…and yes, I saw Jupiter!

Well, I mentioned in my last post that I was going to haul the venerable telescope out of the garage, set it up and then take a look at Jupiter.  And on the 29th September I managed to do that. (For anyone curious as to the 10 day gap between doing it and blogging it, I’m blaming workload and the fact that my computer decided to kill itself on the morning of the 30th!)

The first thing I have to say is that time hasn’t been kind to the three decade old optics of the telescope, and a suburban back garden surrounded by people who waste half their electric bills on porch lights is never going to be good for any form of astronomy.  But I focused in on Jupiter and after a little twiddling of the focusing wheel and magnification was rewarded by a slightly astigmatic pale disc in the eyepiece. Tracking the telescope manually, by keeping the planet in the middle of the field of view I was able to just make out the faint banding of the Jovian atmosphere, which became clearer as my eyes dark-adapted.

What was fascinating was how quickly the techniques and mindset came back after a good few years not playing with the telescope in this way.  I was also reminded that my gardening duties have been seriously ignored in recent months, based on the dog-roses that were trying to trip me up at every step.

And I was able to see three of the Gallilean moons – which immediately took me back to when I first saw the planet all those years ago.  This is one of the great things about Jupiter as a target for first time telescope users; seeing teh Gallilean moons (which appear as tiny sharp pin-pricks positioned next to the planet) provides a direct historical connection to Gallileo (for whom they’re named) and his original use of a simple telescope to view Jupiter all those centuries ago.

I’ve been reminded that Astronomy is a hobby with a lineage; when we use a telescope we can share the wonder of viewing the heavens through the telescope that was experienced over the last 500 years by countless astronomers, professional or amateur.  By looking at the stars with our naked eye we go back to the first time that some unknown worthy in Africa or the Middle East looked up to the skies one clear night and noticed that that patch of stars look awfully like a Sabre Tooth Tiger….

The skies are available for us all, but like everything else on our planet they’re geting polluted – perhaps time to support efforts against light pollution, starting with taking a catapult to that bloody floodlight that a near neighbour has as a porch light.

It’s weird what brings you back….

…to blogging.

I’ve had a few months that should eventually give me plenty of grist to the blogging mill, but to be blunt right now much of my time is being spent writing PHP and .NET code for those wonderful people called ‘paying customers’. Most people in small businesses will probably agree that this year has been pretty lousy; I’ve been freelancing for over a quarter of a century and this has definitely been the worst time for doing business I can remember, so when business turns up you don’t turn it away…

Anyway…the weird thing that brings me back to blogging.

When I was a kid, my mum and dad bought me a very simple telescope – it was made by a company called Tasco and was a refractor of maybe 1.5″ – 40mm in new money – on a table top tripod.  A length of scaffolding pole was brought in to use as a mounting, and my exploration of the heavens from my Nottinghamshire back garden began. One of the first objects that I looked at was the planet Jupiter, and despite the VERY modest nature of the telescope, and the fact that the town where I lived was stretched out between me and the part of the sky  containing the planet, I was stunned by the fact that I could see exactly what I expected to see – a little blob surrounded by 4 smaller blobs – the planet and it’s 4 largest moons.

Within a few months I’d managed to get a pair of binoculars for a birthday present – I still have them – and a 3″ refractor for Christmas and astronomy became a major part of my life as a teenager, until I left home and went to live in Manchester.  And then over the intervening decades I lived in cities and towns, occasionally wheeled the binoculars and telescope out to take a look at things like Hayley’s Comet, even managed the odd photograph, played around a bit, got in to radio astronomy…but never again looked at Jupiter.

Earlier this year I started looking at buying a new telescope – all singing, all dancing, one that would take my camera  and follow the stars around – maybe even find stuff automagically!  then financial constraints walloped my bottom again and so the plan was back burnered.  But…I read that Jupiter was visible again in the sky a few weeks ago, I have a telescope in the garage, it’s clear…so….what’s stopping me spending some time re-acquainting myself with old Jove?

And that’s what I intend doing tonight.  Watch this space – I can’t offer photographs but will let you know how a 35 year old 3″ refractor on a well dodgy tripod manages…..