Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are all up in the southern sky right now so I took the telescope and binoculars out for a couple hours last night and in so doing, I got a very unexpected joy.
But before I get to that, here is a screen cap from the Starry Night app that shows the location of Jupiter, Mars and Saturn.
My equipment consisted of a 10” Newtonian Reflector, 27mm Televue Panoptic and 11mm Televue Nagler eyepieces, a 2X barlow, a sky filter and 15×60 binoculars.
I got great views of the three planets and the quarter moon and some of these pics are pasted below. Keep in mind that my telescope is not the best for photography since it is a ‘manual’ mount and doesn’t have a motor to match the rotation of the Earth like an equatorial mount. I also was using my iPhone with a somewhat steady hand and that also reduces the quality of the pics.
Notice that all of Jupiter’s major moons were lined up – Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto – and that was a very special treat. Here is a screen cap from Starry Night that shows what I saw (reversed due to the nature of how a Newtonian Reflector works).
I stuck it out later in the evening when the Great Red Spot came into view but I couldn’t capture that detail with my telescope and iPhone. Jupiter’s Red Spot is very intense right now and I highly suggest you use this app and find a time to get out and see it.
All of that was great but the highlight of the evening came early when a couple in my neighborhood drove by in their golf cart and asked what I was looking at. I pointed out the planets I was looking at and asked if they have ever seen Jupiter in a telescope. They said no and I had the pleasure of watching their amazement as they saw, for the first time with their own eyes, the northern and southern equatorial bands of Jupiter along with its 4 major moons.
Unfortunately Saturn was too low at the time to show them that beautiful site in the telescope. Other than dense star clusters like M13, I get the most joy out of watching the reaction of people who see Saturn in a telescope for the first time with their own eyes.
The main reason I park my telescope in the front yard is because the front of my house faces South and that is where most of the ‘action’ takes place but I also do it because I love to share astronomy with folks who don’t have a telescope. Practicing amateur astronomy in the back yard doesn’t afford me the opportunity to share this hobby with strangers passing by. And having a 10” Newtonian reflector in your front yard will definitely get people to stop and ask what the heck I’m doing. The dang thing looks like a cannon!
If you are an amateur astronomer like me, don’t be a monk but instead be an evangelist and share the wonders of the cosmos with a stranger. Those of us who have seen the vast beauty of the cosmos for years tend to take it for granted how amazing it is to see the galaxies, star clusters and planets with our own eyes. Most of the people you know have never had that joy so share it with them!