Last night I went to the star viewing on the roof of Campbell hall.
Even to the naked eye Jupiter and Venus were stunningly bright, and Saturn was also easily spotted, and I was able to spot those three even as I was walking to Campbell at dusk. I wasn’t quite sure who was Mars and who was Mercury until I got to Campbell hall and someone pointed out the barely visible blips, but Mercury was already so low that I wouldn’t have been able to see it from the ground anyway.
After the initial naked eye tour of the sky, we went inside the telescope dome, where we checked out Mercury and Venus and Jupiter and Saturn and the Orion Belt at 225 x magnification. Mercury and Venus were frankly both kind of boring, with their most interesting aspects being the rainbow patterns caused by their light passing through Earth’s atmosphere. Seeing the moons of Jupiter was pretty cool, but the telescope didn’t want to focus so it was kind of hard to make out any features of the planet. And while the Orion Belt was pretty sexy, it was really Saturn that knocked my socks off. For some reason, being able to see the rings of Saturn through the telescope was just one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time.
I think I’m going to have to go to the viewing again next week, when Mars, Venus, and Saturn are all going to apparently be even closer to each other in the sky. I hope it’s clear. If you’re interested in checking things our yourself, this site provides some nice pictures giving you a clue of what you should be looking for. In particular, it looks like Mars and Saturn and Venus will be doing some interesting things around May 4th which should be visible with the naked eye, and with a pair of binoculars you should be able to make out quite a bit more.
And as long as I’m talking about Astronomy, this java app provides neat demonstrations of the orbits of the moons of the planets of the solar system. In particular, Saturn and Jupiter (with their impressive collections of satellites) are definitely worth looking at.