First Light

Saturday, January 27, 1996

I'm trying my utmost best, to put myself into the Celestial Poorhouse!!! And to help pursue this lofty goal, I purchased a new telescope Thursday night. Well, actually it is a used scope, but it is new to me. I got a Meade f/4.5 10" Equatorial Newtonian. It has an AC clock drive, and is mounted on a German equatorial mount. There are a few scuff marks, a couple of missing screws, and a few blemishes here and there, but it seems to be a pretty good scope. There are a few holes drilled into the tube where the previous owner had a guide scope. He also cut a few inches off the pier to make it shorter, but you can't really tell anything was done to it. We tested it Thursday night on M35 in Gemini, M42 in Orion, and the Little Dumbbell, M76, in Perseus (a first for me). I decided to buy it.

I consider Saturday night as the first light because that's when I actually used the scope for the first time after it came into my possession. I observed quite a few items, of which some are documented here.

I started out with Polaris. I could easily see the double, and after doing a star test, I figured the optics were collimated good enough for me. Next came Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Four diffraction spikes caused by the vanes on the secondary spider made the sight even more beautiful in my opinion. I'd like to see the double companion for Sirius one day. Since I was in the cosmic neighborhood, I decided to view M41 in Canis Major. Pretty little smattering of stars.

Let me say at this point that there was a quarter Moon in the sky. As if this wasn't enough to light up things, my neighbors had their backyard floodlights on. Since I was only "testing" the scope, I decided to just live with it (the neighbors light went out shortly thereafter anyway).

Of course, I moved up to M42 in Orion. The glowing, green nebula cloud filled my eyepiece. The Trapezium blazed with it's little stars and the wisps of the cloud seemed to extend forever.

Then I said, what the heck, let's try for M1, the Crab Nebula in Taurus. I immediately found it and although it was washed out, it was still quite a sight. Since I wasn't trying to preserve my night vision, I pointed the scope toward the Moon. I was BLINDED!!!! A quarter Moon and a ten inch scope equal quite a bright image. Seeing spots (or quarter spots) before my eyes, I fumbled for my moon filter and placed it into the eyepiece. Even so, the Moon was still very bright. I need to get one of those polarizing filters. I didn't look at anything particular on the Moon. I just cruised up and down the terminator. I am always impressed at the wealth of detail the Moon has to offer. Craters, mountains, canyons...all in view as I scanned hundreds of miles of lunar surface. If you ever want to get someone turned onto astronomy, show them the quarter Moon through a telescope. I guarantee it!!!

After taking a small break, and even though my night vision was ruined, I decided to view M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. It was easily found. The companion galaxy of M32 took me a couple of seconds, but then I found it. It seemed almost "stellar" in it's appearance. M110 stood out boldly. And of course, all of these were within the same field of view.

Next up was the Perseus Double Cluster, my favorite star cluster. The stars filled the eyepiece, overflowing in all directions. I played with various powers to see how the view would change. Next up came the open cluster M44, the Beehive Cluster in Cancer. Like M41, a pretty smattering of stars.

Next up came the double star Castor, in Gemini. The scope cleanly resolved the pair into two separate components. I still want to begin my project of observing all the double stars I can.

After Castor, I tried for M81 and M82 in Ursa Major. The light pollution and atmospheric murk was not allowing me to see any faint stars in this direction. I estimated the position based on my star charts and pointed the scope. After a few tries and wiggling the scope around, I found the two faint fuzzies...and in the same view! I could definitely tell that M81 was a spiral galaxy and that M82 was an elongated, irregular. This was the first time I've observed these objects and I was impressed.

Next I tried observing M108 and M97, the Owl Nebula. Although I could see them, they were so washed out that I only spent a few moments in the area.

To finish out the night, I moved to the stellar fields of Gemini and Auriga. I decided to observe the "thirty something" clusters as I've heard another observer say. Although these are easy objects, they were almost straight up at the time, making it difficult for me to get under the finderscope. I started out with M35 in Gemini. BAM, there it was, a pretty open cluster, easily found. Next I went for M37 in Auriga, which came rather easily. What really helped was that these clusters were visible in the 6x30 finderscope. M37, like M35 was a pretty, open cluster. In trying to go to M36 and M38 in Auriga, I kept losing my place. I wasn't sure which cluster I was observing and I wanted to make sure I saw them all. Finally, I was able to hit all three of them in a row, M37, M36, and M38, so I knew I had them all. All of these clusters are fine examples of open, galactic star clusters. I encourage everyone to check them out.

In the end, it was pretty good observing session. The best part was that I nabbed two new objects, M81 and M82. My next "project" is to build a Dobsonian mount for that scope to make it easier to use. Although the equatorial mount moves smoothly and stays where you put it, sometimes you just want the simplicity of a Dobsonian mount.

Happy Observing,

Jeffrey L. Polston

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