Dark Skies Make a Difference!

Last night, I finally got a chance to set up the telescope and view the night sky. The clouds were mostly gone by nightfall, and the temperature was cool but not cold. I was pretty wiped out after yesterday’s trek to the Gila Cliff Dwellings so I only observed for a couple of hours. Since I didn’t set up the webcam, I don’t have any pictures, but I have inserted a couple of Hubble telescope shots of the main things I did see. Unfortunately, my views were not so spectacular as the photos here, since my telescope has only a 6″ aperture, and I’m looking through miles of atmosphere, but you get the idea.

My first impression upon looking at the night sky was amazement at how many stars are visible. After years of living in light-polluted cities where only the brightest stars are visible, the panorama of a truly dark sky reveals a myriad of bright pinpoints of light. Details become visible even in faint deep-sky objects which would be impossible to discern in the city.
Unpacking, setting up the scope, changing the latitude and longitude settings, adjusting the mount alignment, and finally aligning the scope took a lot longer than I expected last night. Tonight will be a lot easier and I should be able to get more done.

I started with Saturn (no photo yet) and was amazed at how sharp it appeared, even at high magnification. I’m hoping to get a webcam exposure of Saturn tonight.

I ran a sky tour to get acclimated to the clearer sky view, and was particularly impressed with these objects:

M81 - Bode's Nebula (NASA Hubble Telescope photo)

M81 - Bode's Nebula (NASA Hubble Telescope photo)

Bode’s Nebula is a spiral galaxy that usually appears as a faint fuzzball in light-polluted skies. Here, I was able to discern the shape of the galaxy and the bright stars around the rim, but I couldn’t make out the spiral arms. With a larger scope, these would have been visible. Increasing the magnification actually made things worse, as it often does with faint objects. However, this is an object I’d be lucky to find from my backyard, much less see any detail.

Sombrero Galaxy - M104 (NASA Hubble Telescope photo)

Sombrero Galaxy - M104 (NASA Hubble Telescope photo)

The Sombrero Galaxy has the shape of, well you get the picture. Through my telescope, the shape was apparent, and using averted vision, I could make out the dark dust lane through the middle of the galaxy. Medium magnification (100X) gave the best view.

Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici - M3 (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici - M3 (Wikipedia Commons photo)

This globular cluster consists of a half million stars, most of them too far away and apparently close together to resolve separately. The view of this cluster is the best I’ve ever seen through this telescope. Quite a few of the stars could be discerned separately, and the brightness of the object (compared to what I usually see at home) is amazing.

All in all, last night was a fun start. I only have one more night to observe, so tonight will be a long session. More to come!

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