I took advantage of the clear night skies tonight to set up my telescope and let my kids get some good looks at Jupiter and the Moon.
Here are some pictures I took of my two kids peering through my telescope.
I mainly use my telescope for deep sky viewing of galaxies, star clusters and nebulae so I have a telescope suited for that purpose. It’s a Zhummel 10” Newtonian reflector (1,250mm focal length) on a manual Dobsonian mount and while this is perfect for my purposes, it is not the best setup for photographs. The telescope mount is manual so it can’t track the objects as the Earth rotates and therefore I can’t setup a fancy camera to take long exposures that can be enhanced on computer software. I have to hold the camera with a steady hand and use the lens of the camera to find the image through the eyepiece of the telescope and it’s a lot of trial and error. It doesn’t help that I know next to nothing about photography so it’s really luck when I get an image that looks good. For the record, I snapped the photos tonight using my iPhone 5 using caffeine free hands.
I used two eyepieces tonight – 1) the 2” 27mm Tele Vue Panoptic for views of the moon and 2) the 1.25” 11mm Tele Vue Naglar for view of Jupiter. I also used a ‘moon filter’ on both eyepieces to attenuate some of the light and a sky glow filter on the 11mm Naglar (which will be explained later). Jupiter is massive and the Moon tonight was waxing gibbous so the reflected light off these bodies is very bright in a telescope and without these filters both objects would look like spotlights in the eyepiece. Looking at the moon at any phase greater than a crescent in a telescope without one of these filters is almost blinding and I don’t suggest doing it for longer than a second.
Now that I got the disclaimers out of the way, here are some pictures I took this evening.
Since the Moon was high in the sky, this was the first object I had my kids look at. Most people think that the best time to look at the Moon with binoculars or a telescope is when the moon is full but I disagree. The best views of the moon are when the terminator line is present and you can see the shadows cast on the moon’s surface from the crater walls. The following picture gives a good representation of what we saw tonight.
The views of the moon were all well and good but tonight I really wanted my kids to see Jupiter with its 4 moons and the picture below shows what they saw.
What you can’t see from the picture is the detail that we saw on Jupiter with our eyes. Because the sensitive iPhone camera was overwhelmed with the photons from Jupiter, you can’t see the North and South equatorial cloud bands. Through the eyepiece we were able to clearly see that the Northern band was actually split into two parallel cloud bands and my kids were amazed that they were able to see clouds on Jupiter from their front yard!
The Moons in the above picture are (from bottom to top) Ganymede, Io, Europa and Callisto. How do I know the positions of the moons of Jupiter at any given time? No, I’m not a genius. I use the Sky and Telescope website to tell me!
Because I live in the suburbs of a moderately large city, I sometimes use a sky glow filter that passes light wavelengths associated with nebulae and filters out the light wavelengths associated with street lights. This filter is mainly used to improve the visibility of deep sky images in light polluted areas (like mine) but it also has an attenuating effect on bright objects, like planets, and here is a picture I took of Jupiter using the Lumicon deep sky filter.
Now here is the really cool part about tonight’s viewing of Jupiter. If you zoom in on both of the photos of Jupiter above you’ll see thousands of other points of light that we didn’t see with our eyes when we peered into the telescope. The picture below is a zoomed-in image of the star field between Ganymede and Io.
Those points of light are not anomalies of the photograph but actual stars in our Milky Way galaxy! Those stars are too faint for our eyes to capture but the sensitive photon detector of the iPhone 5 (or any modern camera) can pick up these photons and record them!
I know these points of light are stars and not ‘noise’ from the camera because I took many photographs tonight and noticed the same pattern of stars in all the pictures. It’s true that our sky is full of stars!
I highly encourage you to go outside during this Christmas holiday season and experience the wonders of the night sky. I have put together a Jupiter viewing guide to help those who have a desire to see the largest planet in our solar system. Go outside and look up!