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BrendanC

At what point do you just... give up?

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So, it's been a long haul. Lots of problems, issues, things to understand, things to work around. I'm finally at the point where I think I know what I'm doing. I've had some real successes and images I'm proud of, and got a real buzz out of acquiring and processing (and sharing).

However, one thing that is beyond my control... the weather.

In my little corner of the UK, it appears that we've had virtually wall-to-wall cloud for the past, what, three months?

When I look back, my last proper, full night session was literally this time last month. September 22nd.

Before that? Again, by amazing coincidence, August 22nd. With a small window on 28th.

Then 19th July.

Do you see a pattern emerging? That's right. On average, I seem to manage one session a month. If I'm lucky. I thought I had a three-hour window in the weather tonight, got everything set up... and the clouds rolled in.

So, is this really a viable hobby, I'm starting to ask myself? The relentlessly terrible weather forecasts are starting to really get me down. I check Clear Outside every day or so, and just see red - literally and metaphorically. I know it's challenging during the summer months (heck, we don't even get astronomical darkness between mid May and end July) but I'm not sure I can continue just hoping I get one chance a month to do this.

I know this is a bit of a whinge, but anyone share my frustration?

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4 minutes ago, BrendanC said:

So, it's been a long haul. Lots of problems, issues, things to understand, things to work around. I'm finally at the point where I think I know what I'm doing. I've had some real successes and images I'm proud of, and got a real buzz out of acquiring and processing (and sharing).

However, one thing that is beyond my control... the weather.

In my little corner of the UK, it appears that we've had virtually wall-to-wall cloud for the past, what, three months?

When I look back, my last proper, full night session was literally this time last month. September 22nd.

Before that? Again, by amazing coincidence, August 22nd. With a small window on 28th.

Then 19th July.

Do you see a pattern emerging? That's right. On average, I seem to manage one session a month. If I'm lucky. I thought I had a three-hour window in the weather tonight, got everything set up... and the clouds rolled in.

So, is this really a viable hobby, I'm starting to ask myself? The relentlessly terrible weather forecasts are starting to really get me down. I check Clear Outside every day or so, and just see red - literally and metaphorically. I know it's challenging during the summer months (heck, we don't even get astronomical darkness between mid May and end July) but I'm not sure I can continue just hoping I get one chance a month to do this.

I know this is a bit of a whinge, but anyone share my frustration?

Live by the dessert and have 95%+ clear skies. But I cannot seem to get hold of a scope without going through leaps and bounds for months - and I'm still not there. Go figure.

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10 minutes ago, Mai Ai Bing said:

Live by the dessert and have 95%+ clear skies. But I cannot seem to get hold of a scope without going through leaps and bounds for months - and I'm still not there. Go figure.

Many people consider this part of Andalucia to be a desert, now. In general we get something over 200 clear days a year, 230-250 being the norm. (Although the last few days have been cloudy, it even rained today!)
Though when you factor in the Moonlit nights, the number of observing opportunities drops considerably. (cue cries of sympathy .... )

When I lived in the S.E. UK I used to average about 17 observing sessions a year. Due to weather, work, family and social events. I expect that skiers in Abu Dhabi have it even worse than astronomers in the UK :)

 

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I moved my kit to  Pikel Skies in Castillejar Spain because of the weather in Cheshire. 

Regards Andrew 

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3 winters back we had 12 clear nights

2 winters back we had 7

Last winter we had 5

This season so far we have had 1

Of all the above probably half were borderline seeing and/or more than 50% moon and/or windy

If it was easy - everyone would be doing it!!

 

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7 minutes ago, andrew s said:

I moved my kit to  Pikel Skies in Castillejar Spain because of the weather in Cheshire. 

Regards Andrew 

Would love to do that but I really do not have the cash. Nor can I move to the desert, or Andalucia.

 

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The past week or so have been poor but over the last few months I've managed to do plenty of observing. It has been one of the better things about what has otherwise been a very challenging period as we all know.

I don't image though and I've kept my setups to those which are simple, quick to deploy and tear down. That seems to have helped to capitalize on the clear skies when they have been around.

If I had to setup complex gear each time I wanted to participate then I think it would be a much more frustrating hobby !

Edit: I've just realised that this thread was in the imaging section so please ignore my post - it's not really relevant.

 

Edited by John

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Just now, Skipper Billy said:

3 winters back we had 12 clear nights

2 winters back we had 7

Last winter we had 5

This season so far we have had 1

Of all the above probably half were borderline seeing and/or more than 50% moon and/or windy

If it was easy - everyone would be doing it!!

 

This is the thing. I never expected it to be easy, but I did expect more opportunities to do it once I'd overcome the hard bits!

I used to have a classic car, a Spitfire. It wasn't until I got it that I realised how often it's cold and wet in the UK. Now I've got a telescope, I realise how often it's wet, windy and cloudy!

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1 minute ago, BrendanC said:

This is the thing. I never expected it to be easy, but I did expect more opportunities to do it once I'd overcome the hard bits!

