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No 64 - December 2010

Just the beginning!
My first year observing in the city

I'd always wanted to learn about the night sky but for one reason or another it always got pushed to the background, but everyone has got to start somewhere and for me the beginning was October 2009 when I bought my first telescope. I was a complete novice and I mean that, I'd never even looked through a telescope! So there I was; I had an enthusiastic desire to learn and a nice new telescope but not a clue how to use it! Thankfully, I'd bought a Heritage 130P flex tube, a manageable 5" Dobsonian. Once I figured out which end was which and aligned the red dot finder, it was fairly easy to use.

I remember my first target very well, the obvious beginner's choice: the Moon. It was one target even I couldn't miss and it's not affected by the city's light pollution! What can I say, I'd known the Moon for years and yet I didn't know it at all. My first view through the eyepiece was breathtakingly beautiful, the crater detail along the terminator just amazing, and from that moment on I was hooked! The Moon is still one of my observing favourites and one year on, craters like Copernicus, Tycho, Clavius and Plato have become like old friends.

As the lunar cycle progresses the terminator brings the landscape to life as it moves across the surface. I especially enjoy observing around the first quarter when the terminator is well placed for a meander along lunar mountain ranges such as the Montes Alpes and Montes Appenninus. As the Sun rises, the long shadows cast by the mountains and crater rims make for a worthwhile observing session. The shadows cast by the Apennines over the Mare Serenitatis, reveal detail that is just spectacular and it really does feel like you're flying over mountains!

lunar detail
Carol took this image of detail on the Moon with a Canon EOS 550D in movie mode, using projection with a Hyperion zoom eyepiece and the 8" Dobsonian. 300 images were stacked in Registax. At the bottom left is the crater Copernicus with its terraces and central mountains. Top right is Eratosthenes with its central mountains appearing to indicate two o' clock. Note also the ghostly ancient crater Stadius toward the right and just below the centre line, in size between Copernicus and Eratosthenes. (Caption by Ed.)

Second target was Jupiter, although the view through the 5" Dobsonian didn't show much planetary detail, the four Galilean moons were clearly visible. I remember being so excited at seeing my first planet that I'd call over any neighbour who happened to pass by and proudly show them Jupiter and it's moons! I was starting to feel like an astronomer! It was also the first planet I tried to photograph, not that well I might add.

It was about then that I faced the next beginners hurdle, after the Moon and planets what next? By this time, I had joined the ASE and found Alan Pickup's monthly presentations invaluable but soon realised that if I was to find the targets he told us about, I'd have to learn the basic constellations. This was easier said than done, but with the help of a planisphere and the computer programme Stellarium, those dots of light started to make sense; I could see the shapes! It's an ongoing project as I'm still learning! However, it didn't take that long to learn the basics and I was soon on my way and was delighted to find my first nebula; The Orion Nebula, then my first galaxy, Andromeda, I felt a real sense of accomplishment with my new found astronomy skills.

Light pollution makes observing in the city challenging, but a little bit of effort and perseverance brings abundant rewards. I've often been amazed at what can be seen from a car park in the middle of Leith. In March 2010, I bought my 8" Orion Optics Dobsonian and started to search for and find one target after another. The Pleiades, the Beehive Cluster, the Double Cluster, Albireo, the Ring Nebula, the Dumbbell, the Owl Cluster (NGC457) and the Spiral Cluster (M34) are just a few of the sights I've observed from my city centre doorstep. I've also observed the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. The ISS, Iridium flares and the occasional meteor have also been spotted as they passed overhead. I was surprised at how many satellites fly by, so to add a bit of fun to my observing sessions, I will often chase a satellite to see how long I can keep it in the eyepiece. My current record is 25 seconds!

My next challenge is astrophotography and with the help of the ASE Imaging Group and online forums, I hope to be able to capture some of the amazing sights I've seen in my night skies. One thing's for sure, I have more than enough to keep me happily occupied for many years to come!

Carol Gentle


Cover page

Just the beginning!

Can't see the universe for the stars

Recent observations

Forthcoming events

Society news

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