What a night. Even after studying amateur astronomy for seven months, nothing prepares you for actually having a go yourself, on your own.
Simple things that perhaps well practiced astronomers do, like having all your gear in the right boxes to carry with you or allowing the scope plenty of time to cool were a little lost on me this evening. The weather forecast was for 80% cloud cover and whilst the night started badly (thunder, rain and 100% cloud cover), the clouds broke to reveal the glistening beauty of the night sky.. billions of shiny objects in the sky, a natural celestial boutique more attractive than even the most well furnished Apple store.
The camp site that I’m on (we rented a six berth mobile home) isn’t in the darkest location – there was still quite a lot of light pollution (much of it coming from the camp site itself) and I didn’t want to disturb the other patrons with my beeping and whirring, so I packed up my kit and headed off down the road away from the camp site in search of a dark spot.
I was however denied as the site had floodlit the road and the only dark areas were precariously close to a national speed limit A road, and as desperately as I wanted to use my kit, I did want to live for next time.
So I carried my kit (it’s heavy and bulky, and it’s gone 2:00am) across the site to a more secluded location on top of a small mound.
There I unpacked and begun the alignment procedure. However this alignment procedure is accompanied by a cocophany of beeps and motor whirrs. I rapidly turned down the motor speed and without a moments thought, pushed the handheld guidance computer into my shorts and muffled it. Silently does it. The name’s Mike, Mike Bond…
So I tried aligning the telescope to one of the stars that I thought I knew. Bugger – just like the first night two days ago, I totally misread the sky and picked the wrong one. Suddenly, I noticed a bright light in the sky to my left. I turned and it vanished. A few moments later it was back, brighter than before – it was the brightest object in the entire section of the sky.
The “SkyVoyager” software on my iPhone was telling me that this bright object was in fact, Jupiter. Yes, THE Jupiter (the big angry gas giant with the four moons).
I slewed the scope towards Jupiter and peered through the finderscope (a smaller, wider field scope mounted on top of the big one). There it was in the crosshairs. Good. Next I chose a 32mm Plossl eyepiece (the widest I could find) and took a look. I saw what looked like a small glowing doughnut. Turning the focus wheel, the majestic red gas ball popped into view. It was an amazing experience, almost religious-like – to see Jupiter, AND it’s four moons in tow, like a mother duck and her four ducklings.
Grabbing my iPhone to take a picture I wiggled the iPhone camera in front of the eyepiece and saw bright dots flicker in and out for a few moments. But before I could focus they were gone beneath a veil of cloud.
I have still to align the scope properly and navigate around the night sky, but for now I can sleep satisfied. I have seen alien worlds with my own eyes and I am pleased.