After nights of cloud and rain I finally got a chance to go outside my backyard and take in Jupiter in all its glory yesterday. BTW – Montreal is notorious for cloudy weather. I would say 60% of the year is clouded over – so it’s not exactly prime stargazing real estate. So when you get that odd clear night – drop everything and head outside if you can.
Since it’s opposition a couple of weeks ago I have had a few good opportunities to view Jupiter through my smaller telescopes – like my ETX-90 and new WO Megrez 72 refractor. But last night I got a chance to turn my 16 inch dobsonian onto the gas giant. Immediately I noticed that the disk was noticeably bigger than I have ever seen it before. The moons of course pop out but my attention quickly turned to details in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter. Even in small aperture scopes there are details visible now which have been hidden for years before because of the vast distance separating our two worlds.
Through my 16 incher I was able last night to see many festoons, knots and tendrils – which are turbulent spots in the upper cloud deck of the planet – both inside the polar regions and north equatorial belt. While the southern equatorial belt is noticeably absent now – astronomers are at a loss to explain why it has disappeared – I timed my observing well as I was lucky enough to see the Great Red Spot – a giant storm the size of Earth that has been raging at least as long as we have been looking at it the last few centuries. Coloured pink, I found the spot was fairly easy to watch under 200 x high magnification and in a matter of two hours it had moved from the planet’s limb near to it center. Simply a breathtaking sight!
I remember in the early eighties gazing at the Red Spot in my 8 inch SCT – it was much darker in colour than it is today. Again this is a mystery astronomers don’t quite understand what is happening on the surface of Jupiter. But for us observers this makes the planet so much more interesting to observe – you just never know what you will see when you look at this giant planet.
Looking at this creamy coloured disk through my eyepiece I couldn’t help but recall some of my earliest memories of watching Jupiter while on my dad’s lap through his department store 3 inch Newt, perched on our apartment building rooftop in Montreal. I will always remember that first glimpse of a super shiny orb with little moons lined up like a row of ducks beside it. Caught my imagination then – and still does today.
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