Posts Tagged jupiter


We’ve recently had some good views of Jupiter and, more to the point, got to see some intriguing Jovian moon interactions.

One night we watched the moons coming in for an incredibly close interaction around Jupiter itself. We got to watch Callisto transversing the pole of Jupiter, which was something I’ve not seen before, and then as it was leaving the surface Io was approaching and both Ganymede and Europa, which had very close together, were also approaching from the other side. The three on the same side were less than half a Jupiter distance apart. It was fun to watch them coming together over the evening (the seeing wasn’t great for much else) and especially exciting to watch the disks of Io and Callisto coming and going over the limb of Jupiter – tiny white blobs appearing and disappearing.

Another night there was a shadow transit on one of the main cloud bands – directly below the Great Red Spot. It wasn’t the best view of the GRS I’ve ever had, but it was nice to see such a conjunction of objects.

I think what I like about observing Jupiter is that it is a dynamic system. I like that the moons offer different stylings over the night and from night to night. I like that different conditions determine what level of detail you can see in the cloud bands and that you get different experiences of it as a result – and that that too changes over the night as Jupiter revolves.


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Reclaiming my observing

I do not like finding faint fuzzies.

There. I said it. I’ve always known it but for a long time I’ve been embarrassed to own it. It has often felt like if you’re an amateur astronomer, the whole point is to go hunting for faint galaxies and planetary nebulae. Which is why so many of them get aperture fever and hunger after ever larger and faster mirrors for their Dobsonians.

But I have a refractor.

This is actually a chicken and egg scenario. My – our – first telescope was a Tak refractor, because that’s what James bought me for my birthday. So with that to learn on, I went to what it was good at looking at: planets and double stars. Planets were always going to be one of the great joys of my observing life. I was initially unsure about whether hunting double stars was worthwhile, but with some time and an understanding of what refractor was able to do, I discovered the joy of tracking them down and in particular how awesome it is to look at the differently coloured ones. Having a 90mm refractor meant that looking at faint galaxies was never going to be worthwhile.

But even when James got his 16” Dob, and started chasing faint fuzzies, I didn’t get the bug. In honesty I don’t think I have the eyes for it, and that has certainly added to the frustration the few times that I have joined in the galaxy quest (heh). Plus I just don’t get it. All I see are fuzzy grey blobs that rarely have any shape to speak of (to my eyes) and so… what is the point?

All of this has meant that I’ve sometimes felt on the outer amongst amateur astronomers. As if looking at things that aren’t incredibly hard to find is somehow… cheating? A waste of time? Letting down the community? Demonstrative that I haven’t levelled up to being a ‘real’ astronomer? Which hasn’t been a lot of fun.

Of course this is all at the same time as having people comment that my refractors have excellent optics and that the stars look great through them and the view of planets are wonderfully sharp. I never said it was entirely logical.

Anyway. I’m slowly owning all of my own preferences and desires and peculiarities. I don’t have to go along with what anyone else likes and thinks is right in such incredibly subjective areas. I can look at whatever I like.

If I want to spend the entire night looking at Orion’s Nebula, Jupiter, and Saturn, and then the Eta Carina Nebula in a 31mm Nagler, then that’s okay. And would be quite a nice night, actually.

Of course if James pulled up the Eight-Burst Nebula or the Ghost of Jupiter, I’d sure go have a look at those. Maybe the Grus quartet. But anything from the ARP catalogue? Nah.

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ASV Star-b-cue 2013

Last weekend we travelled to the ASV dark site for the annual star-b-cue, and it was awesome.

We went up on the Friday night. We set up in the early evening and then had to wait around for hours as the sun slowly went down. I did manage to get a good look at the moon, in a lovely crescent – I haven’t made the effort to see the moon in a long time, and it was glorious. That night involved a lot of reminding ourselves of the sky and also introducing some friends to our telescopes. One of them is an exceptional astronomer but from the northern hemisphere, so it was amusing to hear him talk about which bits he can’t see at all from home (like 47 Tuc!). And complain that Orion is upside-down. I didn’t have a viewing plan for the evening so I went with whims. Amongst the best things I saw was two moons around Uranus (Oberon and Titania, apparently) and I split Sirius! Unbelievable! I piked earlier than I had hoped – around 1am I think – I had hoped to see Jupiter but we were in spot such that it was still behind the trees when I was flagging.

