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What has experience taught me?


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It was Christmas 2016 that my first telescope sat under the Christmas tree. I immediately had requests from friends and family to come round and have a look. I nervously said I'd need some time to figure out what I was doing. Even then I knew that there'd be a bit of a learning curve with this hobby. I'm a long way from calling myself an experienced observer but I've learned a lot since that first telescope arrived. In no particular order here are the things that my experiences have taught me:

The process of finding targets can be as enjoyable as actually seeing them. It took me a good few months to get my finding process working well but the exhilaration when I found my intended target was immense. There were several fist pumps in my back garden. Even with experience, a smile will cross my face on finding a new target. 

Repeated viewings will reward with new details. When I first started it was almost a box ticking exercise. Working through the Messier list and other famous targets that I'd read about. The Veil was the first target where I really learned the value of repeated visits. It showed how conditions can greatly change the appearance of an object. Sometimes barely visible when the moon was out or transparency was poor. Then bright on moonless nights with excellent transparency. Recognising the familiar shape allowed me to start to pick out new features. This year I've found that Pickering's triangle has become more prominent. I now appreciate a session spent on familiar targets as well as a session chasing new ones.

Dark skies rule. Obvious right? It was 9 months before I took my telescope to a dark site. I was glad that I had used my telescope for that long before taking it to a dark site. It really allowed me to see the difference. It gave me a basis of reference when viewing familiar targets under dark skies. Dark site trips are like buying a new bigger telescope for the cost of the fuel to drive there and back.

The dark sky hangover is real. Observing from home after a dark site trip can be a very disappointing experience. Targets that shone like beacons from dark skies become barely visible from home.  I struggled for a while with this. I now use my sessions from home to look at the brighter targets, there's no shortage of them. If conditions are good, I'll also spend time building familiarity with targets I want to visit under dark skies. Small sections of the Crescent nebula can be seen from home but it really opens up under dark skies. The practise of finding and picking out the brighter sections pays dividends when I come to viewing it under dark skies.

Equipment and the never ending desire to upgrade. It's so easy to get caught  up with endlessly wanting to upgrade. I've upgraded my telescope once and have bought quite a number of eyepieces. The process or researching, buying and having new toys come through in the process is really fun. However, I've gone back and used my original set up and found my stargazing to be just as enjoyable as my current set up. I wouldn't want to go back to my old set up, I enjoy being able to see more objects at a greater level of detail but I don't think I would astronomy any less if I hadn't upgraded. I'm not sure if that makes sense! I found myself likening eyepieces to a movie collection. It's nice to have a good selection but there'll always be a core of 3 or 4 that you'll always come back to.

Don't make logging your sessions a chore. I struggled to figure out how I wanted to record my observations. It's great to preserve the memories but be careful of systems that require a lot of upkeep. At one point, I was spending 15 minutes or more writing up notes after a session. Time that would have been better spent at the eyepiece or getting some sleep! I now have a much simpler system and tend to write observing reports on SGL to capture the memories of my best sessions.

It's ok to not observe. With the unpredictable nature of the British weather it can feel like every clear night must be taken advantage of. Sometime I'd go out when overtired and not really enjoy myself. If I didn't go out, I'd feel like I'd wasted an opportunity. Now I've settled into going with my feelings on the night. It's better to have fewer sessions that you really enjoy. It's just a hobby after all!

At this point, I think astronomy is something that will stay with my for the rest of my life in one form or another. It's a fantastic hobby. I'd love to hear any other lessons learned from your own experiences. I'm sure I have many more lessons to learn over the coming years.

 

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It was Christmas 2016 that my first telescope sat under the Christmas tree. I immediately had requests from friends and family to come round and have a look. I nervously said I'd need some time to fig

So true Neil. Last night was perfect to observe the moon I noticed as I finished up some winterizing. During all this the wife opened the door and said "someone wants to come out" and here was th

Well that just about sums everything up perfectly. My general rule for not observing is - always choose people before observing but always choose observing over television. (if the moon is bright, I m

Well that just about sums everything up perfectly. My general rule for not observing is - always choose people before observing but always choose observing over television. (if the moon is bright, I might not bother anyway)

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I'm with you on all of those points Neil. Astronomy is with me for life too, it is something I will always do, but as you say, it is wise to be sure it never becomes a chore or something you have to do.

