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John

Is observational astronomy on the wane ?

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I've just been reading a long thread on another forum during which a respected source stated that observational astronomy was on the wane compared with imaging.

I have suspected for some time that this is the case, although observation is all that I do.

I'd be interested to hear others views. Is observing now becoming a minority occupation within the hobby of astronomy ?

 

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I think it would be a shame if it was.  I have been doing a fair bit of imaging myself of late, but most of that is geared towards eventually being able to kick stuff off and walk away from it whilst I drag out the big dob and chase down the sights the old-fashioned way.  If all people do is image I think they miss out on the pleasure of knowing their way around the night sky and being able to share that with others, and of the other challenges and rewards that visual brings.  And for me at least, whilst I enjoy imaging, there's a definite pleasure and connection with the universe that comes from observing that just doesn't exist otherwise, especially for specific "events" such as eclipses, comets, supernovae and so on.

Perhaps part of the reason people are migrating towards imaging of one kind or another is the increase in light pollution that makes it so much harder to work visually from the kinds of places that most people live.

James

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I do think that forums have made it easy for those interested in imaging to share images and imaging techniques so more images are now out there.There are probably more that are giving imaging a go with the increased availability of low cost cameras but I’ve also seen many that give imaging a go then give up as it’s just too much bother. 

Theres’s no danger of those just observing becoming a vanishing breed judging by the sheer amount of observers here on SGL. It’s still alive and healthy. 👍🏻

Judging by the great deal of interest shown this afternoon when FLO anounced the new Alt-Az mount the observers are still keen. 🙂

Edited by johninderby
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Interesting question, maybe it seems the trend because forums have so many threads on the subject of imaging. Plus the complexity of it leads to more threads than plain old visual. It could be as visual observers there is simply less to say, and articulating a visual session on a forum could be difficult to express , rather than techie talk on imaging rigs. 

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Judging by the great deal of interest shown this afternoon when FLO anounced the new Alt-Az mount the observers are still keen. 🙂

 

Is there a link to the new alt/az mount? 

I am purely an observer. While restricted to brighter objects here on the outskirts of light polluted North London. I long for my frequent visits to the darker skies of Dorset. 

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Started out as a thread on the Ercole Giro but then FLO posted a pic of the new Rowan AZ100 Alt-Az mount that will be coming soon and it really looks the business. 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

 

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Like you John, I am purely an observer.

Whilst I love to see the superb images many of our members create, it does seem to me that more than a few are spending as much of their time pulling their hair out, cursing and cussing in frustration because things are not going right as I do on a whole nights observing.

Apart from that, the seemingly huge expenses that are involved in putting a good rig together keeps me perfectly happy to stick to simple observing.

Just last night I had the thrill of observing Jupiter with Ganymede transiting and emerging from one side while I also watched the GRS entering from the opposite side. So unless imagers are making time lapse videos there is no way to recreate the thrill I had of seeing that in real time.

Please keep the images coming though folks, I love to see them and am in awe of your skill and patience producing them! :)

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Like you I enjoy looking at the amazing images here on SGL. I just would rather observe with the occasional lunar / planetary image but nothing serious or time consuming.

Oops......Saying that just took this lunar shot. 🤦🏻‍♂️

C3DF71DE-F310-4436-9C21-87953E056965.jpeg

Edited by johninderby
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I have pursued both options in the last few years. A purpose built obsy helped with the imaging but for me it was a lonely pursuit, long nights just in the company of Alice Cooper on Planet Rock. I still do Solar and Lunar imaging with my Alt AZ mount but I have moved on and am almost fully observational in the company of others. For the public events I do the joy is in seeing the faces and hearing the pleasure in observing a few juicy targets. It also means I take portable kit to dark places and tonight I will be presenting at an event in Keld, the darkest place in N Yorks.

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I do suspect you are right John, for a variety of reasons. Increasing light pollution, and also pollution generally including aircraft contrails makes observing less rewarding from many urban and suburban sites.

Photography in general is becoming more popular, you could even say ubiquitous with the rise of smartphone cameras and the improvements in sensor technology. On Facebook groups I see many people starting out in imaging now using their phone as the capture device because they cannot afford or justify a dedicated camera, but then processing the image using traditional AP methods with good results. Narrowband imaging can be done from some fairly bright places, and there does seem to be an appeal to many around having a setup they can control from indoors. I guess it is more about technology and also the processing side which people find appealing.

There also seems to be an infuriating message that observing is something you do as a beginner, before you progress to imaging. I try to counter this wherever I see it, and make clear that you can develop your observing skilla over a lifetime, and that they are both equally valid paths to take. Whilst I do use technology when observing, the appeal for me is being out there under the stars, relaxing and connecting with what is up there. It would be a terrible shame if that direct connection were lost, and people stopped realising what you can actually see with a bit of patience and effort.

