…continuedObserving from the City
The Sun, Moon, and Planets
If so much can be done in the city with binoculars, a telescope offers much wider possibilities. The Moon and planets show every bit as clearly to the urban astronomer as the rural one. True, a city is full of heat sources that can cause atmospheric turbulence and degrade the seeing. But often the city haze actually seems to steady the view.
Jim Phillips of Charleston, South Carolina, was one of many city observers who answered a request in Sky & Telescope for their stories. Phillips dedicates his observing time to the Moon and planets. "Quite honestly," he writes, "I am amazed at how many nights of good seeing I get from my 'middle of the city' location." He uses a custom-built 8-inch f/13 refractor in a roll-off-roof observatory behind his house. "I realized long ago that I was likely always to live in or near a city, and, after great thought, concluded that rather than a portable telescope I could take beyond the lights, I would prefer an observatory in a light-polluted area. To me the advantages of having an observatory with charts, books, and catalogs handy, and the ability to begin observing within minutes, far outweigh the light pollution and partially obstructed sky.
"I have split doubles at or near the theoretical limit of my telescope. Detail on Jupiter is excellent, as is detail on the lunar surface." Phillips ended up taking over the revived Lunar Dome Survey of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers.
It doesn't take such a powerful telescope to overcome viewing problems. Robert W. Bethune of Grand Rapids, Michigan, used a 3½-inch Questar for nearly two years "from the heart of Seoul, Korea, a city of many millions with both smog and light pollution. The compound where I lived was heavily lit, with several streetlights nearby plus bright lights on the walkways and in windows." Nevertheless, he writes, "the Moon was of constant interest. This past summer offered excellent opportunities to study the Jovian and Saturnian systems. There are a number of variable stars, double stars, and even nebulae that can be observed with practice through heavy pollution. My greatest success was timing the bright-limb occultation of an 8th-magnitude star during the recent Pleiades passage."
Bethune offers several tips: "One can be aggressive about certain lights. I dealt with offending sidewalk lights by simply opening them up and loosening the bulbs, remembering of course to restore them afterwards.
"It helps to retire late and rise early. Even in the biggest of cities, things slow down in the dead of night. Planning ahead also helps. One becomes skilled at digging into sky calendars and planispheres for events that will take place within one's limited hunk of sky. The most important lesson is to accept the limits of the situation, after careful experiment and investigation have revealed what they are."
Pointing a telescope out a window is supposed to be utterly taboo for anyone who aspires to the title of amateur astronomer. Temperature differences between outdoors and indoors are supposed to destroy the steadiness of the seeing. This is certainly true at times but not always, as Michael Boschat of Halifax, Nova Scotia, discovered. "For planetary work I stick my 3-inch refractor out the front window, and at times the images are so steady I can use 200 power. I did so for Mars last summer and saw markings even though the planet was low in the sky over a neighbor's roof."
Then there's always the Sun. Sol Steinberg is a retiree living in a garden apartment complex near Camden, New Jersey. "My windows face east, into the 'garden' surrounded by 11 buildings." Using an inexpensive 3-inch reflector on a tabletop mount, he has photographed the Moon and followed the satellites of Jupiter and phases of Venus. "The Sun has become my regular morning subject," he writes. "The 55-mm eyepiece projects a bright image on my bedroom ceiling, but nothing equals direct viewing with a filter." He began following the comings and goings of sunspots. "A new group appeared yesterday, and this morning two of the spots have clearly become arcs a new and exciting phenomenon to me."