I can’t say as I blame them, the people who didn’t show for our observatory open night Saturday. After all, the temperature was about 19 degrees (F), damned cold! But the sky was clear and the waxing Moon was high in the sky. Both Moon and Jupiter were sharing constellation Cancer with The Beehive star cluster (M44). Still, those sensible people who stayed home and warm missed a glorious view of old Luna, especially half-lit Mare Iridium — the Sea of Rainbows. In my idle time waiting for visitors, I tried out a little afocal astrophotography using the observatory’s 9-inch Warner and Swasey telescope (ca. 1901) and my little Samsung Galaxy Camera 2 all-in-one. Most shots were a little shy of sharp, and all had some degree of chromatic aberration, and all had a big chunk of image missing where our century-old star diagonal is missing a bit of glass. One shot, however, did work out well, especially after a little fix-up including conversion to monochrome to eliminate color fringing. Not long after our seven brave visitors left, I caught sight of the indistinct reappearance of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and that was it… time to close up and go home. My toes needed to be thawed.
I had to deal with thin clouds and a late-arriving Moon Saturday night; things turned out well, however, and included surprises.
I’d feared clouds that made Jupiter hazy looking and most stars invisible would mess up the view. Between the excellent telescope and Jupiter’s size and brilliance we were given delightful views of the giant world. The equatorial cloud belts were nicely defined and there were glimpses of additional bands north and south of them. I also got my first confirmed sighting of the Great Red Spot … it was faint and intermittent but really there. We were also treated to the slow progress of Jupiter’s moon Io moving closer to the planetary disk and begin its transit. Shortly after Io began its crossing in front of Jupiter it was visible against the south equatorial belt before it disappeared into the planet’s glare. I’d hoped to see Io’s shadow on Jupiter’s cloud tops but seeing conditions deteriorated later in the evening.
Unfortunately I’d made a mistake back in judging when Earth’s Moon would be visible to us this night … back in January or February when I was making up the schedule. Visitors climbed high on the ladder with the telescope nearly horizontal to get a look at the Moon. What they saw was an orange-tinged orb shining hazily through clouds and obscured by the naked branches of a neighbor’s tree. Sill, they could see the lunar seas and craters and many said they appreciated the moodiness! That’s making the best of a sad situation.
By closing time the Moon had risen much higher, clear of clouds and trees. Only a professor from Kent State University and a student from one of his classes were still under the dome with me. I aimed the ancient nine-inch refractor at the Moon, changed to my favorite vintage eyepiece for lunar observing (a fist-sized, low-powered piece of brass and glass) and let them take a look. The professor, also a very experienced observational astronomer, remarked over and over about the wonderful quality of the view he was getting. He said the 110-year-old instrument was delivering the finest views of the Moon that he had enjoyed in 40 years of observing, and that made my night!
I did not build or donate the observatory’s telescope. Nor have I completed restoration of the telescope’s finish and mechanical drive. The optics are the thing, however, and I’ve always said the telescope’s best and highest purpose is its continued use in astronomy. Entertaining and educating visitors of all ages and thrilling seasoned astronomers is pretty cool.
After my last guests departed I pulled out my little Canon PowerShot camera to try and capture the view of the Moon that had so thrilled a few minutes earlier. It’s tricky to do this, especially handheld, but sometimes the “afocal” technique works: you hold the camera to the eyepiece, about where your eye would go to look through, get the image perfectly centered and focused, and trip the shutter. I was rewarded this time with some very nice pictures to help remember the occasion.
A busy and stressful week awaits me at work and I know I’ll wistfully look at the Moon photo more than a few times as relief. Though battered, the Moon endures to shine as, perhaps, can we.
I spent a fun couple of hours, August 10, sharing views of the Sun through my telescopes at the Westlake Porter Public Library. It was a sort of sidewalk astronomy event, part of “Science Week” there, and drew 53 participants. Lots of passing clouds got in the way, shoved along by steady winds, and people were surprisingly patient waiting for the Sun to return. When we had clear skies we were rewarded with very good viewing of a beautiful loop-shaped solar prominence through the 35mm Lunt Ha scope; careful viewers with moments of better seeing spied several more! Seeing wasn’t quite good enough to reliably find the two small sunspot groups present, nor was it good enough to see granulation patters that afternoon using the 90mm Meade telescope with white light filter. I did see granulation that morning during testing at home. Sadly, a very large sunspot group, visible only days earlier, was just over the Sun’s limb this day. Procrastination in these things isn’t good but it was well worth the morning’s last-minute effort of fabricating a sturdy piggyback mount to mate the Ha with my trusty old Meade 390. It took just two trips to the hardware store for less than $10 worth of parts to create an excellent mount! A newspaper reporter asked me what organizations I represented and it turns out there were three: Cuyahoga Astronomical Association, Stephens Memorial Observatory (Hiram College), and the library! And I wore three name tags.