First Light

In the very early hours of December 25, 2004 at approx. 1:30am at 39.39875º N, 77.10772º W, I made first light with my new Orion XT10i Inteliscope dobsonian telescope. The sky was very good with little surface winds with a temperature of 19 F, and a 13.28-day old waxing gibbous moon.

Orientation stars for alignment of the telescope computer were Betelgeuse (Orion) and Mizar (Ursa Major). Both were easily found in the 7 degree FOV finder scope. Betegeuse shown a pale orange color, owing to its status as a dying red giant star 429 light years away. Mizar, which is the middle star of the "Big Dipper" handle, is a small, bright binary star.

First target after orientation was the Orion Nebula, NGC 1976 and its companion, De Mairan's Nebula, M43. I zeroed in on NGC 1976 with ease, and was amazed at how spot-on the Orion Intelliscope computer was about giving directions. With the 10mm Plossl eye piece installed in the telescope, I could see both nebulas at once. The nearly-full moon's light blocked out a lot of color, but I could clearly make out the faint blue-green clouds of both nebulas, and if the moon weren't so bright, I probably would have seen some red, too.

The second target was Saturn, which was high in the easten sky just below the stars Pollux and Castor. Again, supplied with the right date, the Intelliscope system allowed enough accuracy to get Saturn in the finder scope, and the resulting view through the 10mm Plossl was astounding. The rings, with their Cassini division, were clearly discernable, and I could even make out faint color bands in the southern hemisphere of the planet. Several moons were also visible as bright points. I could clearly make out Dione and Rhea.

Because it was 19 degrees F out, I opted for one last target, and that was… a plane! Yes, suddenly, a bright flickering light appeared on the western horizon and quite low. I could not make out what it was, so I swiveled my telescope around and found the object in the finder scope, and then got a look at it through my eye piece. It was a jet liner. Flying straight at me. Its head-on profile filled my eye piece and I could make out the bright landing lights together with the red and green navigation lights on the wing tips. Because the plane was flying towards me, I could keep it targeted in my eye piece's field of view for a relatively long time before having to adjust the scope.

Well, there was now a visible "pool" of frost on the body of the telescope near the eye piece (from my breath), so it was time to go inside and get warm. This was a wonderful "first light" and I can't wait for the next clear night, where I'm sure I'll be outside again, ignoring the cold to see the heavens above.

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