Yesterday (or rather yesternight) Emily and I went out to see Mars at opposition. Mars is at opposition once each year, but as both Earth and Mars are on an elliptical orbit around the sun, there are certain times when mars is particularly close to Earth during opposition. Wednesday Mars was only about 99 million kilometers away, the closest it will be until 2012. In 2003, the Earth-Mars distance was only 56 million kilometers, the closest they've come in 60,000 years.
We intended on viewing the spectacle from the Vaun Braun Astronomical Society up on Monte Sano, but we were foiled by heavy duty gates. Consequently we ended up traveling to the golf course at Hampton Cove, which proved to be a decent enough site. The slight increase in light pollution from this site was no problem, as the waxing gibbous moon trivialized all artificial light in the area. This made for particularly bad viewing conditions for the observer who wishes to see fine details. Even with my well collimated 8" reflector and stacked 18% black and 20% red filters we couldn't get a good view of our Martian neighbors.
All was not lost, however, as I did manage to find the Orion Nebula (M42) again. I've become quite fond of M42 since it was the first thing I found with my telescope. Since Orion is one of the few constellations that I can readily identify, I can now find m42 in less than thirty seconds. This diffuse nebula (appx 1400 light years away) is vaguely visible with the naked eye on exceptionally clear nights and was formed by a supernova over 1000 years ago, leaving ionized gas and dust that glows brilliant colors in long exposure photographs. You can count the six stars in the center of M42—it is these stars that illuminate the gas and dust of the nebula. Within about 100,000 years, most of the gas and dust will be ejected. The remains will form a young open cluster, a cluster of bright, young stars surrounded by wispy filaments from the former cloud.
The Orion Nebula is one of the few objects I've tried my hand at astrophotography with. My scope does not have motorized tracking, so I'm limited to very short exposures, but even then vibration from my hands and celestial movement muddle the image. The following image is one decent shot out of the thirty that I tried to make several nights ago.
And so, that's all I have for this entry.