Since I have not done much observing this summer, I was getting the need for an astronomy fix. So Saturday evening September 23rd I headed up to the farm at Hebron with my 18" Dob. I called Mike Dziedzic and we met up there. There was a stiff breeze from the south but it kept the night fairly warm. Fortunately the bearings on my Dob were a little dirty and it kept the scope from blowing around in the wind.
Mike and I were the only ones to venture out to the site that night. I didn't have any particular observing list made up so I mostly visited some of the brighter Messier and NGC objects. During the evening Mike and I traded looks thru our scopes. Mike picked up the planet Uranus in his scope. It looked great. To me it showed a nice disc and was a stunning blue/green color. It was an enjoyable night for observing, especially being under the arching Milky Way band that was complimented with a few meteors. We packed up around 12:30 and headed home.
Over the next few days that image of Uranus stuck with me. Coincidently as I read my Sky & Telescope magazine I ran across a chart showing the orbits of Uranus' moons. 'Hmmm' - I thought. I never saw the moons of Uranus before! That would be a cool challenge.
The following evening was clear and calm, a good night to observe. The blue/green planet beckoned! Work or not I had to go! When I got to the Hebron site I set up my scope. (Don't tell the star hopping clan led by Jack Kramer, but I used my Argo-Navis electronic setting circles...). I located Uranus but it was low in the Southeast sky. The moon finding mission would have to wait for a couple of hours. In the mean time I viewed M13, M92, M31, M32, M110, M57, the Lagoon, Trifid, Dumbell, Swan, and the Veil Nebula. All of the nebulae looked great, very prominent and distinct. I used an OIII filter.
Around 10:00 I returned to Uranus. It looked very steady and tranquil thru my 2" 20mm Televue ocular. It was a nice view, but no moons! The S&T magazine listed the four brightest moons, one at 13.5 mag., two at 13.7, and one at 14.5. I did not make an occulting bar for my ocular to block out the light from the planet, so I figured more magnifying power was needed to separate the dimmer moons from the relatively brighter planet. I put my 14mm Televue ocular in and with relatively little effort two of the moons appeared, one on each side of Uranus. At that moment I was instantly transported from the Hebron farm to an approaching fly-by of this beautiful blue/green world and its moons. Uranus became a new visual memory, not just a planet with a name.
Ok, now I have seen two moons, but I needed more! Is (astronomy) observing addictive? Quite possibly. I thought maybe more power would help to search out a third or possibly a fourth moon. I put my Dakin barlow in with the 14mm. And boosted the power. It took some prodding but a third moon appeared. This moon faded in and out but it did show itself. The view was becoming like a mini solar system - a planet with three orbiting bodies. I know there was a fourth moon waiting to be "discovered" but it was getting late for a work night. That fourth moon would have to wait another time.
As I was packing up, my cell phone rang. Fittingly it was Mike D. I relayed my adventure of the blue/green planet and its moons to him. I could tell at that point Mike needed to get out and to do some observing to get his astronomy fix. Besides being addictive, observing might be contagious too!
Get out there and observe, you never know where it will take you...Published in the November 2006 issue of the NightTimes