It’s Monday again (already!), so it’s time for another Monday Musings – on time this time! Only one interesting topic in my life this week, and of course it’s astronomy. =)
M31 – Andromeda (SEDS image)
I saw a galaxy last week!
So there I was Friday night, minding my own business, when I became possessed of a sudden urge to find something with my telescope. Messier 31, better known as the Andromeda Galaxy (to the right), was the object of my pursuit, but I had a problem. In the glow of Goose Creek and Hanahan lights, Andromeda isn’t visible to the naked eye.
The solution: star-hopping with the aid of a star atlas. I don’t have such an atlas, but there’s a good open-source set of charts online, so I opened one up on-screen. Another problem: I don’t have a printer.
Now, with star-hopping, you’re looking for stars (and other objects) that are much, much dimmer than you can see with your naked eyes. Even seeing them in the telescope is difficult, especially so if your eyes aren’t dark-adjusted. Therefore, running back and forth between the monitor and the telescope is a no-go, so I did what any self-respecting addict would do – I improvised.
Okay, that sounds smarter than what I actually did – I taped a piece of paper to my monitor and traced it out. =P
It took me a little under 20 minutes to orient myself outside before I really started looking. For one thing, the Andromeda constellation, wherein the Andromeda galaxy lies, was one of those constellations I had trouble with. I don’t know why – it’s very simple – but for some reason I just wasn’t catching it. So I needed to examine the sky for a while just to pick out which star to aim the scope at. For another, my pencil-drawings were quite dim, especially in the dark of night. I had to line up my makeshift desk with a thin blade of porch-light cast from behind my back yard fence.
The actual star-hopping process took maybe 10 minutes in and of itself. Most of that time was spent fiddling with my incredibly finicky telescope – but once I got the hang of that again (I have to do this every night) I was able to navigate right to my target.
That’s it? Really?
I didn’t take this picture, but it’s very similar to what I saw in my telescope. As you can see, there isn’t much – little more than an ellipsoidal smudge of grey – but seeing it was still exciting. This is light coming from another galaxy – a place so distant from us that its light took more than two and a half million years to cross the distance, just to enter my eyes.
I encounter a lot of emotions when I do anything related to astronomy. Awe, fear, wonder, inadequacy, inspiration, wanderlust, sadness, nostalgia, jealousy… I didn’t expect to feel dissatisfied with my equipment.
I am grateful for and love my telescope – please, please don’t get me wrong on this – for it’s brought me amazing sights and has fully awakened my desire to live my life looking at the stars. But it is painful to use sometimes – the optics are good but not great, the eye-pieces are small and limited, the tripod mounting points are difficult to adjust. There’s more, but to top it off, all the most interesting things to see are outside the range of this telescope’s ability to gather light. It’s just not big enough.
I’ve got a telescope fund in the works. It’s discouraging – the scope I want is around $400, and I’ve got $25 in it right now, growing at the rate of about $25 every two weeks, give or take based on need. At that rate, assuming the price doesn’t go up and I don’t have an emergency to attend to, it’ll take me about 8 months to save enough.
I’ll get there though. I’m becoming a more patient person, and I’m sure I can commit to this. At least I’ll have a while to plan my telescope’s first light party!