Observing to me can be just as challenging if trying to find a target with a 3" scope under light polluted skies as finding a faint target with a 16" dob under very dark skies. Both help improve your observing skills. I well remember trying to spot the M82 SN from my LP skies with a 4" frac. It was right on the limit of visibility with averted vision, but I clearly got it. The following night I tried it with a 12" dob and it was, of course, trivial. The first night is the one I remember as it was such a challenge.

You are right about experience improving what you see too. The first time I saw the Crescent was 3 or 4 years ago with Swampthing through my 16" at Lucksall. He was seeing detail I just couldn't see, through the same scope. More recently I have observed it again in my 14" and was able to pull out much more detail despite the smaller aperture. Some of that may be conditions of course, but familiarity and experience definitely help.

SGL report are often my way of making records too, you always know where to find them!

Great post!

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13 minutes ago, domstar said:

Well that just about sums everything up perfectly. My general rule for not observing is - always choose people before observing but always choose observing over television. (if the moon is bright, I might not bother anyway)

What an excellent rule Domstar, people and relationships always come first. :)

 

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This is a brilliant... All the points are 'bang on' but I particularly love the point about not feeling guilty about NOT observing on a clear night... There's been many a time that I've actually selfishly felt relief that the clouds have rolled in! especially if I have other commitments on the night. 

One further point I would like to add to this great post is - that sometimes a session can not go as well as expected! My advice is get over that feeling of 'I'm packing it in and I'm going to sell everything!! as quick as you can! Just put it down to experience and remember for sure you can guarantee that the next time out it will be the most amazing 'fist pumping' night ever ? 

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Dark sky hangover is a real problem for me. I probably average one dark sky session a month. Getting the motivation to go out into the back garden after that, when you look up into a star starved sky, can be difficult. The Moon, planets and double stars are the antidote.

My experience after 2 years has taught me that I should have started this hobby 30 years ago.

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2 hours ago, Littleguy80 said:

It's just a hobby after all!

So true Neil.

Last night was perfect to observe the moon I noticed as I finished up some winterizing. During all this the wife opened the door and said "someone wants to come out" and here was the 3 yr old all dressed up to come help me. After we finished a few things we walked down to the point on the water where she said "the view papa!" We watched the sunset and then the moon for a nice bit then went to the swing for one last push. We then went to play "air hockey" with her sisters lol!

Personally I'll forgo astronomy for moments like this. Friends and family are more important IMHO.

The moon/stars can wait.

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32 minutes ago, Patbloke said:

This is a brilliant... All the points are 'bang on' but I particularly love the point about not feeling guilty about NOT observing on a clear night... There's been many a time that I've actually selfishly felt relief that the clouds have rolled in! especially if I have other commitments on the night. 

One further point I would like to add to this great post is - that sometimes a session can not go as well as expected! My advice is get over that feeling of 'I'm packing it in and I'm going to sell everything!! as quick as you can! Just put it down to experience and remember for sure you can guarantee that the next time out it will be the most amazing 'fist pumping' night ever ? 

Many a time I have wanted pack up and sell up through different things not being able find objects other people said were easy when I first started.

A mount even now does not play ball but I'm sure it's me not the mount and buying equipment which does not turn out to be what you wanted.

I cannot stress enough the help off this site has been invaluable as a few who have stepped up and helped me with my mount a scope but more importantly experience. Nothing can beat dark skies for deep sky stuff but if you live and view from light polluted areas change your viewing habits clusters and double and multi star systems are just as enthralling as a Galaxy from home.

 

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Thoughtful reflective points that we can all allure to. Experience has taught myself; considerable patience is necessary for gaining realistic opportunities to practice in this hobby, in which I enjoy contemplating, planning ideas and approaches, some of which may sometime occur. Therefore much of this hobby (for myself) is aspirational and the glue that holds it together is information that is learnt and shared on this forum. Having other interests retains a balance and keeps stargazing in perspective, if it is cloudy and raining on a Saturday morning, it doesn't matter, I can still participate in Park Run and enjoy it (so long as my left knee isn't complaining too much).  As with other people's comments, family and arrangements, can quite certainly become more meaningful.   

