Finally, after waiting for three days, the skies were clear enough this evening to make use of my new telescope. The frustrating grey-brown blanket of cloud finally dispersed, and so I set about getting the thing out of my living room, out of the door and under the stars where it belonged.
I thought getting my bike out of the hallway was awkward. The telescope apparatus consists of a tripod, an ‘Equatorial Mount’ and the tube+mirror bit (which probably has a more technical name), and was a complete pig to assemble. It had other qualities in common with a pig: its weight and general reluctance to be moved to name but two. It also has lots of things that stick out as well, and having already set it up and balanced everything I was unwilling to take it to bits again and reassemble it outside in the dark.
Having got it outside, I proceeded to calibrate the little wheels and things. First thing to sort out was the ‘Red Dot finder’, a sort of laser-pointing device that projects a tiny red dot onto an eyepiece, allowing you to ‘aim’ the observation tube apparatus. These both have to be pointing in the same direction otherwise there’s little point in having it, and if you don’t have it you’ll find it impossible to find anything out there. Space is rather large, and is even bigger when you magnify it a hundred times or so.
I used a distant chimney for this, because it wasn’t moving.
This done, I fished out a small spirit level, recently purchased from Clas Ohlson for £2.29, and ensured that the tripod itself was flat.
Next up, the Latitude adjustment. I had to ensure that the Equatorial Mount pointed towards Polaris. I roughly aligned the apparatus North using a recently-purchased-from-Clas-Ohlson compass (£4.99), aimed the red dot at Polaris, and started adjusting the Latitude wheel. All was good.
These two jobs done, I had to learn how to move the telescope. The weird thing is that it doesn’t, as one would expect, tip in a simple up and down motion, and rotate left and right (well, unless something’s come loose). Once everything had been aligned, one control would alter the ‘Declination’ (a bit like Latitude) and the other would adjust the ‘Right Ascension’ (akin to Longitude) of the scope. The idea is that as the Earth turns, the stars seem to move, and so to keep up with them you only need to fiddle with the Right Ascension control.
OK, took me a while. I still wasn’t seeing much due to messing about with my torch, and the light coming out of the back door. I switched to using my rear bike light for illumination, and taped a binliner over the back door windows. A few minutes later I went back, and pointed it at Cassiopeia.
Wow, there were hundreds, thousands of tiny stars! Despite being within about a mile of the city centre! This was amazing. I started to nose round the sky using an old star chart.
I found the Andromeda Galaxy! It was a pretty damned big, yet faint grey ‘splodge’ amidst the stars. I actually recognised it from my adventures with the Binoculars last year, and found it a rather transfixing sight.
The greyness, incidentally, was due to the way our eyes have evolved: in the dark, most things look grey because the cones in our retina (which detect colour information) struggle with faint light. Unfortunately all my rods and cones had to work with was the small amount of light that had travelled 2.5 million light years and fallen into my 130mm-wide telescope, and at that distance things get spread pretty thinly.
Just as I was getting completely lost in my explorations of the cosmos, I heard a peculiar ‘splat’ sound next to me. Followed by another, and another. I turned the bike light on.
It was a frog.
I had to temporarily abandon my observations at that point, due to my irrational fear of frogs. I threw a couple fo small coins and pebbles at it to try and shoo it away, but in defiance it splatted its way over to my tripod, sat on my copy of the Sky At Night magazine for a bit, looked at me, waited for a while, and eventually disappeared.
By that time the Andromeda Galaxy had moved on: this was to be my first test of my calibration, and luckily adjusting the Right Ascension control brought Andromeda’s Galaxy back to the centre of the view. Not bad, hey?
Looking forward to viewing the Pleiades later this winter, finding my first planet and generally getting into this.