Thinking About a New Scope? Think Big!
Amir A, Negev Desert, Israel
Somewhere out there under the night sky, an astronomer is having First Light, the very first time the telescope is aimed at the sky providing an image of the universe. It’s an exciting time with a new telescope. But really, First Light is any night under the sky with your scope. It’s exactly that same feeling. As darkness falls your eyes dark adapt and you can’t wait for that first night’s view. You’ve got it setup. Your star charts and accessories are laid out. You take a seat and drink some coffee. It’s so good to be outside under a clear dark sky. What will the first target be tonight. An old celestial favorite is always good to get the astro juices flowing. How about the Vail Nebulae in Cygnus. You pop an O-3 filter on your eyepiece, dial in the Vail, focus, and my gosh is just so awesome. It’s huge. It extends all over the place. You spend the next 15 minutes cruising back and forth eyeballing this spectacular super nova remnant. You look up the astrophysics about the Vail from your astro book using a red flashlight. It is so cool to learn about astronomical objects and see them in real time from photons that left 1500 years ago and are just now, at this instant, cascading onto your retina. Okay time to move on. As long as we are in the Cygnus constellation lets check out NGC 6888, the Crescent nebulae. It’s just a few degrees south. You dial it in with your charts or the Argo computer. After a minute you are on target. Increasing the magnification the Crescent just fills the field of view. With a bit of averted vision it has the shape of an ear. Your book says its the result of shock waves that heat the stellar wind to X-ray-emitting temperatures making the gas glow.
Look and learn. Fun!
Fully dark adapted by now, you study your star atlas. What’s this. A galaxy symbol that looks interesting. It’s a “flat” galaxy labeled NGC 5866 in Draco. In other words we are viewing it edge on from earth. Lets take a look. Wow! It really is flat, a very thin line of light. Your book says it’s the “Spindle Galaxy” a lenticular galaxy 69,000 light-years across, located some 44 million light-years away. And it’s moving away from us at 417 miles per second. And you are looking at it right now. This is addicting. There are thousand of deep sky objects to look at. So much to look forward too but for tonight it was just so cool to add this “new” galaxy to your astro life list. Gotta make a note about this one in your star chart. You write the date, your dark site location, and a short visual impression so you can return to it some night in the future. Now on to the next target…
Are you obsessed yet? You bet. After a few hours you’re too tired to continue. Time to shut down. This isn’t your First Light. Nor will it be the last. There is a life time of observing fun yet to come.
John's 25 f/4 in Namibia