Took the big, dumb telescope out again on Friday, to use it for what was it is really designed for: galaxy hunting. So far I’ve only used it as a backyard scope for planets and the splashier nebulae, but this time I drove out to a state park for maximum darkness, and went by myself so as not to have kids pulling at my shirttails every few minutes and dropping tiny pieces of cookie into the telescope. Again. I’m learning that astronomy, like writing, is a rather solitary pastime.
Not that I’m complaining.
Warmed up by looking here, at the middle star of the handle of the Big Dipper. It’s actually 2 stars, Alcor and Mizar (actually, it’s six stars*; but keep reading). I’ve read that American Indians used to test the eyesight of warriors and hunters by seeing if they could see both stars separately. I can’t. Peer down into the rabbit hole and you’ll see that it’s not a double star but TWO double stars, four stars altogether, and I was able to make out three of the four stars very clearly. Pretty cool. The colors are very pretty.
*I just read while looking for the picture that it is a six star system, not four, as both Mizar and its companion are double stars too. That rabbit hole goes down as far as you want to travel.
About then the wind blew down my collapsible chair, and dumped the beer in the cupholder, leaving me with only one left. I almost cried. Thus I learned Clowncar’s First Rule of Star-Gazing: Bring Extra Beer.
The two galaxies below were the find of the night (M51 and NGC5195). I tried to find then on my own but gave up after a frustrating half hour or so, and plugged in the star-finder (my telescope is dumb, but still smarter than I am). It doesn’t move the scope, but after you align it to 2 stars (you center it on the star and then tell it what star you’re centered on), it will guide you to whatever you wanna see with two arrows and the number of degrees you have to move the scope. Zero out the two arrows and you’re pretty close.
This is the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) and a companion galaxy (NGC 5195). They are gravitationally bound, meaning the Whirlpool is slowly eating up NGC 5195. You can find this just below the handle of the Big Dipper, and if you have dark skies can find them pretty easily with binoculars. In a telescope they are truly spectacular, filling up the entire field of view at high power, with hints of the filaments and dust lanes clearly visible. Wow. I should point out the detail was nothing like the detail in the photo I've posted, which was taken by the Hubble.
Next up was the Black Eye galaxy. Not quite as stunning as the Whirlpool, but still pretty freakin cool. The Black Eye part is from dust clouds. I couldn’t see much detail, but was able to make out the “black eye” in the middle.
Down the rabbit hole again: the inner ring of this galaxy revolves in one direction, the outer ring in the opposite direction. The closer you look at stuff out there, the weirder it all gets. Or, as Alice once said, knee-deep in Wonderland, ”Curiouser and curiouser.”