It's not a particularly rare event, but I had never personally looked at it through my telescope before.
Busy day today--not much time for a thoughtful post, but something fun did happen and it ties in with yesterday's piece. Our living room ceiling goes all the way up to the second story and there are two large windows high up on a gabled wall from which we can see high up into the sky. Around dinner time this evening, the sky a fading cerulean twilight, the moon appeared in those windows and very near it, what looked like a faint star. Knowing that what looks like a faint star in an otherwise starless firmament must actually be a very bright object, I wondered what it was. It only really could be one of three things: a truly bright star like Vega or Rigel, or one of the two planets that appear brighter than any star: Venus and Jupiter.
I didn't think it was Jupiter, because I tend to keep an eye on it from night to night and I didn't recall it looking like it was going to approach the Moon. But I didn't think it could be a star either; it's very odd for only one actual star to show up in the sky, but quite common for the planets to appear before the sky is dark enough to see any stars. I don't keep tabs on Venus--I don't actually study the sky on a regular basis and Venus moves too fast to really track, besides which Venus is so bright and large in appearance it's hard to mistake it for something else; there's no need to track something you will always know when you see it. But it looked a bit too high in the sky for Venus, which never appears too far from the horizon because it's so close to the Sun and in order to see it, the Sun has to be somewhere near setting or rising.
So the most likely candidate was back to Jupiter, and that did make sense; Jupiter has been churning its way slowly across that part of the sky for weeks. I had to be sure though, if for no other reason than the fun of it. So as soon as it was dark enough I chugged upstairs and took my telescope out on the second floor deck outside my studio and pointed it at the spectacle.
And there it was, the confirmation: Jupiter's moons. Jupiter has four moons large enough to be easily seen with an amateur telescope or even a good pair of binoculars, tiny white dots that appear in various positions around the planet like bees around a hive. I could see two of them clearly and thought I could see a third when I was able to keep still enough. And there it was, a delightful astronomical oddity--our Moon, a little larger than half phase with its mares and craters showing up sharp and crisp in my telescope, and within the same image mighty Jupiter and its own moons far away. It's not a particularly rare event, but I had never personally looked at it through my telescope before.
It's just a little thing, but this is the kind of food for the soul that brought me to this little beach town in the first place. Between clear night skies overhead and the majestic thrashing of the Pacific at my feet, it just feels like this is the Place in the universe where I'm supposed to be. :) - Mark