Sunday, January 8, 2012

Amateur astronomy starts now

New hobby: Amateur astronomy. New function of the blog: Astro log. That's all I have to say about the transition from poker to astronomy.


Step 1 was to buy a pair of binoculars, and I went with a pair of Celestron 15x70 (that is magnification x aperture, or width of the main lens) which are decently heavy but pick up a lot of detail, pictured below. I'll get to buying a telescope eventually, but have now decided that there's plenty to look at and learn before I take that step.

I've had a couple of peeks at the night sky already, but as I'm starting the log tonight, I'll add only tonight's views to it:

Low in the sky, very visible, looked crescent, but hard to tell.

I can't help myself - have to look at Jupiter now that it's so close, despite having done it every time I'm outside and it's clear in the last two weeks. Got a decently still view of it by leaning against the wall to remove jittering of shaking hands. Seeing Jupiter's moons is so. Very. Cool. Looked basically like this (but two on the left and one on the right instead of all four tonight):

Jupiter in binoculars
(Picture courtesy of 10 Minute Astronomy)

It's really very blinding without a filter and I find that it's actually nicer to look at it through a light cover of clouds. But it was a full moon, and I had to give it a look. Note to self: Learn some of the names of the major landmarks. Especially that crater in the "southwest" corner that, as my mom put it, makes it look like it's an orange. Investigation still ongoing.

My first thought was "hey, Mars!" but a quick check using the SkyView app told me differently. What tricked me was the red color, and yes indeed - Betelgeuse is a red supergiant ("the armpit of Orion") ~650 lightyears away. It also twinkled ("cintillated" is apparently the correct term) a lot making it look like it was going through a prism; different colors coming at me but chiefly in red. Looked up the magnitude: A respectable 0.8, making it (incidentally) the 8th brightest star in the sky.

Later at night, clouds had covered the whole sky except for a a thin band on the southern horizon and I thought I saw Betelgeuse again, just over some rooftops; very bright start, much scintillation, but... Apparently not Betelgeuse. Nope, again using SkyView has reference i deduced it had to be Sirius, which it turns out is the brightest star in the sky, with a magnitude of -1.46. The scintillation made this too look like it was going through a prism, with all sorts of colors coming at me (is there something wrong with my binoculars? No, probably not).

Having gone through all this twinkling I formed the hypothesis that stars twinkle more close to the horizon because of the extra atmosphere they have to go through. The link above on twinkling gave me the nod on that guess.

Let's hope for clear skies soon again.

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