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Summer night observing DSOs vs winter?

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Something I learned at the local astro Soc last night was that summer doesn't just bring later darkness, but less darkness even at the darkest hour of the night.

I had assumed that although I might need to stay up later, I would still get dark skies, but the astro club explained with good slides how much less darkness you get in comparison to winter.

The guy said "I feel sorry for those of you starting this hobby in May or June, as you don't see as much.

So, having started in May, and seeing M81 and M82 galaxies faintly, and struggling to find any nebulae other than the Ring, am I going to be blown away by better viewing in Autumn/Winter?

I.e. Are the DSOs more distinct, or the same and just some that weren't visible now will be?


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most DSOs (assuming you mean nebulae and galaxies - double stars and clusters are of course DSOs too) are always going to be faint unless you have big aperture or a dark site.

they will definitely be better in the autumn and winter as the sky is darker although the chance of cloud is (arguably in recent times) higher. don't forget that there's a progression of constellations that 'move through the sky' (it's the Earth that moves of course) so the ones you see now may not be visible after autumn time but others come in. the Orion Nebula is amazing in any instrument.

the main thing is read a bit about what you are seeing and you'll appreciate the splendour of them even though they are 'just faint fuzzies'.

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Having started this fantastic hobby back in February, I agree there are benefits to both times of year.

In the winter it was definitely easier to see DSOs with my small Mak, and, of course, I could start viewing much earlier.

At the moment, whilst there just isn't the same degree of darkness, I find that I am able to stay out much longer. I did find my telescope getting really affected by frost back in winter.

I'm concentrating on enjoying Saturn, the moon and double stars right now.


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There's plenty to see this time of year to keep you busy. Hercules, Ursa Major and Virgo offer a decent nights play. But if you're a light weight like me you're in bed by midnight.

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I was wondering the same thing as the OP - glad this thread cleared it up.

But as a newbie with a scope I am using this time to get used to pointing the scope - so the time is definitely not wasted.

Edited by UTMonkey
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Edit: just re-read Moonshine's reply and actually I think that answers my question, thanks anyway.

One thing still not clear on. Are the faint DSOs that you can see now, e.g. M81, M82, going to be clearer on a clear dark night at the same sight, same scope etc.?

Or same faintness only you can see more faint DSOs?

I'm trying to guage what the improvement will be.


Edited by DaBozUK
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in general terms, the darker the sky, either by travel to a dark site or darker nights at your home site (e.g. in winter), the more contrast is possible between the darker sky and the objects you observe. so you will certainly see the fainter DSOs more easily and they will extend further into the surrounding area (they get increasingly less bright as you move away from the core) but there will not necessarily be that much more detail. you will also see objects that were previously invisible due to the light in the sky; some will only be visible even at dark sites with larger aperture. I am sure you know this, but even with the largest scope you could buy, details like that seen in long exposure images will never be seen visually.

don't be put off though as there are literally hundreds if not thousands of targets for an 8" scope especially at a dark site but also from the average garden.

the key to understanding the answer to your question is that as these objects are so faint in many cases that the sky is brighter than they are (or the same brightness) and hence they are 'invisible' or even fainter than normal.

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If you go south (I'm at lat 44 in SE France) you get more summer darkness and the sky is fabulous with the Milky Way objects at their best.

But here's a funny thing; most people, both here and elsewhere, have the feeling on going outside that the cold winter sky is clearer than the warm summer sky. It certainly gives that impression. But when you get to the eyepiece you tend to find that the summer sky is the most transparent. You can observe M51, for instance, in cold wintery skies or warm summer ones and summer certainly wins, here at least.


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It never really gets properly dark in the summer, by the time the sun has gone down properly it's already starting to lighten the sky in the east, just concentrate on objects away from the rising sun where the sky is a little darker for longer. I only got my scope in April so can't wait for dark winter skies but there's still plenty to see, in a rapidly lightening sky this morning I saw M13 and M51 both for the first time, M13 is stunning and a doddle to find, on a small scope like mine a cluster like that blows the nebula and galaxies that I've seen so far out the water. Also at the moment there the possibility of seeing noctilucent cloud, which can be as impressive as the northern lights. And then there's always the odd ISS pass which never gets old.

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