We had an unexpected observing session at the Astro2 meeting today. As we went in to the excellent talk on Gravitational waves it was pelting with rain but when we came out later the sky had completely cleared and there wasn’t a cloud in sight so we all trudged up to the physics department observatory for a wonderful observing session.

We started out with a look at Saturn, first at 100X and then at 190X. The air was not very stable so close after a major weather system had passed by so although Saturn looked very crisp (and big) at 100X even 190X was starting to push the limits a bit. At 190X we could clearly see the cloud bands on Saturn, the shadow of the rings and in moments of good seeing the Cassini Division in the rings. Saturn looked a little nicer than usual today because the background was just peppered with loads of stars from the large open cluster M44 (the Beehive Cluster) which Saturn is currently moving through.

After Saturn we turned our attention to The Orion Nebula (M42). Because the over half full moon was very close to Orion I decided to go for as low a magnification as possible to give maximum stability, contrast and sharpness to our view. Even with the moon interfering the nebula still looked stunning at 62X with the LX200. The contrast was excellent and all four stars of the trapezium were easily separable. There was also a lot of detail visible in the nebula. All in all people seemed impressed with the view since there were lots of oooh’s and aaaah’s as people were looking.

Finally, after everyone had had a good look at M42 we moved on to the moon. We started at 62X so that people could see the whole disk at once and also get an idea of the scale of the Orion Nebula which they had just seen at the same magnification. We ended the session by allowing everyone a ‘moon walk’, i.e. I put in our highest eyepiece (6.4mm giving a magnification of 390X) and gave each person observing the key pad and let them scan the moon for a while.

All in all it turned out to be a great observing session probably made all the more enjoyable by the fact that none of us had expected the opportunity for observation to present it self tonight!