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2020: A Decent Year?


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I had a fair few good sessions in 2020. It turned out to be a decent year for backyard astronomy, at least for me. These are some that have stuck in my mind for some reason. The criterion isn’t necessarily that they were all highly successful or anything. Mainly these are sessions that were just memorable or particularly enjoyable.




Overall my Sky-Watcher 72ED DS Pro got out the most in 2020 (25 sessions), narrowly beating last year’s winner, my ST102, which had a mere 23 sessions this year.




The year started off earlier than I thought it would. On a cold, grey, Friday afternoon at 16:00 I managed to catch a a setting Venus at 81.5% illumination with my 102mm Sky-Watcher Maksutov. I also remember observing a rising gibbous waxing Moon.






On the 17th I had a pretty decent night with my modified ST102. At this time the ST102 had an after-market rotating Sky-Watcher focuser (eventually to be replaced with a MoonLite). I saw the ‘Big’ Beehive (Praesepe/M44), the Little Beehive (M41), Collinder 70 (aka Serpent Cluster in Orion) and the Winter Albireo among many objects.




I also got first light with my birthday 27mm TV Panoptic. Nothing particularly spectacular, just an enjoyable session.




April was unusual in that the weather and overall conditions were well above average for the time of year.


On the 8th I got first light with the MoonLite focuser on the ST102.




I was very impressed although in a couple of later sessions I discovered some slight teething problems. These were remedied with a pair of good pliers to tighten the screws holding the adapter plate in the OTA. Apparently I had a few screws loose!


On the 15th I was surprised to see the Alpha Persei Moving Group (Mel 20) this early. I also saw the Starfish Cluster (M38) and other objects in the vicinity, all with the little Sky-Watcher 72ED DS Pro.


On the 19th to the 23rd I had an amazing five nights in a row, three with the ST102 and two with the 72ED Evostar. Only on the last night did the transparency fail a bit.




In an early morning session on the 11th with the 72ED I could see a twilight Mars rising behind the Moon, Jupiter and Saturn. At 186x I was pretty sure I could see Syrtis Major even though Mars was only just over 8 arc seconds in diameter. Later after checking SkySafari 6 Pro I discovered I had in fact observed the distinctive Syrtis Major Planum area. The Martian phase was apparent and I could also quite plainly make out a bright southern polar cap.


On the 20th, in another early morning session, I was most impressed to see Callisto’s shadow on the surface of Jupiter. What impressed me the most was seeing it at 160x with my Sky-Watcher Evostar 80ED DS Pro. I usually observe these transit shadows with larger apertures.


On the penultimate day of May I achieved 191x on a bright Moon 32° above the horizon. It was 59% illuminated and the seeing was almost perfect. One of the highlights was a stunning Rupes Recta not far from the terminator. I think I could have pushed the little 72ED even higher, but I was happy with 191x. Synta claim something like 214x can be achieved with the 72ED in the right conditions. I believe them.




I only managed five sessions in June and during one of those I soon got ‘clouded out’. On the 21st I got the 72ED out for a very pleasant session behind my new ‘hide’ privacy fences. Highlights were the Summer Beehive (IC 4665), Martian polar cap, the Tweedledee and Tweedledum clusters and even Jupiter’s GRS.




I’d been out on Friday the 10th with the ED80. Unfortunately it was still a tad dewed over on Saturday the 11th. So I went out on Saturday for a rich field session and a peak at Mars with the 72ED. I was having a decent enough session. At this time of the year it never really gets dark. At around 03:30 I walked back to the house to get some water. With my hand on the door handle I glanced towards the north east around Auriga. I was astounded to see Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) hanging vertically in the sky among noctilucent clouds. This has to be the best comet I’ve seen since Hale-Bopp. It was probably there on Friday but I hadn’t noticed it. I never saw it again that good. NEOWISE has to be the image of the year (in my mind’s eye anyway).


I missed the Jupiter opposition due to inclement weather (surprise, surprise). However, on Monday the 20th I did get to see the Saturn opposition and even witness the Seeliger effect at 160x with the 80ED.