I used to have a classic car, a Spitfire. It wasn't until I got it that I realised how often it's cold and wet in the UK. Now I've got a telescope, I realise how often it's wet, windy and cloudy!

I must be a real glutton for punishment - I also have a Mk1 MG Midget that doesn't have a roof and I live in the Scottish Highlands!!!

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Just now, John said:

The past week or so have been poor but over the last few months I've managed to do plenty of observing. It has been one of the better things about what has otherwise been a very challenging period as we all know.

I don't image though and I've kept my setups to those which are simple, quick to deploy and tear down. That seems to have helped to capitalize on the clear skies when they have been around.

If I had to setup complex gear each time I wanted to participate then I think it would be a much more frustrating hobby !

 

I keep my mount set up in the garden, and can get the camera etc all rigged up in about ten minutes. After polar alignment, I can be up and running in half an hour, all of which I can also generally do before full astronomical darkness. But still, so few occasions to do this. I sold my trusty little Skywatcher 130P AZ Goto so that I could concentrate more on imaging. Now I'm wondering whether I did the right thing - I could just plonk it anywhere in the garden and be up and running in no time. 

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+1 for easy plonk and go set-up to take advantage of every available, however short, opportunities.

I've still had a frustratingly small number of those in recent weeks. Setting my alarm for 2 or 3am for an all too brief early morning session has been my only sniff at 2 sessions in over a month. 

Still loving it though... so no hint of giving up for me.

And tonight is looking very promising here ........ :thumbright:     [once I've finished watching Leicester City win 😇 ]

Edited by globular

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Imaging is definitely the hard way to do astronomy! Since delving into imaging earlier this year most of my telescope time has been used up on equipment learning and equipment failures. I had some early success with a DSLR and APT that gave me an premature confidence :)

I missed just about all of Jupiter and Saturn's apparitions this year and didn't look at either through an eyepiece. Mars hasn't been much more productive either. But I'm sure next session will go great. It'll go smoothly and everything will work.

Actually, no that probably won't happen and I'll end another late night wishing I'd just popped an eyepiece in instead...

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I consider giving up as regularly as I consider giving up smoking.

A typical recent night was forecast ( three different forecasts agreed) as clear with great seeing, transparency, no dew and  warm from dusk til dawn.  I checked the satellite images which showed no cloud within a few hundred miles. Perfect!

I set up before sunset. This involves MANY carries of my imaging gear down (and later up ) a flight of winding stairs.

An  hour later and in a muck sweat I was done and firing off my first 2 minute DSO frame. I looked to the west and saw not a hint of cloud down to the horizon. Yay!

I returned just minutes later to the rig with a beer and there was wall to wall cloud! First and only frame ruined.

I stuck it out. I consulted the forecasts which had now changed their tune to cloud all night. Well poop!

I persevered for an hour but solid cloud, no clearing from the west.

Quitting time. 

Schlepped it all back up stairs and went for a final puff on the back stairs. Now clear from horizon to horizon.

My wife heard words never uttered in her presence before.....

And yet here I am again looking forward, undaunted, to the next clear night......

 

 

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I think you might have less frustration in the UK if you are 100% visual. Tonight, for example, there were always patches of clear sky  visible between the clouds, but if, like me, you were after 6 straight hours of imaging on one target, forget it.
 

When I get too decrepit to change the kit around I might well spend some of the kid’s inheritance and relocate some of it to a better location, but for now I’ll stick with the UK.

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It does feel like it gets harder and harder every year. I realised a while ago that the only way for me was to automate the obsy. Not cheap but it’s the only way to grab a few subs here and there. In the uk with our constantly changing weather it’s surprising how many gaps there can be between going to bed with thick cloud and waking up to thick clouds. 

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Same problems but I have a Meade 90 etc set up on a tripod no drives  .I went out tonight and had 2o minutes on the Moon,Jupiter and Mars  then the clouds rolled in .

I also have  a Celestron 6se but by the time I have set it up same old problem, but the next next will be ok won't it????

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It's not so bad. :D

I spent 16 years on the Isle of Lewis where most clear nights happen in the Summer months, which also coincide with the 3 months of Twilight All Night. Great if you want to see Noctilucent clouds, not so hot for astro imaging!

This is 00:50 in the morning on 8th July 2011.

NCL-08072011.jpg.c6f570e80f4ee234eeb2d38663d32573.jpg

Now I've moved South to "The Fort" I'm in the rain zone. I used to think 1.2m of rain a year was wet when I was on Lewis, but here my weather station has recorded 2.07m of rain this year and we've still got a couple of months to go!

Am I disheartened? No.

I only got all my astro kit unpacked in August and started back into imaging again so it's been a learning experience again and I've got better kit and linked it all through a laptop. Since the kit was unpacked I've had 12 evening sessions of imaging, quite few others when I set it all up, only for the clouds to roll in and I put it all away again. That's life. ;)

I would like a couple of clear nights to try out the modded DSLR I received on Monday from Juan at Cheap Astrophotography, but it'll come and at least I've got nice B2 skies to work with when the clouds do part. :D

Clear Skies.

