Having finished the Carp star party on August 2nd, we headed up to the inlaws cottage for the weekend. It’s kind of a small family compound, and there are usually three or four sets of “aunts and uncles” (i.e., Generation 2), a handful of cousins and spouses (i.e., Generation 3), and sundry grandkids (i.e., Generation 4). It can get busy and 30+ is not an uncommon total number of people. This weekend was a smaller bunch, we only had 28.
After we arrived on the Saturday, I was frequently asked, “Did you bring your scope?” I hadn’t this time — we just brought Jacob’s smaller scope. The Celestron NexStar 4SE is WAY more portable than my big 8SE, and it has the advantage of having crisp clear images given that it’s a Maksutov-Cassegrain design. We considered setting up on Saturday night, but there was a huge cloud moving in from the north, as there has been on several previous visits. Often the South West area of the sky looks “okay”, but North West is frequently terrible. We didn’t bother setting up.
Sunday was clear all day. The sky had a few wisps of cloud here and there, which is little indication of the night, but in this case, it held. When the night started to fall around 8:30, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. There was some soup at the horizon, but other than that, nada.
The moon was clearly visible, and Jacob set up manually on the moon. We had a bunch of people come over of the 26 other people there, with most popping in for at least a quick look. Normally when I’m up there, there isn’t much to see on the moon. This time, we had a thin crescent, a clear terminator line, and before it got too dark, visible earthshine on the dark side of the terminator line. I guided them to find Mare Crisium and a couple of craters that I imaged back in June, and they were blown away by the level of detail on the moon.
Where we were set up is a deck next to a dock area, and it is boards above a shoreline. As such, it is a bit springy to walk on, and we had to enforce a “one scope, one viewer” rule that people had to wait on the grass until it was their turn. There were a couple of times we had five or six people waiting to view the next object.
It took a while to get through all the kids and the adults for the moon. Then we turned our attention to Jupiter. Again, we ran through all the kids first as many were heading off to bed, and then through the adults. Lots of questions, and lots of attempts to see the bands. I boosted the power, and added a filter at various times, all trying to bring out detail as easily as possible for them to view. With the 9mm plossl, J’s scope has about 180x magnification, so the planet was discernible for just about everyone. From time to time, it was hard to resolve the bands, but some of that was getting people used to using the focusing knobs themself. Jacob hung in like a trooper, helping people figure out what to do. However, I realized that with the scope aligned, and most of it sitting relatively still for Jupiter, he had very little to do. He said he wasn’t bored, but it wasn’t that exciting either.
We did take a bit of a time-out in between the moon and Jupiter to perform a full alignment plus Jacob tried out all the various eyepieces. I was a bit surprised by the results. While everyone and their eyes are slightly different, I love my Delos eyepieces with the wide FoV. Jacob by contrast was more enamoured of the plossls. They work well for him, and as I was about to order a new 6mm one for him, it was good to know which style to get. It doesn’t hurt either that the style tends to be a bit cheaper, and gives a nice division of eyepieces between us for packaging and bundling.
After everyone had seen Jupiter, and most had drifted away, I started a quick sky tour. Just for fun, since the night skies were so clear, I tried for M110. This one is almost always at the start of my star tour on the 8SE, and to be honest, I have never seen anything. Maybe a faint fuzzy at most. In J’s scope? In between some trees? It was a very large and bright fuzzy. It’s an elliptical galaxy, and while we didn’t see much detail, it was far more obvious than anything I had seen before in that area. Which made me want to try for Andromeda.
M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, is hugely popular. Everyone says “Make sure you show people Andromeda”, etc. But to be honest, I have never really seen Andromeda. A faint fuzzy at most. Mostly because I frequently observe on nights when there is a moon, and partly because I frequently view from light polluted skies, I almost never feel like it’s worth my time. I even confess there have been times doing a star tour where I just skip it entirely. This time, it was visible in a gap between some big trees, a nice open area of the sky over the cottage, so I went for it. And BAM! There it was, completely clear.
Nebulae. Galaxies. Open clusters. All were available for the viewing. Double stars too. Albireo didn’t disappoint. Five of us looked at it over the course of the night, and we all saw slightly different colour combinations. Globulars were a bit disappointing, but the rest was coming out great. It was hard to pick just the right “next” object as I worked through the star tour with Andrea and Jacob. In the end, we were trying to finish up just in time for Saturn to come out from behind a bunch of trees close to our viewing site. I thought Saturn would be in view about 45 minutes from when I first saw it (I walked out on a dock to see past the treeline). Instead, the movement across the sky took almost 2 hours (!) before Saturn appeared in our line of sight. Jacob got to see it just before 11:30 and bedtime, but Andrea had just given up at that point.
After J left, I went and got a bunch of the remaining adults (six or so) who were still up, and gave them a look at Saturn. While they were impressed, I think they had been more impressed by the Galilean moons and our own moon itself.
J’s 4SE scope worked great. If I had had my 8SE that night, and there were a couple of faint objects begging for the bigger scope, I probably would have stayed up almost all night. It was simply the best sky I had seen in 35 years, all the way back to when I was a young teenager out at the lake and the sky was full of stars.
Plus, just for a bonus during the night, every so often a meteor would streak across the sky. I saw about 4 for the night, J saw his first, and a couple of other people did too. After packing up around 12:30, I sat at the edge of the lake and just stared out at the sky. I would have loved to stay there all night, but I was exhausted and I reluctantly put myself to bed. I’m hoping to go back up in a few weeks, and I am dreaming that one of the nights will be even half as good.
A great night, great skies, and great company with whom we could share the stars. It doesn’t get much better than that.