Stan’s Obligatory Blog


That’s a big telescope

Filed under: — stan @ 5:50 pm

Tonight’s adventure was a trip up Mt. Wilson with the Obscura Society for an evening of looking at the stars with the 60-inch telescope. We headed up to the top of the mountain, where we were met by our guide, Shelley Bonus. She led us in to the telescope and told us the history of it while we were waiting for nightfall. And once it was fully dark, we were able to get started. And since Matt from the Obscura Society had suggested bringing baked goods along for the evening, I brought a batch of my blue-ribbon-winning chocolate cookies. They disappeared fast, so I guess that’s a good sign.

Shelley explained that the telescope has its strong and weak points. It’s great for observing stars and small star clusters. Because it has such a long focal length, it is best run at what would be considered impossible magnifications for a small amateur telescope. There was one night back in 1997 when the air was very still and I was able to run my 8-inch Celestron up to 300X. But normally, about 100X is as far as I can go. But with the 60-inch, we were routinely running close to 400X, and the image in the eyepiece was rock-solid and clear.

We started out with Epsilon Lyrae. Splitting the two double stars is a test of the resolving power of any telescope, and the big telescope did it easily. And while we were in the neighborhood, we had a look at M57, The Ring Nebula. This is another thing I’ve looked at with my telescope, but it was much bigger and more detailed here. We also had a look at the Dumbbell Nebula, but it wasn’t such a great sight. It’s a relatively large object, so it didn’t fit well into the field of view a high magnification.

We looked at a couple of globular clusters, which were very nice. They actually looked like balls of stars, rather than the round patches of fuzz they look like in smaller telescopes. And we ended the evening with a look at Neptune. It was nice and big and blue, and its moon Triton was clearly visible. Triton has a visual magnitude of about 13, which is beyond the reach of my little 8-inch telescope, but it was obvious here.

All in all, it was a good evening of nerdy fun.

Addendum: I didn’t make the connection until the next day, but I knew Shelley before. Back in 1990, I took a class at UCLA Extension called “How to Perform Stand-Up Comedy”, and she was the instructor. But because it had been so long, and being in a completely different context, I didn’t put it all together at the time. But in any event, it was a very weird coincidence.

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