As night fell yesterday, there was a fair sky for the first time in weeks, but rafts of cloud in the offing, a gusty breeze, far too much domestic lighting, and a half moon riding high. The warm sofa beckoned. Drag all that gear out into the cold and then be rained on?
I had to take a firm line with myself. On with the thermals. Never mind the 10″ – out with the 5″ baby reflector and the megabattery. Forget levelling, collimating, aligning. Forget charts and programmed observing. Don’t be subtle. Just stick in an eyepiece and chase the moon along the sky: it is big and obvious enough, after all.
The moon happened in episodes between cloud belts. The terminator ran a few degrees west of the meridian. Shadows exaggerated the vertical scale of the Montes Appeninus until they looked like a monstrous sheer wall facing in towards Mare Imbrium. The mare proper lay in darkness, but the area round Archimedes was beautifully lit, showing its terraces and ejecta, the wrinkle ridges running by, and the rays around Aristillus, as clear as you like. I struggled to draw notes at the eyepiece as the moon came and went, the wind whipping at the paper. (And this is the tidied up version!)
After a time, Jupiter was visible in the east, and a transit of Ganymede was beginning. The shadow clipped the southern polar region as the moon approached the planetary disc.
More clouds and cups of tea; then I went out again. By then, Ganymede was just making its exit from the transit, and suddenly the seeing became extraordinarily good. I rushed for the 2x Barlow and the 9 mm eyepiece and for a few moments had a superb view: belts and zones, Great Red Spot, and all. Then patches of atmospheric turbulence alternated with small lenses of steady seeing for an hour, while I admired what this simple little telescope can do when it wants to.
The wind picked up, shaking the scope, the clouds moved in heavy and threatening, and I retreated. Yep, I do remember now: definitely an astronomer. Of some sort.