A Long Summer's Night

1997 August 2

At about 4pm, I was the first to start observing Saturday at Fremont Peak. As most of you know, my Meade LX200 needs to be aligned before its computer can find anything. Fortunately, there is a little trick one can use in the daytime to get going quickly. When the scope is first powered up it assumes it is pointing due south and at the horizon. If the tripod is level it can then get reasonably close to anything in its database. So I leveled it with a torpedo level and pointed it south as best I could with a magnetic compass. Then I told it to slew to Venus. Carefully making sure it never got too close to the Sun, I quickly found Venus in the finder scope; this is usually very easy. After centering it in the LX's field I synced the computer and was ready to rock! My real first target was Mercury. Beep, Beep, Whir, Whir... and there was Mercury, a pretty little crescent right in the center of my field. Even with the bright blue daytime sky background, Mercury's disk was sharp and well-defined. It looks much better in the middle of the afternoon when it's up high than when one usually sees it near the horizon after sunset.


After a long night of casual observing, warm temperatures, and friendly banter by 0430 things were getting pretty quiet. Almost everyone was either long gone or asleep. My intention was to stay up until dawn so I could have the advantage of daylight when tearing down. Jupiter had put on a nice show earlier but was too low in the west for good seeing. But Saturn was near the meridian and at its best for the night. In that last quiet hour before dawn, the seeing often steadies and last night was no exception. For a while, I was able to observe at 640x! Then I noticed that Rigel and Betelgeuse were visible in the east and I couldn't resist a peek at M42. OK, the seeing at 5 degrees elevation was terrible and the dawn light was washing out the image badly but there it was nevertheless. When was the last time you saw M42 while wearing only shorts and sandals? :-)

By 5am I was the only one left standing. I wasn't even that tired. The return of the daylight always gives me a little energy (albeit only temporarily). Saturn was still beautiful but I managed to tear myself away and tear down my LX200. My observing session was well over 12 hours. Not bad for the middle of summer!

Bill Arnett; last updated: 1997 Aug 3