It strikes me that I should have taken a few pictures of the experience I'm about to document... oh well. This past Saturday night, Izzy ('11) and I noticed the sky was particularly clear and the moon had already set for the night. We also remembered that our club, SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space), had in its possession a reflecting telescope which was practically begging to get out of its box this year.
So what did we do? Decided to make the night an observation night! We set up the telescope out on the soccer field, far enough away from Olin's buildings that the light wasn't a bother, and began "calibrating" it. This process involved pointing it north, level to the ground, then finding two reference stars. For each of the reference stars (that night, they were Vega and Capella), the telescope would slew to a predicted location, then we would manually correct it until the star was in the middle of the viewing lens. To be honest, looking at stars was not especially breathtaking. While the telescope is nice, we still couldn't see much more than a small, bright dot through the lens. However, once we finished the calibrating, we punched in "Jupiter" (visible for a few short hours after sundown) and watched as the telescope slewed toward a larger, brighter speck, close to the horizon of the mostly-dark night sky.
I wish I could say we looked through the lens and saw Jupiter immediately. Alas, the telescope was not perfect in its locating (or perhaps we were not perfect in our calibrating), so we took a few minutes to correct it. Travis ('12) was a natural at this part. Once we had Jupiter in the lens, we sent out an email to the mailing lists carpediem and SEDS inviting people to come out and take a look.
Even though the temperature had dropped dauntingly since sundown, a steady stream of people showed up over the next hour or so. Jupiter provided a much more interesting view than the stars we had been looking at--a small, bright whitish/redish circle appeared through the lens, surrounded by at least 4 smaller pinpricks of light (Jupiter's moons!). I'm not exactly an astronomy guru, but that night, I learned a few more stars than I had known before, and I saw the biggest planet in our solar system through a telescope, as well as several of its moons. So even though it took a good 20 minutes to fully warm up after I returned to the dorms, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We'll have to have many more observation nights...