Comet Holmes and our first serious night out

The highlight of last night’s observing session — our first serious use of our new telescope — was Comet Holmes. Even in the 10×50 binoculars (another purchase), it presented a round, fuzzy disc that was nevertheless sharply defined; in the telescope, it was huge. (To see what I mean, Astronomy magazine has a collection of submitted photos.) To the naked eye, it’s just another star, though rather a bright one by now.

Otherwise, we ran both the telescope and the binoculars through their paces. I was able to spot not only the comet, but the Andromeda Galaxy and the Double Cluster well enough through the binocs (and the Pleiades were wonderful); the scope was able to pick out M81 and M82 in the same field of view, plus the usual suspects (M13, the Dumbbell Nebula and the Ring Nebula, which was tiny but its shape apparent).

Atmospherics weren’t great, though it was an ostensibly clear night: Altair, Deneb and Vega had halos around them when I looked at them through binocs. There was more ambient light from the town than I was prepared for, too.

And I don’t think we set up the tripod very well: it shook too much — more than it did in our previous test — and I think the fact that it wasn’t level affected the computer’s accuracy. But we had to walk a couple hundred metres to get to our site, and moving the scope was relatively easy: we didn’t even bother separating it from its tripod.

I won’t know for sure what this telescope’s limitations are until I try a higher-magnification eyepiece (say, a 10-mm Plössl for planetary observation) and do it under better skies. But so far, so good.