Spectacles in Our Neighborhood
Traditionally the hard core of the amateur astronomer's universe, three spectacular telescopic subjects, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, should be no less important to us today than they ever were, despite the decline in opportunities for the amateur to be on the cutting edge of most modern planetary research. These three great destinations represent some of our best opportunities to have nearly unlimited enjoyment in the sky. Only the Moon gives us a better opportunity to understand the true nature of another world's surface. The other great upside is that these destinations are so accessible that they allow us to view them on our terms most of the time they are in the sky; it is not necessary to dedicate unlimited hours to see something worthwhile. Repeated viewing of these tried and true subjects never becomes old, since the three great planets may be observed undergoing constant change, and the opportunity for witnessing such phenomena within earthbound timetables is rare enough in the universe. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that these “big three” planets often become many a newcomer's primary fascination. Their hypnotic lure even keeps many experienced observers transfixed by them for the long term as well, occasionally to the exclusion of all other types of observation!
Although some of the other planets do indeed provide some degree of color in the eyepiece, no one could possibly pretend that they exhibit much of vividness in dramatic and varied displays, let alone detail. Thus, even within the solar system we cannot take color for granted; deep space is infinitely more challenging, so take full advantage of this opportunity waiting right in our cosmic backyard! The best part is that no special imaging equipment is needed to experience the most dramatic kinds of scenes, vivid as anything we could imagine. Fortunately, too, for us, the big “three” will usually put on a spectacular show more readily than most objects in deep space. With them at least we can usually see something impressive in the field of view, no less from the heart of any brightly lit city. It is worth noting also that these three worlds offer the reasonably well-equipped amateur the opportunity to actually see many of the finely imaged details seen on the NASA web sites listed in Chap. 16. The NASA web sites are a treasure trove of visuals and information where the amateur's telescope is unable to serve us well. It is significant how much this resource adds to whatever we are able to make out at the eyepiece.