A beautiful Saturday with temperatures in the mid 50’s led way to an exceptionally clear night here in Clifton Forge. Going from the light polluted skies of Roanoke to the dark skies of the county never ceases to amaze. After washing my car (long over due) and working on some lesson plans, I decided to take my scope out with about an hour of sunlight left. The hope was to get a glimpse of Venus at sun set while allowing the telescope to have a steady cool down. Unfortunately, Venus was still too low on the horizon to observe (this will change come late spring and summer).
While still close enough to Earth to make out a spherical disc, Mars is moving away from Earth at a fairly substantial rate and will be too far for detail come April. With that being the case, any chance to view “Big Red” should not be missed. Tonight’s view was a fairly typical if not unspectacular view. The atmosphere was very calm, making high magnification planetary viewing sharp; but Mars had little land features to show due to its “boring” side facing Earth on this particular night. All that could be made out was the northern polar ice cap. With that said, being able to make out any detail on Mars is still exciting. Just ask Lauren about the night I had us stay up until 4 in the morning to view Mars through the old DS-114 only to reveal a somewhat bright red star (I’m lucky she hasn’t left me).
M81 & M82
Faint fuzzies are how most people describe deep-sky objects and while I have to agree with this assessment, don’t let the name fool you, these objects are an amazing sight. Two of the best ones to view in the winter sky are M81 and M82. My 8-year-old sister Abby described the irregular galaxy M82 as looking like the number 1 in space. What makes these two objects even better is that with wide enough field of view you will be able to view and compare these spiral and irregular galaxies at the same time due to their apparent location in our sky. While no structural detail could be discerned from these two objects, knowing that you are looking at an object 12 million light years away and effectively looking 12 million years into the past is an incredible feeling. Although I have to agree with Abby, seeing the number 1 in space was pretty cool too!
Visual representation of M81 & M82