It was a lovely clear night tonight, there was a light warm breeze and the sky was filled with broken clouds, keeping the light pollution down on Earth and allowing the stars to come out in their full glory. Perfect viewing conditions.
I wasn’t feeling particularly well but I still couldn’t wait to get outside and put my theory on why the telescope wasn’t aligning properly to the test. I searched through my toolbox for my spirit level, but nothing. Then I remembered the last time my landlord was here he’d asked to borrow it to put up some cupboards and he’d never given me it back!
My own spirits slumped and I tried to console myself that it was probably for the best as carrying my stuff out to the fields would probably make me worse, but I was really disappointed. I settled down for a night in front of the TV and tried to put it behind me
Then as early morning came round I began to feel a bit better and my mind kept wandering to the night sky and the universe beyond and how I’d wasted a perfect night for observing. It was 04:30 and I knew that Jupiter and Mars would be up, looking at GoSkyWatch confirmed this.
I’d seen Mars once before, but only briefly and not through my new Newtonian telescope so I got my stuff together and set off outside, to the park. I probably had an hour before the sun came up. In the sky Jupiter shined, its ever bright self standing out against the black, diagonally from it was the faint blur of Mars, the bringer of war. I set up and turned the manual mount and my scope towards it.
The idea is that you centre what you want to look at in a wide angle lens and then gradually zoom in using shorter and shorter ones. The problem is that when you’re using a manual mount you have to counter the Earth’s spin by constantly tweaking here, tweaking there to keep it in the middle.
After some time I managed to get Mars centred in my 4mm lens and got it focused. I added the barrow lens and while I couldn’t get it focused properly, it’s reddish colour was clearly visible in the view. Unlike Saturn and Jupiter Mars has no moons that I could see. It actually has two moons, which it is believed are captured asteroids, but they are far too small for me to see. So there it was, this reddish blob winking at me from millions of miles away.
As the Sun illuminated the atmosphere from below the horizon, signalling its imminent arrival Mars faded away into the blue morning sky. But Jupiter was still there, the only “star” left in the sky, shining brightly, defying the Sun’s approach. I turned my attention to it.
Three of it’s moons were visible tonight and they were all lined up in a row, one one side of Jupiter and the other two the other side, but in a straight line. I again zoomed in and when I got it focused in the 4mm lens and I could see only one of the moons, I could see as clear as day the striations across the surface! When I’d last looked at Jupiter I thought it was no bigger than with my other scope but I now realised that what I had thought was a 6mm lens was actually a 9mm one and with the 4mm lens inserted Jupiter was way larger than I’d ever seen it. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks, my mind seeing what it wanted to so I defocused it and refocused but the bands were definitely there, two bands running parallel around the disc, roughly where the tropics run around the Earth. I popped in the barlow lens and again it wouldn’t focus properly but the bands were definitely there and I could see colour differences, reddish at the top of the image and more blue towards the bottom.
I was seeing the bands of Jupiter! It was an awesome image, the three tiny moons and the bands around the planet all lined up together. And with a beaming face I couldn’t contain my excitement, I scrunched up my eyes, clenched my fists saying “Im seeing Jupiter’s bands!” as I jumped up and down on the spot, spinning like a three year old. When I opened my eyes the man delivering the papers to the local shop was stood staring at me and oh did i feel silly 🙂 Definitely a night to remember and to think, I nearly didn’t come out at all!