I do think it is harder for observers to communicate what they are doing. Writing an observing report is not easy to make interesting and takes time. I bore myself sometimes with saying this object was nice and that object was lovely blah blah blah (🤣🤣), but I think us visual observers are very supportive of each other and understand the challenges of describing what we saw. The group we have here on SGL has developed over time and it is great to see some new starters progress to being very accomplished observers in a few short years. Hopefully we can contribute towards keeping this branch of astronomy going.

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I think sharing has become a huge part of life now. People want to take pictures and show other people.Especially for my wife and daughter, photographic evidence shared online is a part of any activity. Another thing is the technology and accessibility. The other thing about the forum is that it has a wealth of information to help imagers improve. I'm a visual observer and always lurking here but after getting great advice to help me buy gear, the help I need to observe is fairly minimal (I really do appreciate the support, though). I write the odd report and enjoy reading the reports of others but my content has dried up as I know how to use my gear, I'm not currently looking to upgrade (ha ha) and others usually have more to offer than me by way of advice.

I definitely wouldn't have enjoyed stargazing so fully if it wasn't for SGL, but just imagine being an imager without this forum. In the end, just like John in Derby above, I have actually snapped the moon. Maybe it's only time, money and computer skills that's holding me back (not really).

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Very interesting responses folks - thanks for posting them :smiley:

I have to confess to snapping the Moon and (filtered) Sun a few times lately with my mobile and having enjoyed getting some easy but half decent results.

There does seem to be a strong urge from folks I talk to in my astro society and others whos views I read on here and elsewhere towards capturing in some way what they see rather than just describing it.

Maybe some of the Facebook type culture is also coming into play - the "if there is no picture, it didn't happen" type thing perhaps ?

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Whilst I am an imager, I am increasingly becoming an observer too. There is much enjoyment to be had from looking at people's holiday snaps of a beautiful lake in a far flung corner of the world, but to go to that lake and see the misty sunrise for yourself is unbeatable. I suggest that the view through the eyepiece is like going to the lake. I will never tire of the reaction people have to a clear view of Jupiter, Saturn, Albireo, M13, M42 or M31 (and so on!) through the telescopes at the observatory where I now work. Even the most seasoned observer still gets a thrill at seeing the Cassini Division on a still night. No number of Hubble images, etc, can replace that awe, despite the difference in 'quality of image'. The most satisfying activity is introducing young folk to the night sky and all its delights. I think that visual astronomy takes time and effort, but it is so worth it. It is our duty to pass on the enthusiasm and curiosity in the universe around our tiny planet to the next generation(s). So, if you enjoy a bit of visual, don't keep it to yourself, get to an astronomy club, a school or anywhere and share your passion. Let's ensure that what John questions at the start of this thread is not allowed to become true. Imaging will always be of interest and let's not be frightened by that. It is a great way of sharing the interest and attracting people to the eyepiece!

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Funny how with a hobby some seek complication to occupy themselves and others seek to escape complication.

It’s just a hobby so both ways are equally valid. Whatever makes you happy. 👍🏻

Edited by johninderby
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7 minutes ago, John said:

There maybe some of this Facebook culture also coming into play - the "if there is no picture, it didn't happen" type thing perhaps ?

I think that's the nail on the head right there.

I genuinely love both practices, but when I show people my pictures I get a genuine 'Wow!'- people are really interested. When I tell people that I spend my time looking for fuzzy gray shapes in the sky that's not a typical response...

On the other hand I reflect on last night: I spent an hour setting the imaging rigs going and by that point I was feeling grouchy and hassled. Then I started with the dob- it was a great session. The stress of the week faded and the peace and tranquility was immense. I'm excited to see what my cameras got last night- but even if it turns out to be 'not much' then it was still a great night.

But I can't easily share it. 

Although- you've just made my mind up: I will write an observing report later!

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I much prefer being out under the dark sky and 'connecting' with the stars.
I do take pictures from time to time to share with the family and friends or locate some really dim object that my eyes wont be able to see anyway.
I did buy a small 'astro' camera but couldn't stand setting up the laptop and cables etc (I have a background in IT so not an issue) but just got bored with it, sitting while the camera did its thing, getting blinded by the screen and spending hours messing about with the picture after.
Much prefer using my dslr (in spite of the limitations) for 30 -40 mins max for me if its something Im really interested in, but would much rather eyeball it.
If its more difficult than that Id rather dial up a robo-scope in some remote place - but then I might as well look in a book ?
1-2 hours to go to a nice dark place, 20-30 mins to set up - lovely.