I managed seven sessions in July, but these two were the best.




I had nearly a dozen sessions in August. From the 7th ~ 9th I managed three gorgeously warm nights in a row with the 72ED. Predominantly with views in and around the Summer Triangle and with some nice views of the Western and Eastern Veil nebulae.


On Thursday the 13th during an incredibly hot early morning I observed the Venus Western Elongation with my 102mm Maksutov. I also got a butcher’s hook at the Moon and even a daylight Mars near transit.




On the 13th I got first light with the 80ED and the rotating Sky-Watcher focuser that was previously on the ST102.




I had a good Mars session and was pretty happy with the focuser.


I finally figured a quicker and easier way to get my 102mm Altair Starwave ED doublet out by mounting it on a Vixen Porta II and a TL-130 tripod. I use this rig for the 80ED and ST102 so it was a bit of a ‘no-brainer’ in a way.




The Starwave has good optics (FPL-53). On Monday the 14th I had a dedicated session on Mars with the Starwave. Mars was pushing 21 arc seconds and the views I had were nothing short of spectacular. At 238x the Eos Chasma, Terra Sirenum and Nectaris Fossae regions were outstanding. I particularly recall the almost rectilinear Thaumasia Plateau.


I had a further couple of good Mars sessions with the 80ED. On Saturday the 26th I got an amazingly bright view of Syrtis Major with my 127mm Maksutov.




I managed 257x with a 6mm Astro Hutech orthoscopic. Mars was so bright I was stacking coloured filters with a single polariser. The Mak’ was not quite as sharp or contrasted as the refractors; but that image of Syrtis Major and the Hellas Planitia were quite something.




By the 6th of October I’d managed to set up the EQ5 enabling my 150mm Newtonian to be deployed. I caught Mars at perigee at a good 300x.




Two nights later on the 8th I even achieved 360x (60x per inch) on Mars with the Newtonian.


I thought the clouds would defeat me on the Mars opposition but I waited it out and it cleared about an hour after transit.


From the 25th ~ 28th I got a lucky four consecutive nights with the 150mm. Mostly on Mars and the Moon. Although on the 26th it rained on me a bit, on the positive side though I did get a spectacular view of the ‘Moon Maiden’ (Promontorium Heraclides) in the Mare Imbrium.




Saturday the 7th was too near the 5th to go out early (Guy Fawkes has a lot to answer for lol) so I went out later when the gunpowder had cleared! I got a very nice view of M42 with the 150mm, and when Sirius was at transit I got to see the ‘Pup’ (Sirius B).


On the 12th I got a brief early morning look at Mercury, Venus and the Moon all in a row with my little 90mm Orion Maksutov.




On the final night of November, the last time Mars was at or above 15 arc seconds, I got another 360x with the Newtonian. I used a thirty quid ‘Mavis Laven’ 2.5mm TMB clone that I’d even had to repair when I first received it.




Either way, the image was very sharp and contrasted. The dust storm was still apparent but surface features could be perceived. I used almost every colour filter I had to view the Martian surface.




The 14th was just one of those excellent nights that make it all worthwhile. The weather was warm, dry and clear. It was also a Moonless night. I saw both Beehives, M1, and the icing on the cake was the Winter Albireo, all observed with my ST102. It was so nice and pleasant I would have stayed out later still, but I was knackered after a couple of hours or so.


I didn’t see the Jupiter/Saturn conjunction on the 21st as most of the Midlands was clouded out I believe. I did see them the Sunday evening before though. I could easily get both planets in the FOV at 89x with my 90mm Maksutov.


On Christmas Eve I froze my mince pies off viewing Mars and the Moon. I lasted an hour lol.


So, regardless of everything else happening, I had a pretty enjoyable astronomical year.




Edited by Nightspore
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I’d been out on Friday the 10th with the ED80. Unfortunately it was still a tad dewed over on Saturday the 11th. So I went out on Saturday for a rich field session and a peek at Mars with the 72ED.


Bloody spellchecker!

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