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I just started this year, and whilst I've spent more time ordering and fiddling with kit than actually imaging, I guess the fact that there's not a lot else to do in 202 means that it's worth setting up for a few hours, and I can do that at short notice. 

I'm a little worried about next year (or whenever we get back to normal) because then I need to have clear skies and a free evening, but let's see how it goes. 

It does help in terms of looking forward to winter though - we might not get many clear nights, but when we do, there's an easy 8 hours of imaging available!

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I would say that clear nights are getting much rarer. I remember just a few years ago that we had more clear nights and now it just seems like endless cloud cover. That's just the way it goes - keep faith.

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Didn’t we have many a clear night during full lockdown earlier this year? The problem for me was that I do almost all my imaging in Cornwall, but couldn’t get there because the travel restrictions. Being ‘socially isolated’ from my scope was very difficult especially when I saw night after night of clear sky go by.  

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UK winters (and the UK in general) are notoriously cloudy and yet newcomers seem to have an emotional vision of them being crisp, freezing-cold with sparking stars in the sky with them being dressed in their cold gear and mittens with an hot chocolate looking at the stars.  Sure, we get the odd night like that but they are very few and far between.  They are nothing like that romantic vision; they are wet, grey and dreary affairs that sometimes go on for weeks on end.  My longest such grey spell was the winter of 2012-2013 where it was clouded out for two solid months.

Yes, imaging in the UK - and North West Europe -  is exceptionally frustrating.   There can be few places in the world more so.  We live directly under the confluence of three major weather systems, a huge ocean directly to the West  with the gulf stream directly overhead.  In an average winter/early spring season over the last ten years, from empirical personal evidence,  there were only two or three nights where I could leave my imaging rig running over night whilst tentatively going to bed.  Even then I'd set my alarm for 02:00 and 04:00 to make sure there was no chance of rain incoming or a freak shower - always a possibility.   Our friends blessed with better skies can collect more data in a week than I/we can in a year.  That's why it is rare to see an APOD from these shores.  For one it is difficult to build up the experience and secondly, the lack of clear opportunities to grab the required data.

Such few opportunities mean that when one does pop up, it can often be spent sorting out gremlins and issues.  I had that in the September night you mentioned where my mount would not track (PC issue it turned out).  This is why it is so very important to use these less optimal nights to do dummy runs, even though you may not keep the subs.  Without an observatory, it is difficult to motivate yourself to do that.

Visual is, whilst still frustrating, very much easier.  You can grab gaps in the clouds in skies where you could never image since the clouds would be over your target in ten minutes time.....

I went to Lanzarote last December for a week and had a south facing balcony straight over the sea.  Even in December, flips-flops and shorts and a hoody on (a brandy on the observing table of course :) ), I had seven straight nights outside on the balcony with my bins whilst my girlfriend and daughter were asleep, magnificent dark sky exploring South of the Orion area down to Canopus.  Even there it can be cloudy but it was so nice to do this observing and it builds up your experience.  I came home , hoping against hope to build up on this experience, and, lo and behold another month spell of cloud, cloud, cloud.  Momentum lost.   It is so incredibly frustrating.

Despite that I love it and enjoy it hugely.  I just wish so much that I could do this more often.  Like we all do of course.  But without moving to the Mediterranean/elsewhere, this will never happen  The only alternatives are a remote rig in Spain/elsewhere as mentioned or to rent time on a remote telescope and, personally speaking, I could never accept a picture constructed from the latter option as "mine".

Keep the faith and hang in there.

Edited by kirkster501
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Here in the Netherlands it isn't much better. I only really set up the DSO imaging rig when there is hope of a few hours of clear skies, The planetary imaging rig can be used for shorter sessions but for the little gaps I just go for visual, preferably just with big binoculars

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I agree with Kirkster. Observing/imaging nights are few and far between in some areas of the UK so you have to make the most of it. The longest recent spell of imaging I've had was about 12 nights September 2020 (in the period from 13/09/2020 to 27/09/2020). Some nights in that period were poor the rest were great. However it has been poor ever since. I think there was one Saturday night in October so far that has been ok but I wasn't imaging that night.

Frustrating for sure but deterred? No chance.

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Is there any correlation between clear skies and the period around new moon? It’s probably my imagination but I sometimes have the impression that it is more likely to be cloudy when the Moon is out of the way and it’s best for imaging. 

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Thanks for the helpful comments everyone. I'll try and keep the faith.

During the 'cloudpocalypse' I've been reading books, building up my objects spreadsheet, writing my blog, tweaking my session timings spreadsheet, watching videos, reprocessing old data etc etc. But there's a limit to how much can be done in the background, as it were. There's an outside chance of some clear bits tonight. Fingers crossed.

Edited by BrendanC
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