Mar 222013

Drawn from memory version of what I saw that night
Drawn from memory. But it is a very good likeness.

The coolest thing that happened to me this week had nothing to do with DDO. And it wasn’t just the coolest thing of the week, but rather the coolest thing that has happened to me so far this year.

I am happy to share. But first, the back story. Yes there is always a back story, this is just how things work here on GamerGeoff, you have to suffer through to get to the good stuff.*

* I made a funny. There for a second you believed that something you read here could be classified as “the good stuff”. As if! Don’t worry I am over it now.

On the most recent Christmas, my awesome daughter and her decent & likable boyfriend bought us a telescope. I imagine it was mostly the awesome daughter involved in this but her BF really is decent & likable – and a surprisingly willing and able board gamer – so he gets credit too, even if only by proximity.

But I digress. This isn’t about the boyfriend, it’s about the telescope.

Because we celebrated Xmas in Denver this year, the telescope was not physically present to be presented; too big to bring on an airplane. Instead, we unwrapped a star catalog that was given as representation of the real gift which we would receive shortly.

Except life happened, as it always does, and for a variety of reasons the telescope remained at my daughter’s house. Nearly two full months pass before it makes it into our possession.

By then my Gamer Girl and I are thoroughly engrossed in the process of upgrading my remotely rural home. We have a hard deadline – we will be hosting a wedding in the first week of April – and an endless list of things that must be done beforehand.

Besides, one does not simply use a telescope. It must first be assembled. And the assembly involves a bewildering panoply of terms like “declination” and “right ascension” that are, as far as I can tell, intentionally designed to make everything harder and more complicated than it seems like it ought to be.

We need the perfect night, a rare combination of

  1. Available free time
  2. A cloudless sky
  3. Enough remaining brainpower to tackle the daunting assembly process.

Almost another month passes with the telescope still in it’s box awaiting that perfect night. But eventually, the perfect night comes.

My Gamer Girl and I, thoroughly wrapped in many layers, outside at night with the hopefully-correctly-assembled telescope and nothing above us but moon and stars. The moon is an obvious target, huge and half-full. Before long we have the moon in the view, properly focused and centered.

It is breathtaking. We’ve all seen pictures and videos of the moon, some much better and more detailed than what I am able to see in my entry-level backyard telescope. But it looks even better live.


There are two particularly bright stars out, one brighter than the other. I’ve read enough over my lifetime to know they are probably not stars at all, but instead are planets. I am more excited about seeing one of the planets in my telescope than anything else.

We fumble about, trying to follow the instructions properly, trying to get one of the planets in focus but we just can’t do it. Frustrated, we give up on the “proper” way and just turn the scope to face the right direction and try to eyeball-aim it.

Time passes. I am losing my Gamer Girl, or rather, the cold is winning her and she is going to have to go inside. One last desperate attempt.

Got it!

My view is shaky and blurry. I am properly focused, but it is an entry-level telescope after all, only so much precision should be expected. It is enough though to see a clear disc, rather than the pinpoint that one can see with the naked eye.

I made the image at the top of this story but it looks really just like what I was able to view that night. A faintly blurry disc. Stars in the telescope continue to look like pinpoints. But not this.

This has a disc. Proof that this is not just a really bright star, but instead is a planet. I am Galileo all over again. It is officially a BIG MOMENT: I have always wanted to see this with my own eyes and now I have, not on video and not in a textbook, live and real, there it is.

A disc. The planet is white. I wonder which it is. Venus?

My Gamer Girl gets a look and then gives into the cold and heads inside. I am alone. Me and my planet.

I can’t take my eyes off it. It mesmerizes, shaky and blurring but still there. Entrancing.

But what is that? Ever so slightly above and to the right, a dot? A bright dot, distinct from the planet and shining in reflected sunlight on it’s own. So close it is difficult to see separately. But it is possible, I think?

It is definitely there, not some artifact of the inexpensive telescope or my inexpert usage. A separate, bright mote, a shining pixel.

And then it hits me: it is a moon. I am seeing not only a planet, but one of it’s moons!

The planet must be Jupiter. And I am overcome with the awesomeness of it all. A moon! I’ve seen Jupiter and one of it’s moons! With my own eyes, live, for real!


As much as I love DDO – and I do, I really do – this is better. A lot better.

I don’t think I’m going to turn into a telescope nut. Using the telescope is hard, and without spending a lot more money on a finer device, one star looks pretty much like any other. For most things astronomic, I am content to see them in books and movies and planetariums.

Especially now that I’ve seen an actual real life planet. With moon. How will I ever top that?


🙂 😀 🙂

  6 Responses to “Starstruck In My Own Backyard”

Comments (6)
  1. Geoff, you need to stay up later and get out there again. Yes, you did in fact see Jupiter, but RIGHT NOW is the best time to view Saturn and its rings. It should pop up east-southeast around 10pm or so I believe. Jupiter will STILL be up but it disappears around midnight I think.

    • I will! I plan to spend many nights with me, the telescope, something alcholic (in a good way) and maybe, depending on whether I am alone, a good cigar.

      Those planets are mesmerizing!

  2. I remember a trip to the Carnegie Science Center here in Pittsburgh. We were getting ready to leave when an employee approached my gf and I and informed us that there was an exhibit available to small groups outside on the roof, of a telescope pointed at Saturn in all its ringed glory. It was easily the highlight of the trip and the memory has stayed with me all these years (longer than those of that gf anyway! 😀 )

  3. If it “blinks”, it’s a star. If not, it’s some other celestial body (a planet, asteroid, etc.). If you have an aiming scope (properly adjusted, of course) use that to target your, um, targets. I remmeber back in Cub Scouts, the den leader had a telescope with a targetting scope on it. put your target in the cross-hairs of the targetting scope and voila! Look through the main scope to see it up close. I remember seeing a blue sphere – it was cool.

    Darn you! Now I’m thinking about going out and buying my own telescope…(hehehe)

  4. Yeah. I need a telescope now. Had one years ago, can’t remember what I did with it.

    (Vey – you live in Pittsburgh? Didn’t realize you were that close to me!)

  5. p.s. Still no Saturn’s rings, but the other night Jupiter had four visible moons, forming something that looked like a miniature solar system.


What do you think?

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