A busy yet enjoyable week of student teaching made the warm weather and clear skies of Friday all the more welcoming. With Lauren off on a trip to Boston presenting a scholarly journal essay on the Chicano movement and perfectly clear skies out, not observing would be near criminal negligence (See: Section 4 paragraph 8 of the Law Code of the Commonwealth of Virginia). Tonight would also be my first attempt at sketching what was observed. The goals being to attempt a sketch of the Moon and Mars as well as tracking the orbits of the Moons of Saturn throughout the night.
Prior to this evening, little time had been spent viewing the moon through the XT8i. With the Moon’s current phase being waxing crescent, tonight would be a perfect opportunity to explore the lunar surface. It is best to observe the Moon when it is half full or less because details aren’t washed out by the brightness and long shadows cast on the surface help distinguish mountain ranges and craters. Tonight proved this advice to be correct with the most fascinating parts of viewing being a specific region of craters right along the terminator, observed at 120 and 240X magnification, that had shadows moving down their sides giving a great field of depth to their make up. With my 25mm eye piece putting the whole Moon back into view, the entire sphere of it was easily visible with detail from craters in the shaded region even coming through. This is where my first sketch of the Moon comes into play. The attempt was to capture the aspect that the Moon, while mostly shaded, was still visible as a whole sphere, giving it an almost 3d like quality.
With the Moon moving towards the horizon, making viewing conditions less than ideal, Mars, high in the sky this time of year, became the next target on my hit list for the night. Mars has been hit and miss for me over the past couple observations. Some nights have revealed amazing land detail while others have left me underwhelmed. Tonight was somewhere in the middle. While Mars is still visible as a sphere, it is moving at such a fast rate away from Earth that observing land detail on it will be near impossible in the next couple months. Tonight, Mars revealed its Southern Ice Cap as well as the always interesting Syrtis Major and Terra Meridian land features. At 120x magnification, detail could be made concerning the ice cap with some slight hints of the two land features. Moving up to 240x revealed a more blurry Mars but also split seconds of good seeing conditions that revealed Syrtis Major and Terra Meridian.
Viewing Saturn never grows old, but shaking things up every now and then never hurts either. Tonight instead of just observing Saturn I decided to track her Moons. The rings current appearance from Earth as a near straight line may make Saturn less appealing, but it makes tracking the Moons much more possible. With two different observations broken up by watching Austin Power in Goldmember (Funny movie, can’t believe it came out 8 years ago, one of my first dates was to go see it in theaters. Can’t say I saw much of it though, if you get what I’m saying. Truth be told I saw all of it, including the end credits…but I digress) The Moons were tracked as they changed positions, slightly in most cases but dramatic in others whose orbit has them closer to Saturn. My first observation at 10:50pm revealed Titan, Rhe and Dione best viewed at 48X magnification. The next sighting at 1:45am had Titan and Rhe in virtually the same position with Dione now gone and Tethys coming into view right above the rings of Saturn.
Up until the past couple nights, I had forgotten that it was possible to observe the night-time sky without having to dress like an Eskimo. The warm weather and good sightings made this the longest and most enjoyable astronomical night I have ever had. Sketching added another layer of enjoyment and documentation to the process and planning out what was going to be done before hand-made the night more productive as well.
Clear Skies All,