Pack Your Bins

A report from our Spanish correspondent (aka Doug Bickley)

I remembered on this holiday to Gran Canaria to pack some binoculars.  I chose my trusty old Tasco 40mm 8-16x zoom which to my mind are a good compromise between light gathering power and portability.  I also took a lightweight tripod. [Pic 1 & 2]

Pic 1 - Tasco 40mm 8-16x zoom
Pic 1 – Tasco 40mm 8-16x zoom
Pic 2 - Binoculars on a lightweight tripod
Pic 2 – Binoculars on a lightweight tripod

Pic 3 - Jupiter and its moons
Pic 3 – Jupiter and its moons

The balcony on our room had a westerly aspect and a fantastic view of the ecliptic.  Although we overlooked the pool with it’s associated lights I could set up with the tripod fairly low and miss direct lights, although night vision wasn’t great. So, I wondered, how many planets could I see in one night?  I had a look at star maps on my current app of choice Star Rover (it’s free folks) to plan an evening.  Everything looked good and the Planet Challenge was on!

I started at half past eight one night.  The moon here was down, my coordinates were 27°47′ north, 15°43′ west, but it wasn’t completely dark.  Venus was the brightest thing in the sky, shining at mag -4.0 and I had a lovely view of it’s crescent as it dipped down majestically towards the horizon.  Jupiter was 20° higher and a distinct disc at mag -1.4 and zooming in I thought I could make out two moons with averted vision.  Checking later I think Europa and Ganymede were too close to split with my setup and Io was perhaps too close to the planet. [Pic 3]

Time for a break according to my planning, so down to the bar for drinks and entertainment.

Starting up the challenge again at about half past eleven Saturn and Mars were in good viewing positions.  Saturn at mag 1.5 was found after some careful searching using star maps as a guide.  Mars was high but of course completely unmistakable and shone at mag -1.2 the second brightest of my targets tonight. [Pic 4]

That’s it for now, I’m missing Mercury, Neptune and Uranus.  I didn’t even bother trying for the first two from my location, Neptune at about mag 8 was far beyond my capabilities.  So the plan was to try for Uranus only.  I got up a little earlier and at just before six re-started the challenge.  I had already planned where I needed to look in the sky.  And after careful checking, yes there it was, Uranus ticked off on the list.  Only mag 5.5 and some people report a bluish or green disc.  I’ve seen this hue through a telescope but of course I only got grey this morning. [Pic 5]

Pic 4 - Saturn and Mars
Pic 4 – Saturn and Mars
Pic 5 - Uranus
Pic 5 – Uranus

So that’s it folks, a successful challenge achieved. Six planets in one night, counting the Earth of course!  And the moral if the story is: Always Pack Your Binoculars.

Clear skies…