For weeks, I’d been anticipating the next New Moon weekend. I’d finally learned how to set up and align my Celestron NexStar 8SE that I got at Christmastime. I’d invited the neighbors over for several “star parties” in the street outside my home, showing them Saturn, Jupiter, and the Moon, many of them seeing Saturn for the very first time. I’d figured out the eyepieces, battery power, and had done several “test runs” and thought I was ready. All I needed now was weather cooperation. The week before had seen a lot of rain in San Diego, and the weekend weather forecast was not hopeful.
About noon on Thursday, the weather forecast improved. It was now saying clear skies for Mt. Laguna, my favorite nearby observing spot, for this new moon weekend. I was excited. Knowing that I couldn’t count on the weather so far out, though, I hedged my bets. I waited until Friday late afternoon to confirm the weather with the astronomy weather web site. Once confirmed, I posted on Facebook a big, “WOOHOO!!!” for the forthcoming weather. I hadn’t been able to get out, to a dark sky site, on a new moon weekend, to observe spring constellations, in an eternity, it seemed. I really missed it.
And, so it was that, Friday afternoon, I loaded the car with the telescope, binoculars, eyepiece case, warm clothes, thermos, blankets, table, chair, batteries, and all the other things needed for a successful observing run. I couldn’t wait to go.
I had to load the car Friday because I had another event Saturday during the day, which was not supposed to return until 6:30 pm Saturday evening. If it ended on time, and I headed straight from there to Mt. Laguna, about an hour’s drive, I’d have just enough time to set up, change clothes, and relax for a moment before my alignment stars came out.
Well, as luck would have it, the earlier event ended a half hour late. I jumped off the bus, loaded my things into my car, and busted out the 8 eastbound for Mt. Laguna. I arrived just after sundown, set up quickly, changed clothes, ate a little bit, and got the telescope aligned. All was well, I made excellent time getting out there and getting set up. Something was amiss, though. The Celestron 8SE did not seem to be finding M102 correctly. I surmised that the alignment was off, because I hadn’t leveled the scope. So, I carefully held the scope while adjusting the leg length on the tripod, in order to level it, stepped back for a moment and BOOM. There went the OTA, onto the ground of Mt. Laguna. In one fell swoop, the OTA was broken.
Fortunately, it looks like only the glass that held the secondary in place was broken, along with part of the diagonal. Unfortunately, this ruined my observing run. Grrrrrrrrrr. By 8:45 pm on this new moon weekend I’d so anticipated, and was so excited about, my night was ruined.
Not one to be put off by such things, I tried to make the best of it, just enjoying sitting out there under the blanket of stars and enjoying the scenery. After all, I’ve always said, unless its completely clouded over and you have no appreciation whatsoever for the wonders of nature, there is no such thing as a BAD observing run, just some that are better than others.
I’d brought the 10-22 x 50 zoom binoculars with me, and used those to check out the Beehive Cluster, as well as just to enjoy the skies in general from a wide field standpoint. I just sat out there, enjoying the view, basking in the glow of the heavens, grateful that I have this astronomical delight so relatively close to home, and grateful that I can, probably, get this telescope fixed by the next new moon when, thankfully, the Spring constellations of Leo, Virgo, Cancer, Bootes and others will still be up. I had galaxy fever – eager to see the cornucopia of distant galaxies offered up by the Virgo Cluster and Leo, M104, also known as the Sombrero Galaxy chief amongst them. Next month. I will just have to do it next month. And, maybe that will be even better. For Scorpius was rising in the East as I was packing up at 10 pm, which means he will be even further up in the sky in a month from now, with my beloved Sagittarius close behind. That is my favorite constellation, and it is no wonder that that is my zodiac sign. It is the best one, with the center of the galaxy a mere 27,000 light years through the “spout” of the Sagittarius teapot.
For now, I have a call into OPT, Oceanside Photo and Telescope, to find out the machinations of getting my OTA fixed. Undoubtedly, a road trip there is in store. A mere 30 miles up the road, it is wonderful to have such a phenomenal astronomy resource close at hand.
So, join me next month, or even sooner, when I tell you about the results of trying to get the Optical Tube Assembly for the telescope fixed, and next month’s observing run. It could have been worse. We could have been socked in by weather, and then I wouldn’t have gotten to see “my friends” (the stars) at all.