As spring approaches, the Yukon night skies sizzle with cosmic happenings. The weather has offered us a few nights of reprieve with well above normal temperatures and clear skies.
Comets, planets aplenty, northern lights and deep sky objects are all waiting to be seen, from sundown to sunup. With the Moon high in the evening sky, there is always much to see and explore.
Last week the Moon, Jupiter and Venus cruised across the evening sky, putting on quite a show for several nights. Bitter cold temperatures seem to have made the view all the more impressive.
Last Saturday I went to our winter observing site at the Grey Mountain Lookout Point. The road was in surprisingly good condition considering all the bizarre weather we have been having.
Upon arriving on site around 8 p.m., I was greeted with an absolutely fabulous sky. The last of the clouds were drifting off the distant horizon and Venus rested above the city lights. Jupiter was higher up in the night sky and the Moon above.
After quickly setting up, we pointed the eight-inch reflector at Jupiter—my favourite planet for observing, offering much to see. That night three of the four brightest moons were behind the planet presenting a unique view.
(When you are observing planets through the eyepiece of a telescope, it always a good habit to spend some time at the eyepiece. Over time you will see brief moments of extreme clarity and detail as the atmosphere clears.)
Even with the Moon nearby, the detail and contrast in the cloud bands and belts of Jupiter was simply amazing. After 10 minutes, I noticed a small lump on the lower side of the planet slowly getting brighter.
One of her moons was swinging around the back side of the planet. This happened twice making Jupiter the highlight of the evening.
With the Moon high overhead, it seemed a good time for some lunar exploration. My current setup is two telescopes on one mount, an eight-inch reflector for high-power observing, and a small high-quality refractor for wide-field observing.
This gives you the ability to see objects from two different perspectives at the same time without having to move.
Viewing the moon any time is always time well spent and tonight was no exception. Lunar craters and mountain ranges filled the eyepiece and were alive with razor-sharp detail and contrast. Watching shadows rise and fall off the crater walls and exploring the lunar seas consumed several hours of my observing session.
It was at about this time that I noticed there were two beautiful little foxes racing around. They didn’t seem terribly concerned that I was there and were playing about 10 feet away. They provided good company for the evening.
On the distant horizon, Saturn slowly climbed higher into the the night sky. Swinging the telescopes around to take a better look paid off big time! The ringed planet seemed to be nestled in a very dark region of the sky making for fabulous detail to be seen.
At 350 power two separate rings were clearly visible. Cloud bands were also easily seen, and, as always, Saturn’s moon, Titan, was resting nearby. Simply stunning!
After spending another hour testing out a new digital camera, it was time to pack up and head for home. Placing the last of my gear in the van, I noticed a slight glow to the north. Unbelievable—a northern light show, just when I had all my gear packed up!
Quickly I grabbed my camera, a box and a Gorilla Pod (a bendable small tripod for the camera) and set up in front of the van.
So there I was at 4:30 a.m., lying in a snow-covered patch of ground at -15 degrees Celsius and a 20 kilometre wind, waiting for the aurora to develop.
It never did, but talk about “living the dream”. I noticed the two foxes curled up together nearby, making it, once again, an awesome adventure on the hill, with couple of new friends.