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There as ever is another point of view here. Maybe oberservational astronomy is alive and well. Another possibility is that interest in astronomy has swelled due such images being available say from probes and the Hubble space telescope. Certainly astronomy has gone from Patrick Moore late on a Sunday night  to Prof.  Brian Cox selling out the O2 on a Thursday night on his world tour. Imaging has a powerful draw to it the promise of wonderful views of our skies.  Their maybe high proportion on imagers to observers as a result. It is after all regarded as science and emotional aspect is never communicated well in such areas. It would interesting how many start of as imagers and move to observation.

Edited by StarryEyed
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41 minutes ago, johninderby said:

Funny how with a hobby some seek complication to occupy themselves and others seek to escape complication.

It’s just a hobby so both ways are equally valid. Whatever makes you happy. 👍🏻

That’s so true. I am one of the ones who wants to escape complication in my hobbies. I went to a talk at our Astro club about remote observing and it moved to an imaging discussion. It was mentioned that there is so much imaging data available to the willing people who want to try getting into astrophotography through processing this available data, before trying any image capture. Needless to say it peeked my interest so I downloaded trial versions of the various  processing software packages and found some online data to dabble with. I didn’t have any tuition and three hours later I gave up because I was so frustrated with not even being able to upload the data into the processing software. I found myself getting wound up and annoyed and after trying to find the online help, I gave up. 😂🤨🤪 On the other side of the coin, I am sure others who enjoy the technical challenge would have loved putting effort into working through it to find the solution. Nothing wrong with either approach and I’m so glad others love this type of challenge as it allows people like me to enjoy the amazing photographs they produce. For now at least I’m sticking to visual, either at my own eyepiece or by observing the photographs produced by those who enjoy astrophotography.

As John says what ever makes you happy. Great discussion thread. 

Steve 

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I used to do a bit of observing but my eyes limit what I can do and now my night vision has deteriorated and though this is a Bortle 4 area, I can't see the Milky Way or many stars now.  At a recent eye test I was told I have cataracts starting in both eyes so that may be the reason.  Seems most people have cataracts by my age!  Meanwhile, I do enjoy imaging (when things go right) so I'm much better off than some people.

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Excellent posts :thumbright:

I think one of the issues is that as a hobby visual astronomy is unforgiving. It starts to collapse not due to the faults of the individual but simply to factors completely outside their control. Frustration would be a normal response to this kind of opposition, but drag it out for a good number of years and the visual observer might start to feel disappointment, and sentiments of being let down...again.

Under such conditions, I can imagine countless visual observers start out with great enthusiasm but a decade or so down the line, their spirits have dampened, they have dwindled in their number or drifted into imaging.

I also think that like Dickens, we are in the best of times but also in the worst of times. There's more kit on sale today and at acceptable prices than ever before but light pollution continues its arrogant stride across the 'developed' and 'developing' world. Perhaps, then, the wane in visual observing is also due to the dying night sky. Our way of life will more than likely be condemned by future generations and perhaps, therein, lies hope for the visual astronomer of tomorrow.

 

 

   

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I wonder how  future developments will change the observation vs imaging discussion. In a few years you’ll be able to buy a completly automated remote observing setup that you just bring home, open up and plonk down in the middle of the lawn and it sets itself up leaving you to go inside turn on your TV and select whatever you want to look at and just press a button to capture images with no technical knowledge or effort needed. 

Hmmmmmmm 🤔

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20 minutes ago, johninderby said:

I wonder how  future developments will change the observation vs imaging discussion. In a few years you’ll be able to buy a completly automated remote observing setup that you just bring home, open up and plonk down in the middle of the lawn and it sets itself up leaving you to go inside turn on your TV and select whatever you want to look at and just press a button to capture images with no technical knowledge or effort needed. 

Hmmmmmmm 🤔

It wouldn't surprise me at all if it already exists in a Chinese or Japanese factory somewhere!

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Just now, Geoff Barnes said:

It wouldn't surprise me at all if it already exists in a Chinese or Japanese factory somewhere!

It's when you see them next to a checkout in Tescos or Morrisons that I’ll worry. 😂

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My kids were blown away with seeing Saturn and Jupiter with some of the moons last night.

i also take the scope down to the local scout group once a year so they can tick off their Astronomy badge. the look on their faces when they actually see things with their own eyes is amazing.

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1 hour ago, johninderby said:

I wonder how  future developments will change the observation vs imaging discussion. In a few years you’ll be able to buy a completly automated remote observing setup that you just bring home, open up and plonk down in the middle of the lawn and it sets itself up leaving you to go inside turn on your TV and select whatever you want to look at and just press a button to capture images with no technical knowledge or effort needed. 

Hmmmmmmm 🤔

That's what worries me John! None of the benefits of peace, concentration, relaxation and reward for effort and skill.

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