Saturn and the holiday telescope

Jane Houston Jones jane at
Sun Jan 8 14:47:26 PST 2006

Apologies for not posting our Monrovia outing last night, but we did 
have it listed on our website.  Regardless, I thought you'd all enjoy 
this stargazing recap from last night.  Take a look at the moon tonight 
- Sunday night January 8th if you get a chance to stop out and look up.  
You'll see Mars nearby just to the right of the moon as soon as it is 
dark.  Look at this writeup in sky and Telescope magazine's website for 
more moon and Mars / moon and Saturin pairings this 

Last night, January 7, 2006 was our first southern California sidewalk 
astronomy event of 2006. We set up in our usual spot in old town 
Monrovia, CA at charming Library Park. Two young girls brought their 
holiday telescope, an Orion Starblast, for first light.

I brought my own little Starblast, too, since I had invited them to the 
star party. I asked them if they wanted to set up the telescope off the 
main sidewalk where it was a little more secluded, and they said "no". 
They wanted to share their views. While the first of 100 viewers stepped 
up to the eyepieces of our two telescopes, the girls unwrapped their 
present. First they removed the tissue paper protecting the tube during 
shipping. Next I explained how the telescope worked and how it moved in 
altitude and azimuth, and placed it on a sturdy ice chest, placed on top 
of a not as sturdy plastic storage box for a little additional height -- 
not the most sturdy of mounts, but easier than bringing their back yard 
picnic table out to the sidewalk  Each girl comfortably swiveled and 
tilted the tube in its mount.

Before we did anything like affix the supplied finder, we had a 25 power 
first light view of the first quarter moon through the supplied  
eyepiece. This is a low power view for those of you without a 
telescope.  it's a view similiar to a binocular view.  After the oooohs 
and ahhhhs subsided, we completed the first setup of the telescope. We 
affixed and aligned the red dot finder. The girls were estatic as they 
took turns sighting the moon and Mars through their own telescope and 
through my matching green telescope.  They spent the next 3 hours 
running back and forth between the two little scopes and over to Mojos' 
larger 14.5-inch  f/4.8 Litebox  reflector. Whenever someone walked by, 
they became instant sidewalk astronomers, offering views to many people. 
Mom got into the action too, calling people over to see the moon, Mars 
and later, Saturn.

When mom took the girls for an ice cream break down the street, I 
checked the collimation of the telescope.  That's the optics alignment, 
for those of you with quizzical looks. It was spot on right out of the 
box. We waited for Saturn.

In-between looks at the moon and Mars, showing a Syrtis Major splotch 
even at low power, the girls aimed at the bright stars of winter.  
Yellow Capella,  red Betelgeuse, and blue-white Rigel revealed their 
twinkling wonder through the eyepiece.  Both girls were Harry Potter 
fans, so I pointed Bellatrix and Sirius, starry names of some of the 
notable characters in the books.

There were quite a few dogs and their owners out walking last night, so 
I pointed out Sirius, the dog star, and the constellations Canis Major 
and Canis Minor. Lola the bulldog was more interested in cuddling and 
slobbering, but the two border collies paid imaginary attention as I 
showed them their celestial brothers.

Soon we spotted Saturn rising. It had cleared the lower downtown 
buildings. We moved the Starblast down the street a bit for a  look. The 
first view, using the supplied 17mm Kellner eyepiece revealed a 25x 
oval, but the girls were absolutely thrilled. The younger of the two 
sisters wanted to use the 6mm eyepiece for a 75x (higher magnification) 
view immediately. Soon Saturn's icy rings and even the great moon Titan 
were revealed in their first telescope. Through the eyepiece of  Mojo's 
larger 'scope, the planet Saturn was brighter and more moons were 
visible, including Iapetus, which is easy to spot right now. The girls 
recorded their observations in their journal, and I suggested they 
capture the stargazing information such as date, time, location, 
telescope, eyepiece, and objects they viewed, and then write more about 
their observation at home. They are interested in sketching the moon 
too, which I personally love to do!

Soon it was time to pack up the telescopes and head for home. I recalled 
my first view through my first telescope many years ago. It seems like 
it was just yesterday, as I recall the first view so vividly. On 
December 25th 1988, I aimed my homemade, and as yet unaluminized 10-inch 
f/7 Dobsonian reflector, Stardust, at both the moon and Mars, and 
recorded my first observation in my own star journal. It began, for me, 
a wonderful journey into our solar system and beyond.


Jane Houston Jones
Monrovia, CA
34.2048N 118.1732W, 637.0 feet
Old Town Astronomers:

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