain. Then he trotted right toward me – well , in my general direction. That was surprising. I had always assumed that if a fox – or much worse, a coyote – came near me and I caught it in the light it would run away! I kept the light on him and when he got about 25-feet away, he broke into a trot. Then  he started in an easy run and vanished to the other side of the observatory – but I heard him again several times. As near as i can tell, his barks were a mating call and I suspect someone with better hearing would have heard another fox in the distance.

So that was my highlight of observing Jupiter!

It wasn’t until I got in an saw the message from Dom that directed me to a news story about the discovery Sunday night of this new spot on Jupiter. I might have seen this spot they’re mentioning, but I didn’t make note of it. I did not attempt any drawings and I don’t know Jupiter well enough so that if I had seen it, I’m not at all sure I would have thought it was unusual. In other words, I’m perfectly capable of looking at something important on Jupiter and not even knowing that it is important without someone else telling me. So the fox was an exciting distraction, but I won’t blame it for my not seeing this new spot. 😉

Now untold thousands have seen it – but I have been clouded out all week – and even the Hubble Space telescope has gotten intot he act, as this NYT story shows.

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I felt it first as I tracked down M27, the Dumbell nebula.

M27 - Driftway video image.

M27 - Driftway video image.

This shell blown off by a dying star suddenly looked more than three dimensional to me with faint stars blinking on and off at the edge of my vision as they shone through it. Here, I thought, is the universe as kaleioscope. For this star the kaleioscope has been turned, the pieces are being scattered – and in time they will come together again with other material and form a new pattern – perhaps a star, perhaps a planet – and perhaps they will find their way into the formation of life, perhaps even intelligent life. To paraphrase John Dobson, give it 3 billions years or so and it will be chewing bubblegum.

And this is why I get up at 1 am when I think it might be clear. This morning it wasn’t. No large clouds, but transparency was horrible – until about 2:45 am when I check one more time and am met by cool and clear air, though not all that steady. I grab my tea, still warm in its insulated cup, and the Ethos eyepiece case and head for the observatory. In just a couple of minutes the 120mm is taking in the Andromeda Galaxy, as well as M32 and M110, its companion galaxies. They all fit in the 17mm Ethos eyepiece when used on the 120mm Skywatcher. Nice. But no magic. I rotate the dome about 60 degrees. The last time I remember looking for M27 there was a lot greater distance between Albireo and the point of Sagitta – the arrow. That’s the path I follow when homing in on M27. Of course the distance hadn’t really changed, but everything looks so much smalller as it passes the meridian. When Ilooked at it before it was much nearer the eastern horizon.

I’m not explaining it, am I? I can’t. The feeling – the knowing – is ineffable in the final analysis. All i can say, is it’s not for the seeing – the seeing with your eye. That’s only th ebeginning. It’s for the seeing with your mind’s eye, supplement by the whole experience.  The result I can’t articulate, but it’s there this morning. I couldn’t squeeze meaning out of a galaxy 2.5 million light years away – but I could out of this gas cloud. However, I didn’t spend nearly as much time with it as I would have liked, for Jupiter and Neptune were moving through an open gap in my trees to the south and I really wanted a good look at them both.

A real suze comparison of Jupiter and Neptune.

A real suze comparison of Jupiter and Neptune.

And as I thought it would, the 10mm Ethos nicely took in both. But Jupiter is so bright I quickly abandoned the 10mm for the 6mm and as I came in tight on Neptune, was able to exclude Jupiter from the fov. It is so small! – 2.3 seconds of arc, about one twentieth of Jupiter’s apparent diameter right now. You can tell its a disc and its dominant blue color is – well prominent. But your mind wrestles with its true size, far closer to Jupiter’s true size than its apparent size would indicate. I can see the disc, but . . . once more it grabs me. Another moment where I feel I have a legitimate grasp of what I am seeing. I can picture the huge, frozen globes in my mind – memories of images taken by spacecraft. There is and overwhelming feeling of reality brought about I suspect by how close the two planets are to one another. Nice. But the trees soon close in on both planets and I moved on to the double cluster in Perseua. It is captured nicely in the 17 mm with plenty of shoulder room, yet I don’t stay but a moment because dawn is starting to wash them out and I have an urge to move to the “captain’s seat” for Space Station Earth – my little area where I have a couple of chairs that give me a great view of the eastern horizon, Here there’s a real sense of sitting at the viewport of a space station where the scene constantly – but very slowly – changes.

