Wednesday, June 11, 2008

In Your Head

I brought enough beer this time.

Bug spray too. And a long list of stuff to look at.

I started out with the young crescent moon, 4 days old, while the sky darkened around me, the birds chirped their goodnight songs, the bats began to swoop. I've had the telescope for a couple months now, but for whatever reasons have never looked at the moon before. Gorgeous. Very detailed view. In low power (I don't know the exact power I'm using yet; figuring it out involves the focal lengths of the scope and the lens and math I have little interest in doing), the whole disc of the moon fits neatly inside the field of view. That may be by design, as it fits so perfectly. I don't know many features of the moon, but learned one: the Sea of Crises. It's the circular thing (a "sea" of hardened lava), low center in the photo. It looked quite dramatic with those long lunar shadows falling across the crags and crater rims.

I also realized how much light an 8 inch mirror gathers. I walked behind the scope and the image was thrown onto my shirt, and then my hand. Bright as a flashlight (okay, an exaggeration; a keychain flashlight then). Can't wait to show El Huquito and the girls how to catch the moon in their hands. Full moon is next week!

This is a pair of galaxies in Leo, M81 and M82. Very cool because you can get them both in the eyepiece at the same time at low power. The one on the right was kind of an amorphous blob of light, but the one on the left was elegant, symmetrical, with hints of the spiral arms and dust lanes. Nice.

I've mentioned before, but will reiterate, that what I see in the scope is not nearly as detailed as these photos (which are mostly from NASA). Astronomy, I'm learning, takes place largely in your head. At first glance, these things are just fuzzy blobs of light. You tease out details like arms and dust lanes with patience and imagination, filling in the details implied by what you can physically see. The mechanics of what is happening, the vast distances involved: also in your head.

The thing above is not a galaxy, but a star cluster in our own galaxy: M13, in the constellation Hercules. It's composed of about a million stars, all buzzing round a gravitational center like bees swarming a hive. These stars are very old, not much younger than the universe itself. This was actually almost as bright and detailed through the scope as it is in the picture.

Another star cluster, M93, also in Hercules. This one was not nearly as impressive, and detail could only be seen at high power.

I set my sights on the Virgo Cluster of galaxies after that, with little luck. Too much light, from both the moon and nearby campgrounds. I saw M87 and M100, both Virgo Cluster galaxies, both disappointing blobs with no detail. The Sombrero Galaxy, M104 (pictured below), was a little better. You could just barely make out the giant dust lane in the middle and the central bulge (heh, heh).

So, I'll leave my musings on the Virgo Cluster (and the larger Virgo Supercluster) for another day, when I get a better look at them. There's some seriously weird stuff going on in there, amid all the dancing galaxies.


Eric Shonkwiler said...

Keep it up, Mr. Wizard. You're PBS for me.

meno said...

As a Virgo myself, i am looking forward to the cluster talk.

I was very impressed by the pictures from your telescope, until you told me they weren't. I'm still impressed by the pictures though.

Mona Buonanotte said...

I'm feeling the overwhelming urge to visit the local planetarium....

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Glad that you got to see so much, it's such a treat when that happens.

What make is your telescope?

Just a word to the wise, if you are going to look at the full moon through your scope, only look at it when it is beginning to rise, or beginning to set. If you try to look at it when it's much more than 20-30 degrees above the horizon, you are going to 'blind' yourself.
*SUPER* bright.

It is very lovely to look at though. My two favorite places on the moon (on this side of it) are Tycho (at the bottom) and Endymion (at the top).
But I do enjoy it in it's entirety.
Even when one has learned quite a bit about it, the mystery and intrigue of it is never lost.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Clowncar said...

Yeah, you say that now, but just wait til it's fund-raising time, E. Contribute just $50 and I'll send you a nice tote-bag.

They are pretty good pictures, Meno. May I suggest you stroll over to NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day? Lotsa cool pix. You can spend hours there. Or I can, anyway.

You don't seem like someone who ever holds back on an urge, Mona. Which is is why we like you. So go to the planetarium. Maybe a little Laser Floyd.

Scarlett, so good to see you again! I have an Orion 8 inch Dobsonian, with one of those little hand held star finders. I really like it. Much easier to use than I thought it would be. I'm fond of Tycho crater too, partly cuz I always envision that obelisk from 2001 in the middle. I'll check out Endymion next week. Full moon! And, I asked for a moon filter for father's day, to tamp down all that brightness. Thanks for the tip.

Irrelephant said...

I'm with meno, being a fellow Virgoan. Is that the term for it? *g* Bring on the crunchy star clusters!