I'm sure a lot of people saw Jupiter last week. It's in the East sky right now, high and bright. It looks like "any other star."
UPEI has an observatory high atop the Memorial Building. It houses a 40cm telescope, which is about a foot-and-a-third across, for you empirical folks.
The first night of class, we went up and looked at the Moon. It was wonderful. With that kind of magnification, you can really see depth in the shadows that the sun casts over craters. Also, something that I didn't predict: it is moving at an incredible pace! It only took about a minute for it to traverse the sky covered by the telescope, so the tech constantly had to reposition it for us. I guess if you think about it, if the Moon only takes up 1/2 a degree in the sky and it travels about 180 degrees in a night, that's a lot of distance to put behind you in one night.
Well, Jupiter was perfectly positioned last week, with four of its largest moons visible. I was seeing what Galileo saw when he pointed his telescope to the sky. They were clear and bright and distinct. I tried to see them later that night with a pair of binoculars, but I didn't have enough power.
What really struck me was the beautiful bands of colour on the planet. It reminded me of a polished sandstone ball (pictured left). It was amazing to see that kind of detail, and kind of weird to think of it as anything but a solid. It is hard to imagine a planet so large it has dozens of moons, rings, and enough density to put out its own radiation, but it's only a swirling ball of gas. This week we're learning more about comparisons between Terrestrial planets (like Earth) and Jovian planets (like Jupiter). There's meant to be rain tomorrow night, so the sight of Jupiter will have to hold me over for a while. I think it will.