Session 24 – More New Planets

Tuesday 12th December 2017 – 05:56-06:10

The weather had been good since last night, and this had persisted into the following morning.  I’d seen on Starry Night that Jupiter and Mars were rising in the sky just before dawn, and so I decided to take advantage of the weather and try and tick off these two planets, neither of which I’d seen before with my telescope.

I aligned on Arcturus and Procyon (the former, having previously been an evening sky alignment staple, has migrated to become a morning star).  The two planets were easily visible with the naked eye, with the waning crescent moon, Spica and the planets falling roughly in a line.

I started with Mars, the famous red planet, and it did not disappoint.  In terms of angular size, it was about the same size as Uranus currently is (although it will rapidly become larger and larger as its opposition approaches in July 2018).  Unlike Uranus though, it was bright and had a deep orange colour.  My first view of the planet was excellent.

A few minutes later, I moved onto Jupiter.  I was quite lucky, as (from the telescope’s perspective), the planet had just risen over the garden fence (although it had been easily visible out of my bathroom window when I woke up).  It was very large and very bright through the eyepiece, with possible hints of cloud banding, although I wasn’t sure.  I could see three of the four Galilean moons neatly in a row (a quick check of Starry Night Pro the night before showed that Io would be transiting the planet, and so would not be visible).  Europa was on one side, while Ganymede and Callisto were on the other.

Simulation of the view through the telescope, showing the three resolvable Galilean moons

I was acutely aware that I had work ahead today, so I had a quick look at the waning crescent moon before I headed back to bed to get some rest before the day started properly.  It had a great terminator visible, with lots of interesting craters.  A closer examination of them will have to wait until another day!

Overall I was really glad to have woken up to see these two planets.  Both were wonderful to look at, and I look forward to spending more time observing them again going forward (especially when Mars reaches opposition).  Additional observation of the Galilean moons is definitely on the cards, as I’d like to see all four at once (and hopefully image the planetary system too)!

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