Early morning observations

10 Sep

It was 2:00am, and I couldn’t sleep.

I went outside early this morning to take a quick look at Jupiter to see if it’d be worth getting the telescope out. It was remarkably clear last night, the air crisp, clean, and steady. Jupiter shone like a beacon – easily the brightest “star” in the sky. Most definitely worth getting the telescope out! I’m glad I did.

Immediately I spotted all four Galilean moonsGanymede and Io were on Jupiter’s left, while Callisto and Europa were on the right. I watched the planet through my lowest magnification eyepiece for a short while, and fiddled with the focus a bit – when out of nowhere, I began to see brownish-beige horizontal bands come into focus. Not quite believing my eyes, I switched magnification, fiddled with focus a bit more, and there they were – Jupiter’s iconic cloud bands!

I was captivated – this is the first detail I’ve seen on the planet’s surface, and to be honest I didn’t think the optics in this scope (or possibly the eyepiece – I’d like to look into some better quality eyepieces to try out on this scope before I get a new one) would allow me to see any details at all. There were two brown-beige cloud bands wrapped horizontally around the planet.  I studied longer, amazed by what I was seeing, and began to see more detail – two darker spots, one above the two bands and one below. These darker spots I wasn’t really able to make out a color for, and they danced in and out of focus – it’s entirely possible that I didn’t see them at all, also. I sprinted inside and grabbed my notebook, returned to the telescope, and sketched what I saw – I’ll scan and post what I sketched soon. (I’m no artist but it’s recognizable as Jupiter.) I also took some notes, which I’ll transcribe below as well as scan.

I also sketched the positions of the moons relative to Jupiter. Thanks to Sky & Telescope’s Jupiter’s Moons Tracker I was able to identify the moons from their positions on my sketch. If you want to see what it looked like last night at 2:30am, enter (for Date) 09/10/2011 and (for Time) 06:30 and click the button labeled [Recalculate using entered date and time]. Make sure it’s set to “Direct view” and you’ll see Jupiter and the four Galilean moons marked by labels. G is Ganymede, I is Io, C is Callisto, and E is Europa.

I watched for maybe 30 minutes, completely ignoring the mosquitoes draining me, the pain in my back from sitting on the ground, and just watched. There’s a giant planet up there, incredibly far away and so vast and massive, and I can see it with my own eyes – not only see it itself, but see detail! I can’t adequately express just how amazing it is to have independent personal confirmation of the existence of other worlds! I would have stayed longer, but the sky grew lightly cloudy and the details disappeared. Not disappointed however – in this light-polluted place, and with this telescope, I was pleasantly surprised to see any sort of detail at all!

Sketch scans:

To be added later…

Observation notes for 9/10/2011 2:00am EDT:


Clear night, turning lightly cloudy.


OMG cloud pattern / Jupiter’s Pattern!

All 4 Gal. moons spotted

(It was very dark after the moon set and I could barely see the paper, so I couldn’t write much detail.)

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Posted by on September 10, 2011 in Astronomy


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