I spent last week in North-Western Massachusetts, a relatively rural area that shows as dark-yellow on the light pollution charts, which is to say it is considerably darker than my red zone suburban backyard. I was understandably eager to observe under such conditions and so came the decision as to which telescope to bring along.
The AWB OneSky was an obvious choice but for whatever reasons (maybe just for the sake of variety) I decided to bring an 80mm refactor. While the 5″ aperture of the AWB would’ve been appreciated, under decent skies an 80mm can be a satisfying scope, and, being equipped with a 2″ focuser, the 80mm is capable of some breathtakingly wide fields of view.
It turned out that over the course of the week there was only one really clear night for observing but it certainly made bringing the scope worthwhile.
Planets Shining in the Twilight
Saturn was the first target of the evening as by 9:00 PM it had risen high enough to be easily viewed. Sharing views of Saturn with others who have never seen it is always exciting (after all there’s something special about Saturn) and this is the second time I’ve recently had the opportunity to do so.
Next came views of Jupiter and Venus, both quite close to each other and shining brightly in the fading twilight. Jupiter easily showed the two main equatorial belts but due to the low altitude and unsteady atmosphere higher magnifications revealed no additional detail. Venus showed its semicircular phase.
Finding My Way through a Sea of Stars
A few hours later the sky was dark and displayed an overwhelming number of stars. Skies darker than those I am used to always require some adjustment before I can readily find my way around. There are the easily recognizable constellations, such as Ursa Major and Leo, or Orion in Winter, which give the sky a somewhat familiar quality though the empty spaces I am used to seeing between them are now bustling with stars forming new shapes and patterns.
This allows me to make out some constellations that are too dim to be seen from home but others tend to blend in and actually require more effort to detect – Hercules’s central keystone is always harder for me to pin down under darker skies.
With the Big Dipper high in the sky, M101 was easy to pick out at 13x and the conjoined galaxies of M51 even showed a surprising amount of nebulosity and form. The modest 3″ refractor under these skies gave a better view of the pair than my 10″ Dob at home, reminding me of just how much impact a darker sky can have.
M13 is where the limitation of the 80mm’s resolution was most apparent as the big globular cluster was not well resolved.
I very much enjoyed the views that night and spent much of time not looking through the telescope at all, but just taking in the heavens with my own eyes.
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