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Friday, August 27, 2010

Observing Log - Star Date: 8/25/2010 - Weds. - The Full Moon of Elul

We took to the desert near the Alpaca Farm tonight to observe the full moon and Jupiter. I had also wanted to see how much damage the light of the ful moon would do the dark skies around Mitzpe Ramon.

We were not disappointed.

The full moon was so bright that we could easily see details on the ground all the way to the horizon and to the rim of the hills that surround the hidden valley where the Alpaca Farm is located. It reminded me why the Indians never attacked the fort in the old Westerns on nights of the full moon. Every move could be easily seen.

The full moon's bright light also did a job on the starry sky. Only the brightest stars were visible, the Milky Way completely obliterated by the light of the moon. We shall have to give up deep sky observing during these full moon nights in the desert.

I brought my William Optics Megrez 80mm telescope for its first trial in the desert. I really love the Megrez line of telescopes from WO. The optics are excellent and the mechanics are far beyond what anyone might hope for in a telescope in this price range. The telescope did not disappoint us. Of course, during the full moon, what is most observable are the ray systems of the bright craters like Tycho, and we could trace them almost all the way across the lunar surface. 

Next we pointed the telescope at Jupiter. After progressively raising the magnification to about 125x we could see great detail in the equatorial belts, with the north belt being much more prominent, as well as the North and South polar zones which were heavily banded. The biggest treat of the night was spotting the shadow of Jupiter's moon Io as it transited the planet. These shadows are always astonishingly dark, completely black, and as sharp as a pin prick. As we observed over the course of an hour we could easily see the shadow move slowly across the disc of the planet, some 365 million miles distant. So far, yet seemingly so near in our telescope.

As we were beginning to wind up, we were joined by three of the guard dogs from the Alpaca Farm, who mercifully decided our astronomical activities were no threat to their charges, so they left us alone to go about our business.

The desert at night around Mitzpe Ramon is cool with a breeze usually blowing. The seeing here is extraordinary, with objects scarcely moving at all under high power in the telescope. It is excellent for high magnification, detailed views of the planets. We shall be adding them to our observing program.

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