Unexpected business led me to visit the observatory Tuesday night. Since I was there and the sky was nicely clear, I decided to open the dome and do a little observing.
Orion is low in the west these nights and the great nebula (M42) was actually only visible through the bare limbs of the neighbor's trees. The view was splendid, however, and at low magnification the cloudy expanse took on a fan shape. The stars of the Trapezium were clearly displayed, nestled in the gauze.
Using star Sirius to set R.A. and my notebook computer's The Sky software to find the coordinates, I was able to use the telescope's ancient dials to locate the "twin" star clusters M46 and M47 — not visible to the unaided eye this night. Declination settings are not visible on the old scope so I had to do some fishing. Still, it was gratifying to be able to get in the right neighborhood using the telescope's century-old devices. The clusters were more attractive through binoculars –a fuzzy path glowing path across the view– than through the telescope though, at low magnification, M46 filled the eyepiece with diamond-dust stars.
Turning the telescope further east as the Moon was rising, I located Saturn. The ring system is still close to edge-on and opposition took place only a few days earlier (March 22). Through the fist-sized, low-magnification eyepiece the planet was crisp and bright. Faintly visible in the field of view were tiny glowing dots — some of the Ring World's family of moons. It was a lovely sight. I had my camera with me so tried a few afocal (hand-held, lens-to-eyepiece) shots. I got a fairly good image (seen here, cropped to imitate an eyepiece view) that depicts the ring plane's angle and even hints at the rings' shadow on the planetary body. Of course, the moons don't show at all being much too dim compared with Saturn.
I closed up at about 10 PM with the Full Worm Moon rising and drowning out the light-songs of everything nearby. It was a good night of unexpected astronomy.