Venus in the Sun

1997 Aug

I went to Fremont Peak State Park, near San Juan Bautista, California, some half a dozen times during the dark of the Moon of late August and early September, 1997. Many of those times were on week nights, so I had nearly the entire park to myself -- but in consequence, I don't have much to say about observations with telescopes other than my own.

My present observing program continues to be working down the Herschel-2514 list (numbers may vary depending on how you handle duplicates and unreproducible observations) with my Intes 6-inch f/10 Maksutov, typically at 94x. I continue to find essentially all of these objects viewable with the Intes, though some are very difficult, and would not be detectable if I did not know _exactly_ where to look. The only cases where larger aperture is necessary are instances in which I cannot easily distinguish two closely adjacent objects as separate.

I started this survey with about half the objects already observed, as part of previous programs. The remaining 1279 were almost all galaxies, and are strongly concentrated near the Virgo cloud. When I began, in late June, Virgo was settling into the evening twilight, and I was observing maniacally trying to see things before they disappeared for months. I have now caught up -- 714 down, 565 to go -- and am maniacally sitting around waiting for stuff to rise in the east. Sometimes I lean a bit, trying to get the Earth to rotate faster.

While waiting, I look at the planets occasionally. I am not much of a planetary observer, but still, there are interesting things to see. The Intes shows a great deal of detail on Jupiter -- I have previously remarked that it holds its own with respect to planetary detail when compared to the best of four-inch refractors, and I still think that is true -- the refractors produce a bit more contrast in the medium-scale image details, but the Intes's aperture shows a tad more of the fine stuff. I typically observe at 214x, and have occasionally used higher magnification when seeing warrants. The major belts show shape and structure within them, and there is a moderate amount of color to some of the features. The Galilean satellites are all clearly non-stellar (though I hesitate to use the term "resolved" with discs not much larger than the telescope's Airy disc). Their images are of distinctly different sizes. Ganymede and Callisto -- the two largest moons -- really do look like little discs.

Saturn is also lovely. At 214x, the Cassini division has demonstrable width -- it is not just a dark line. There has been a nice belt on the planet, and a subtle variation in hue and brightness, with latitude across the disc. The crepe ring is visible in the ansae of the ring system -- no problem with confusing that ring with the shadow of the ring system on the globe, or with belts. I typically see five or six moons.

Yet my most impressive planetary observation lately was made with the naked eye, on the evening of Sunday, 31 August, 1997. Someone had set up a Meade LX200 and used it to locate Venus for daytime viewing, half an hour or an hour before sunset. To our surprise, the planet was not only visible to the naked eye as well, but was obvious. Even with the full glare of the late afternoon sun, not blocked by hand or cloud, shining in my face, I could see Venus in the sky. Even with my sunglasses on, and sun in my face, there was Venus. The presence of thin cloud near the planet helped with this observation, for it gave the eye something to focus on, and provided "landmarks" against which to remember and reference the planet's location. But even so, Venus in the full Sun, from a relatively low altitude, is rather startling. Wow.

Jay Reynolds Freeman 1997 Sept 4