Monday, August 04, 2008

Star Party

This past weekend was a new moon, and for astronomy buffs that means getting away from the city lights to look at the stars. My astrophysics-major friend has always kept track of the new moon, but this weekend was special. She invited her friends to come camping with her at Lake Morena.

The occasion was the christening and First Light for her new telescope, appropriately named Cyclops.

We had to wait until dark to do any viewing, and while we waited we got acquainted with each other--her San Diego friends, her Orange County friends, and me, her old friend--and then the cooks got busy.

After we ate, the sky was plenty dark, so my friend began the ceremony. We watched a video of her quest to purchase and pick up Cyclops, a 28" diameter reflecting telescope. And then she christened him, tapping a champagne bottle gently against a corner of the base and gave a heartfelt talk about how much it means to her to have a 'scope this size.

We toasted Cyclops, then we looked at the stars. One of her astronomy friends (the guy who built my telescope) was there with his 8" refracting telescope, which has one of those mechanisms that keeps the star or planet in view as it moves across the sky (actually, the earth is moving, be we won't quibble about that). He got us started on Jupiter. We could see two main bands across the planet and four of the moons.

Over on Cyclops, we looked at M14 (the Globular Cluster, not the weapon). It looked like this one (scroll down to "Messier 14"). Then we moved on to some nebulae, many pictured here. The Triffid Nebula (2nd row, 2nd picture), the Swan Nebula (top row, 4th picture), the Eagle Nebula (top row, 1st picture), and the Veil Nebula, which was too big to fit completely in Cyclops's view but looked a lot like the picture I linked to. And there were galaxies, including the Andromeda Galaxy, and some other things I've forgotten.

For the objects that were higher in the sky, we had to climb the ladder to be able to look in the eyepiece. It's tempting to want to steady yourself by holding the telescope, but that just moves it away and you lose the object and have to call the astronomy guy (AG) to come back and find it again (he's better at finding things than my friend is right now). So you quickly get used to gripping the ladder as you lean toward the eyepiece, and someone else holds the ladder to steady it. Since Cyclops doesn't have machinery to compensate for the spin of the earth, we kept having to send AG up the ladder to re-find the objects for the next person, because they'd slip out of view.

Then Cyclops turned his eye on Jupiter, and my friend put in the high-magnification eyepiece. The planet was bright, but oh it was stunning! We could see so many bands, and the red spot must have been on the other side, because I didn't see it. And with the the planet so large, it raced across and disappeared, so we had to keep nudging Cyclops to keep it in view. It looked something like the top photo here, only with the white bands brighter and no color showing.

My friend has marked all the new moons on her calendar and will be taking Cyclops out for as many of them as she can. In several months, Orion will be back in the sky, and I'll want to go with my friend then and see Orion's Nebula up close.

The night sky is a place of wonder, declaring the glory of God. I'll be glad to see that glory declared again and again.


Tsofah said...


Thanks for sharing! Sometimes stargazing gives us an even better understanding of how all things are ordered, perfectly fit together. Kinda takes the arguement out of evolution, for me, anyway.

Does anyone know why the Eagle nebula is called that? It didn't look like an eagle, so I'm curious.

Loved the description and linked pick of Jupiter. Awesome.

SkyePuppy said...


I didn't quite see the eagle shape of the Eagle nebula, but it's in the way the gases (pink in the picture) extend away from the center. It looked like outstretched eagle's wings to the person who named it.

Bekah said...

WOW! What a neat experience to be able to share! Great post!