With a waiting summer sky, a small Orion telescope, and practically no knowledge of astronomy, I headed out one night in July of 2008. My 60mm refractor had been an unexpected birthday present a few years earlier; the rugged little scope had been handled roughly over the years by its curious owner, and that particular night was no exception. With one eyepiece missing, the finderscope's battery dead, and a gray coating of dust covering the telescope, it was obviously not in ideal condition. Nevertheless, I was determined to see something impressive.
I quickly set up my telescope in our backyard, which is in the city of Lubbock, Texas. With over 200,000 people, Lubbock has its fair share of light pollution; however, this fact did not dampen my enthusiasm over what surprises the night may hold. After setting up my scope I performed a hasty scan of the night sky, my eyes not yet even accustomed to the dark. I was delighted when I found an unusually bright object blazing away in the southeast. I inserted my one and only eyepiece, a 25mm, into the telescope's focuser, which, combined with the telescope's 700mm focal length, provided a modest magnification of 28x. Then I aimed the telescope in the general vicinity of the bright 'star,' not really knowing what I was about to see.
After performing several sweeps across the sky, the mysterious bright object came into the telescope's field of view. Elated, I slowly turned the focuser knob, waiting excitedly for that moment when the bright blur would come into focus. Eventually, the object shrank into a wee orb, and I was fascinated at what I saw. The 'star' had turned into a bright, well-defined circle, unlike any other star I had seen before. But what really captivated me was the fact that there were four other tiny objects, two on one side and two on the other, all lined up beside the bright object. Then it finally dawned on me. From my meager astronomy knowledge I determined that this was not a star after all. I realized that I was looking at the King of the Planets: Jupiter.
After it occurred to me what I was witnessing, I simply sat there, savoring the moment. I found it hard to believe that I was actually seeing such an imposing object through my humble telescope. After watching the spectacle for a few more minutes I hurried to tell the remarkable news to my parents, who both took turns looking through the eyepiece. When the enthusiasm of the night finally died down, I reluctantly took my telescope inside and went to bed with a new appreciation and wonder for the night sky.
Since the summer of 2008 my knowledge of astronomy has increased considerably, and I have bought a larger Orion telescope along with several accessories. But I will never forget that one night when my passion for astronomy was first ignited, all courtesy of my little Orion refractor.