Saturday was a kind of personal "astronomy day" for me.
First I met my predecessor in the position of Observatory curator. Bob was coming to town for a visit with family and wanted to meet me at the college Observatory. He's 77 now but active in his retirement as a tour guide at a professional observatory facility in Arizona — "for the perks!" The job gives him access to the facilities himself. He filled me in on some of the recent history and background of the Ohio facility and the workings of our century-old telescope. Though he rarely visits the area, he has taken an interest in the progress we're making with the Observatory and cares about its future, especially, of the vintage instrument. I'm sure we'll be in communication with each other for some time to come.
Sky conditions for Saturday night were forecast to be excellent (for Northeastern Ohio). I learned that some friends from the astronomy club were going to the club's observing site. I decided to take advantage of the situation and use my own telescope for the first time in more than a year! Well, even our usually accurate sky forecast can be wrong and this one was! An unexpected thin layer of cloud moved in so that, by twilight, it covered the darkening sky with a thin "haze." Drat! Everyone was disappointed as it was our best chance for stargazing for the entire holiday weekend. As it turns out the experience served us well as a shakedown. Lynn was learning how to operate the Sphinx computerized telescope mount (much cursing), Steve was apparently having focus problems (maybe atmosphere related but he wasn't sure), but I had a pretty good night.
I remembered how to put everything together –which was a bit surprising– and, even more surprising, my own computerized telescope system performed flawlessly. It had been very tempermental most times in the past. My telescope's alignment was a bit off (my fault) so the system wasn't perfect in finding things, but I did manage to find and enjoy views of Saturn (beautiful), Mars (tiny and disappointing), galaxies M81 & M82 (unimpressive this night due to atmosphere), and a surprising view of M104 –the Sombrero– which I had never seen before. The Sombrero, to my eye, looked like a long string of stars, like a stretched star cluster, instead of a fuzzy cloud — the way most galaxies look when viewed through a small telescope. Optically my big refractor did at least as well as neighboring Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescopes (SCT) delivering excellent quality images of, especially, Saturn under the less than ideal conditions. I was very happy with the beast! I also spied my first Iridium flare which is an extended "flash" of light reflected off one of the many Iritium communications satellites that circle Earth. I had forgotten the custom dew shield for the telescope and, by about midnight, the objective was getting fogged up — the telescope tube was already just about dripping!
I came home happy but late after a rewarding day with friends and the night sky.