First Light in Quite A While

Upon returning from Launchpad I eagerly got my telescope out of its various boxes, started to assemble it, and then was overwhelmed by what a mess it was and how much other stuff I had to do, so I guiltily left it to gather dust in the basement (again).

It’s been really hot for Seattle, so tonight I retreated into the nice cool basement and tried to remember how to get my mirrors aligned with this little laser collimeter thingie; and by the time I had that done, it was twilight and the moon was still in the sky so I thought, what the heck, I’ll haul the thing out and see what the moon looks like, even though the mirror is still speckled with spidershit and the atmosphere is full of heat turbulence.  And in fact the sky appeared to be boiling in front of the moon, but my daughter and her boyfriend still thought it looked sort of cool, and my wife wanted to know what else I could see, so with much complaining about the trees choking the view and the surfeit of spotlights and porchlights and headlights, I eventually lugged the scope out into the middle of the pasture and got out my star maps and got a pretty bad neck-ache trying to match the map to the one or two stars I could sort of see.  But as soon as I peered through the lens, whoa, there were a lot more stars than I’d realized.  And pretty soon it was dark and darker and I gave up trying to find the Owl Nebula because the Dipper was too low and the sky over there was hazy with light; but we managed to split the star in the Dipper’s handle, and we were off.  I think I found Herschel’s Garnet Star but I’m not entirely convinced; I remember it being redder, but then again, I think it’s variable, so tonight might have been an off night…it was sort of greenish yellowy orange, which I guess is sort of like a garnet.

The first old friend I reacquainted myself with was the Hercules Cluster, which impresses everyone, especially when they hear it’s a bunch of baby stars; and from there it was pretty easy to find Lyra, but I had a hell of a time finding the Ring Nebula, especially because the pasture is on a slope and the scope is hard to maneuver when stuff is almost directly overhead.  But here came Jupiter with four of its moons, and the lines quite distinct even through the turbulent sky; and on my next try, I locked in on the Ring, which was my first real thrill when I borrowed a scope years ago and the real reason I bought one of my own.  The kids had trouble seeing it, but there were just too many friggin cars coming along the road right then, and every one was like knives in my eyes.  Eventually they all went in and I just sort of sailed around in the night for a while till I found Andromeda (HA!  Can’t hide from me!), and its little baby sibling (M32?)…and then some fool turned on the lights.

The Milky Way was just starting to come into view, too.

I know the mirror needs cleaning, but the whole time I was telling myself that I wasn’t going to do any serious viewing, I was just going to goof around and start to get comfortable navigating around the constellations again…even the Summer Triangle was giving me trouble.  But it started to click, and I remembered the old thrill of knowing my way around, able to easily hop from one cool sight to another.  I wish the scope moved a little more smoothly.  I’m sure I can do some custom hacks to make it a bit better.  And it’s good to know that when something really neat is happening, the scope is ready to go.  It’s all set up for the Orion Nebula this winter!

…I’ve got to get out into the mountains…