Saturday was the actual star party. During the day I set up the solar telescope and various people looked through it; there were, I think, maybe six solar scopes set up – more than I’ve seen at any other time. And the sun was looking pretty fine; not incredibly active but some beautiful prominences and a set of sun spots in a cluster. I also took a wander around the site and checked out the new radio shack they’ve set up, recording the sun, meteors and Jupiter. The guy in charge was very pleased to play us the recording of a solar flare from October.

The evening progressed as these things do. The Lions Club provided a great BBQ dinner; there was a quiz – entirely music based this time, so I did ok; and there were heaps of people. There were dozens of scopes set up on the observing field; I didn’t bother going down to the photographers to check out their set ups. It makes me too sad to see Takahashis being used solely for imaging. Anyway eventually the sun went down, again; I looked at the moon, again, and had to make sure I stopped doing that early enough that I could get light-adapted, given how very bright it was. Again, I had no plan… so I looked at some globular clusters, and some planetaries; I saw some galaxies through the Dob. And I stayed up late enough to see Jupiter. Not a great view, to be sure, but when the seeing snapped in it was definitely worth staying up until *mumble230mumble*. Galilean moons all in a row.

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Astronomical Sketching

It’s fair to say I have a bit of a reputation among friends for being a bit of a luddite. I collect vinyl records, only use cameras which take celluloid film and I think humanity’s greatest technical achievements may be the Apollo program in the 1960s. Given this it seems quite logical to me that I would find sketching more appealing than astronomical imaging, especially with one of those new fangled CCD cameras.

So why sketch at all? Well, a few reasons, the first is it’s a very simple and cheap way to capture and share what you see through a telescope. I think this is particularly valuable as it gives quite a good impression of what an observer sees visually through a telescope rather than the colourful but misleading candy we see from amateur images right through to professional images from the Hubble. I think the second reason is it makes you a better visual observer; the very act of building up a sketch forces you to take a second, third, fourth and many more looks at the object of interest. There is something too about the way the brain works which means once you have seen a detail once and noted it down, somehow it’s easier to see it again, even if just using averted imagination.

I started out sketching images of the moon. Partly this is due to our inner city home and partly because I think it’s probably the easiest target to start working on. The moon is so bright it’s quite easy to have an outdoor light on while you draw, in fact having a light on can help balance out the blinding bright appearance of the moon through all but the smallest of telescopes. Once I’d made a few drawings of the moon I was happy with I started working on other bodies in the solar system, mostly Jupiter. Lately I’ve begun sketching some of the deep sky objects, but this is still very much something I’m learning to do well.

Tempted ? Good. Here is how I suggest you start: get a copy of this book.

Buy some pencils – I have a box of 12 Derwent Drawing pencils but when you are just starting limiting yourself to a few pencils makes life easier. 4B, B and 2H is about right. It doesn’t matter though if it’s 3B or 2B and 4H etc. A B pencil is my standard go-to pencil. I never grab more than 4 pencils for any one sketch in the field. You also need to get a blending stump or three (you can get away without cleaning them all the time if you use the same one for really soft black pencils, and keep one pretty clean for light smudging). Also buy some different erasers, including a soft ball-style one and an eraser shield – the eraser shield might be the most important thing you buy. Finally you need a decent pad of A5 drawing paper. If you go to an art store all of this should cost you less than $40.

Beyond the tools the most important thing to practice is figuring out your reference points, and drawing those first. For the moon, big craters and the key shadows. For star clusters, focus on the brightest stars first. For nebula, the bright stars and basic shape. Once you get those down, you just keep refining, and refining sections of the sketch. Breaking it down makes it much less overwhelming.

Finally, for a bit of inspiration check out Astronomy Sketch of the Day.

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