We went out at dusk last night with some friends to view and try to photograph the 3-planet convergence occurring low in the WNW sky. Haze and clouds obscured most of the show (we saw Venus and Saturn, never did see Mercury, but Saturn was so blurry I couldn’t even tell that it had rings, never mind see the gaps between them).  The convergence was pretty much a bust. Maybe tonight, but not likely because our heat wave creates a lot of haze.

BUT…   While we were moaning and groaning about the haze, Lynn pointed up high in the SW and said “What’s that one? It’s not twinkling either” (planets tend not to twinkle as much as stars). It was Jupiter  – high up in the sky and clear as a bell (well, far clearer than the convergence). We re-aligned the telescopes (we had three set up; a Celestron F80 EQ WA, a Meade ETX, and a Celestron FirstScope EQ60) and got a clean view of the big gas planet and four of its moons.

I had the digital camera attached to the Meade ETX table-top telescope which comes with a sidereal drive so I was able to get decent time-exposures of Jupiter and its moons, attached. For those perfectionists, yes, sidereal drives are meant to track stars and deep-space objects, not planets, but for short periods of time (measured in seconds) it’s a good approximation, and far better than nothing at all! 😉

This Jupiter shot (heavily cropped to eliminate most of the black sky) was taken from the parking lot of Northeastern University’s Burlington Campus (the old Nike missile site up on a hill off South Bedford St., for those who know the area) at 9:39 pm (the EXIF time is off – I forgot to reset the camera for daylight-savings time), with a 4-second exposure at ISO 400. The Meade ETX used as a lens works out to be about an f/13 at 1250mm, if I remember my previous calculations correctly.  Turns out when I did much longer than 4 seconds, the wind blowing across the parking lot – and the non-sidereal motion of the planets – caused a blurring of the images.

This experiment was fun, but it makes me appreciate all the more the great clear photos of planets taken with giant telescopes and planetary (not sidereal) drives!

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