The last time I set up my telescope in NYC was in 2012 for the transit of Venus. In the four years since then, I’ve only had occasion to use my telescope a handful of times outside the city, and haven’t set up at all in the city.
Why? My own assumptions. “I can’t use a telescope in the city. The light pollution is too intense. There’s nothing I can see.”
But is that really true? No. The Moon and planets like Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars are big and bright enough to punch through urban light pollution. The subtler detail of Mars and Saturn may be obscured, but how often do atmospheric conditions, regardless of light pollution, allow me to see those details anyway? Not very often.
So I finally decided to stop waiting for opportunities to observe outside the city, and to just start setting up. I would see what I could see.
As it turns out, I could see a lot.
Jupiter’s equatorial cloud bands were readily apparent, as were the Great Red Spot and all four Galilean moons. Turning to Saturn, the rings were a lovely sight – no less than they would be outside NYC – and I could clearly see the dark line of the Cassini Division in the rings. I was amazed to see some detail in Saturn’s atmosphere, and to identity Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. In moments of steady air, I thought I could see two or three others of its moons.
A few curious passersby stopped to ask what I was doing. I invited them to look and was surprised to find that I enjoyed sharing the view with strangers as much as seeing it for myself. They simply wouldn’t believe that they could see anything under a city sky until they looked through the telescope for themselves. Their surprised delight was inspiring.
I think I’ll be doing this again.
Location: 181 St., Washington Heights