21 July 2007

Impromptu summer sky tour

    The moving moon went up the sky,
    And nowhere did abide:
    Softly she was going up,
    And a star or two beside.
      Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Yesterday evening was absolutely perfect night for observing the sky. It was cool, dry, and, but for a few wisps of cloud, crystal clear. The sun was barely below the horizen when Venus was out, low in the western sky. The moon was higher in the west, half full. Jupiter was high in southern sky.

I got out the telescope and the whole family spent the next hour looking at everything. We started with Venus, now down to a thin crecent. Normally one associates that shape with the moon, and we had to remind my youngest that this was a crescent Venus.

Next we turn to Jupiter. I wasn't sure the bright object was Jupiter until I looked in the eyepiece. There is no mistaking Jupiter. You can see the stripes if the cloud bands, and the four pinpricks of light that are the Galilean moons.

We moved on to our own moon. This brought wows form the children. The moon more than filled the eyepiece, and we scanned the edge of the shadow where the surface features were in strongest relief.

Finally, so as not to limit our sky tour to the solar system, we aimed the telescope at Mizar, the second star from the end in the Big Dipper's handle. Mizar is actually a binary star - through the telescope you can clearly see that is made up of two stars very close to one another. It is probably the easiest binary star to observe.

It's been too long since we had the telescope out. We need to do this more often.

1 comment:

tofu-powered art-chick said...

Your family skywatching might actually inspire us to get out the telescope that we were given 3 years ago and haven't used! I know it is a crime, but as with so many things, it can be hard to add something new into the routine. Even fun things can require a little behavior modification. The best things in life are free, and I do want to pass that along to my kid. Thanks!