My big, dumb, cheap telescope arrived last week. So last weekend I did a surgical strike, driving into the Big City, and right back out again, through a snow squall no less, to get it.
It was cloudy the next 2 nights. Sigh.
Monday night, after the girls were in bed, Hucky went to the office to tame her monstrous and ever-growing to-do list, and I took the baby monitor and a beer and the telescope into the backyard. Shockingly simple to set up, and to align the viewfinder. Which is, of course, the main advantage of big, dumb and cheap.
The first thing I pointed to was the Pleiades, the seven sisters driven loony by the light of the moon, left to dance high in the sky through eternity. Found it right away. It was a tad disappointing - didn't have a big enough field of view to get the whole structure in the eyepiece. Did see a wisp of nebula around one of the stars, which was kinda cool.
Next up was the Orion Nebula (pictured above), which nearly always takes my breath away, and it was no disappointment (it's in Orion's sword, just below and to the left of the 3-star belt, and big and bright enough to see with binoculars). It's a stellar nursery, a great swath of molecular cloud lit up by the stars being born inside it. The four stars of the Trapezium were clearly visible (the Trapezium - diagrammed below - is four gravitationally bound stars, and their orbits around each other are so complex they have never been successfully modeled). I checked it out with both eyepieces, then the area surrounding it, and am pretty sure I found de Mairan's Nebula (in the lower left of the picture above), which is part of the same molecular cloud, but separated visually by a dark lane of dust (which was as impressive as the nebula itself).
Spent 5 or 10 frustrating minutes trying to get Saturn into view (remember, I'm still pretty new at this), then gave up and went inside to get another beer and check on the girls. And that second beer did the trick. I went back outside and realigned the scope and found Saturn almost immediately. It was the sight of the night. Rings clearly visible, the shadow of the rings visible on the planet itself. Wow. I think I found the moon Titan too, big and bright and hanging off to the left (I don't have enough game to positively identify moons yet). Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis have probably figured out I have a fascination with the moons and rings and other weird crap orbiting Saturn. I spent a half an hour or so looking at it with both eyeieces, playing with focus, trying to discern as much detail as possible.
That was the highlight of the night. Went to the Beehive Cluster, which, like the Pleiades, was too big to see well through the eyepiece, and then to Mars, which was just a feaureless orange ball. But my night had been made. First by the Orion Nebula, then by Saturn.
I get a powerful feeling when I look at the stars that I cannot entirely explain. It's a visceral, almost frightening thrill, like something immensely important is about to be revealed to me. I'm not exaggerating the intensity of the emotion. I think of it as a pre-religious reaction, meaning it's the impetus to religion, the feeling that lures one to belief. Not the belief itself, but the impetus to the belief. That distinction is important to me, though I don't know why exactly. I don't believe in a God that has any day-to-day control over human events. But there is no denying the feeling coursing through my blood, tickling my nerve endings, flooding my brain, lurking in my dreams.