First light: Orion XT8

Tonight, as the sun was setting I brought my new Orion XT8 scope outside to get it acclimated. I had read it is a good idea for the scope to be at the same temperature as the air for the best possible viewing conditions. After it was dark and the clouds had passed, I setup outside and peered through my 25mm Orion Plossl eyepiece for the first time.

For no other reason other than it was easily identifiable, I looked at Dubhe (Alpha Ursae Majoris) the second brightest star in the constellation Ursa Major. It is a magnitude 1.79 star so it is extremely easy to find. I was amazed at how bright it was through the eyepiece.

I then swung the scope around to get a look at Saturn that was gradually climbing above the trees. With my 25mm Plossl I was able to see the distinct shape of the rings and the planet with no trouble at all. I then added my 2x Barlow and really had a nice view. I could see the separation of the rings from the planet but not the separation between the individual rings. I suspect it was because the planet was very bright. I may need a filter to get a more detailed view.

Just as I was deciding on what to view next, an amazing meteor streaked across the sky. It was very bright and lasted for a good 2-seconds before completely burning up. I saw a smoke trail, something I’ve never seen before.

I then set out to find M101 Pinwheel Galaxy. It is magnitude 7.9 galaxy that was difficult for me to locate. I started by sighting on Mizar, following Alcor and trying to find HR 5109. From there my plan was to star hop to M101. I was not able to find it mostly because of my disorientation with the inverted (upside-down) view in the eyepiece. I need to do some research on how to move the scope when what I’m looking at is not in the correct orientation.

Besides Saturn and the meteor I saw at least 10 satellites. Not bad for my first night out.

Edit (5/14/2013): Researching it, I found there is good reason I had a hard time trying to locate M101. It has the lowest surface brightness of the Messier galaxies, at about 14.8 magnitude. I found a nice video showing how to find M101 by star hopping. I think I’ll save it for when I gain more experience.