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So true, only last night the skies cleared unexpectedly and for around half hour I wrestled with the idea of getting the scope out (been out 3 times this week).

Instead I grabbed my bino's and hung out the window in-between having a few beers. After an hour clouds rolled in and I shut my curtains in the relief that I wasn't copping out.

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Thanks for sharing your experiences! Very recognisable.

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The process of finding targets can be as enjoyable as actually seeing them

Yes! Star hopping can be very, very rewarding. I've never used go-to or push-to because I love to navigate around and use pattern matching to finally find the obscure double or galaxy I've been looking for. It's all part of the experience for me.

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Repeated viewings will reward with new details.

Absolutely. As is taking the time to observe an object, or to make a sketch. It's wonderful how much detail can be uncovered when focusing on a particular object for a while.

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Very good read,  all the points are pretty much very relatable to what I am experiencing right now.

I have recently started and sometimes struggle to find objects both in Sky and through telescope in my fairly light polluted back yard. When I eventually find the object, it feels like you have overcome a challenge which feels like a reward in itself, even if the view you get is not so great or faint.

I do also sometimes feel pressured to observe at clear nights, like tonight when the forecast is looking good in my area. I feel like I need to go out and learning more, but I have work tomorrow and god knows when the next good day will be. Wife will also make a passing comment  that I spend too long outside but then again also make another comment when I haven't t touch the scope for a while!

Since started on this journey, I quickly realised this hobby has very very bad influence on my wallet. The initial budget I had set at the very beginning is now 4x over that limit.?

Edited by Panda Alvin
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On 21/10/2018 at 12:12, Littleguy80 said:

The process of finding targets can be as enjoyable as actually seeing them

Love this....great read mate and TBH I've been watching your observing posts with fingers crossed for you....I think you just " get it"

Don't leap up in aperture yet...exhaust what you've got...the scale hits harder.

...you might enjoy the Dob mobs hospitality!

Edited by estwing
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Neil, that's probably the most perceptive, inspiring and sheer "Good common sense" summary of our hobby I've read on the 9 or 10 years I've been on SGL.

Thank you for putting so succinctly everything I feel, or have felt about this hobby in this one post:hello2:

Dave

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2 hours ago, estwing said:

Love this....great read mate and TBH I've been watching your observing posts with fingers crossed for you....I think you just " get it"

Don't leap up in aperture yet...exhaust what you've got...the scale hits harder.

...you might enjoy the Dob mobs hospitality!

Thanks Calvin. It would be awesome to observe with the mob. Dark skies guaranteed :D 

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51 minutes ago, F15Rules said:

Neil, that's probably the most perceptive, inspiring and sheer "Good common sense" summary of our hobby I've read on the 9 or 10 years I've been on SGL.

Thank you for putting so succinctly everything I feel, or have felt about this hobby in this one post:hello2:

Dave

Thank you, Dave. Very kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

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22 hours ago, F15Rules said:

Neil, that's probably the most perceptive, inspiring and sheer "Good common sense" summary of our hobby I've read on the 9 or 10 years I've been on SGL.

Thank you for putting so succinctly everything I feel, or have felt about this hobby in this one post:hello2:

Dave

What Dave said with bells on.

Excellent Neil. :headbang2:

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Nice post Neil! 

The process of finding targets can be as enjoyable as actually seeing them.

So true! I loooove scanning the heavens at low power and if I don't find something, I'll find it the next time. I remember stumbling upon a big round nebula last year, I was just scanning around but I immediately recognized the object as the Helix. It was my first observation ever of the object.

Dark skies rule. 

Yes they do. I had the opportunity to move to dark skies and I took it without hesitating.

Equipment and the never ending desire to upgrade.

Been there, but absolutely don't regret it. I just love optics, in particular eyepieces, and I feel I'm getting there, after some years of buying and selling used ones. Of course I could still enjoy observing with the ones I started with but it wouldn't be the same.

Repeated viewings will reward with new details.

No doubt. I like looking at pictures too before heading out and observe. Knowing what is there definitely helps also noticing some details.

Edited by Sagitta
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