I take my tea and the low-power, wide angle (11 degrees) Bushnel binoculars. And the little excursion is well worth it, for not only does Venus dominate this section of sky, but it is forming a beautiful triangle right now witht Mars and the Pleiades. And here to the naked eye comes that third revealing event of the morning, for I can easily see the true relationship between Venus and Mars, as well as our own place between them. Your mind has to do twist and turns here and they need to be done effortlessly. It’s a cosmic high dive, of sorts, and practice helps. Here’s what I mean.

The Orrery view of the inner planets on the morning of July 5, 2009 when these observations were made. (from:

The Orrery view of the inner planets on the morning of July 5, 2009 when these observations were made. (from: http://www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/Solar

In front of you in the sky is a simple triangle. Venus is the dominant object, the rough twin of Earth, absolutely brilliant as sun light bounces off its cloud-shrouded body. That’s easy to visualize. It’s also easy to see the scene from “above” – that is from the perspective shown by an orrery where you look down on the orbits of all the planets. I can place Earth at its correct location and see Venus off in the distance, oriented to us and the Sun in such a way that it shines like a quarter moon displaying to us half of its lit side, half of its dark one. (This is fresh in my mind from having looked at it in the scope during twilight of the morning before.) And in that same mental picture, I see Mars, almost half its size and diminished even more for being in an orbit far more distant, yet still nearly in a line of sight, from our perspective, with Venus. And between the two I can see our future path. Then I switch to the Pleiades and here the line of sight game continues – Mars is to the right of Venus in this mental model, the Pleiades to the left – but oh my, the gap is huge! We’re talking perhaps 7 light minutes between us an Venus and maybe twice that between us and Mars – but when it comes to this most favored of star clusters, light has been traveling for 400 years – that is something in the order of 40 million times as far away. I have a sense of a huge zooming out – that’s all. The scale between the solar system’s little playground and the stars is too great and my mental model crumbles.

But it’s been a good morning. I feel so fully awake with all these impressions rolling in on me whole. These are the experiences I seek. They are nothing less than revelations. Yes, they remain beyond my ability to fully share – but they are certainly worth having and I am well paid for having ogttenupa nd gotten out at this hour.

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Well I have, what is for me, a complete Ethos set now and a few hours ago I got a quick peek using the 120mm Skywatcher in twilight.

“Wow” is appropriate 😉 I could see quite quickly that of the 3 new eyepieces (17,10, 6) the 10 and 6 are going to get a lot of use on this scope and become practically all that I use. The 17 – well, I’ve just bever beent hat thrilled with low-power, wide-field views and I am stillnot – unless, of course, you have an object that calls for it, such as the Double Cluster.

Yes, conditions could have been better. If I had only gotten out a few minutes earlier! But it was 4 am and we were already quite obviously out of astronomical twilight so that a quick look at M31 was unsatisfying – too much twilight there. And by the time I swung around to M57 in the west it too was pretty much wiped out. So I settled for the Double Double – just great in the 6mm (150X) and even later, brilliant Venus (like a first quarter moon) and Jupiter – just magnificent.

The field of view is, of course, impressive, but I expected that. What I wasn’t sure would be there – but is – is the all aorund quality I’ve come to take for granted with the Naglers. But getting back tot he fov – to cleanly split the Double Double so that someone seeing it for the first time would know they were looking at four stars – and still have plenty of breathing room around it – is a real pleasure. The 17mm gives close to a 2-degree fov, enough to capture the Double-Double on one side and Vega on the other, but at 53X a split would be more a stunt than anything useful. The 10mm did split it. But the best view was witht he 6mm and even with the 6mm, the space it occupies is more than 10 times what you need for the Double-Double, so it gives the split plenty of context and you have plenty of time to get a good look as it drifts through.

I was impressed with the view of Venus, but Jupiter blew me away. Seeing was good, but by now we were in bright twilight with only Jupiter and Venus obvious to the naked eye. Still, I could see three moons and several marking on the planet and colors I’ve never seen before. This is testimony to both the eyepieces and the 120mm Skywatcher, of course, plus to the fact that Jupiter is apporaching its largest size for us. It certainly means that as this Jupiter season moves on I will not hesitate to take the 120mm to where I can see the huge planet, for it will remain frustratingly low in the southern sky.

As for the quality of the eyepieces – well, that’s what impressed me. The fact that I could take the Double Double, set it on the edge of the fov, and have perfect star images as it drifted from edge to edge. That’s what I expect out of my Naglers and that’s what I also get out of the Ethos – at least in these initial tests.

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