Tuesday, 3 January 2012
14 + 9 = Jupiter
On New Year's Eve, just before Melbourne's weather turned too hot for me to consider switching a computer on in anger (with the occasional exception of the more expandable netbooks), we decided the time has come for me to unleash our telescope from its hiding place and have a look at Jupiter and its moons.
You see, Jupiter is quite prominent in Melbourne's early evening northern sky at the moment. When I look at it through my binoculars, as I occasionally do, I can't avoid marvelling at how Jupiter looks like a ball whereas stars look like classic star shapes. That is, they look like shiny spots with star shape like edges, due to the fuzziness introduced by earth's atmosphere. Obviously, the time was ripe for me to go one step further and see Jupiter in its full glory.
Now, I discussed the hardships of home astronomy in here already: how hard it is to aim, focus, and maintain focus on an earth that rotates on its axis surprisingly fast when magnified. I didn't discuss other, much more earthly issues.
Coming home from the 21:00 fireworks (which were actually at 21:30 and were also quite disappointing; let's face it, Sydney harbour cannot be matched), I quickly erected the telescope and took it out. It didn't take long for me to spot Jupiter and aim the telescope at it (in between our tree's branches).
The sight was magnificent: using the normal magnifying lens (the middle on of three I got with my telescope), Jupiter's stripes were clearly visible but, more interestingly, so were three of its moons that were surrounding the gas giant like flies hovering over a piece of... meat.
Let's delve a bit into the importance of this sighting: back when Galileo first erected his telescope and sighted the same Jupiter, the fact it had stuff orbiting it and not the earth was the first obvious evidence that not everything in the universe revolves around the earth. Today we take it for granted; back then, religion's grip on reality was much firmer.
Back to us. I called the entire family to come and have a look, and indeed they have. They were all impressed. I, however, started feeling a new sensation; five minutes later we were all back inside, telescope dismantled.
The next day I counted 14 mosquito bites on my left foot and 9 mosquito bites on my right foot. Astronomy sure is hard: as Galileo discovered several centuries ago, it's a bloody affair.
Image by Keithius, Creative Commons license