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How do you record observations?


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When I first started observing as a teenager I used to sketch and record my observations quite methodically. Since I rediscovered my passion ten years ago, I have been very inconsistent with my records, being a mixture of sketches, scribbles and reports on SGL. I have struggled to be happy with any one approach. The biggest issue has been remembering which objects I have observed with which scopes. For example, have I ever seen the F component of the Trapezium in the Tal? Which other scopes have I seen it in? Have I split both components of the double double with the 66mm frac? What did Izar look like in the ED102? And so on.....

Well I have spent the last few months putting all my recorded observations in a spreadsheet log and I have to say it's been really worthwhile and is a very useful record which I often refer to. It's taken some effort to create and requires a little dedication to keep it up to date but has really provided a lot of insight and helped inform any new observations. For example if observing a challenging double, I can easily find other observations of the same object made with various scopes over the years. I have been surprised at how much I had forgotten.

I know people vary massively in how they record their observations, ranging from nothing at all to detailed sketches for everything. How do you record yours?

 

For interest, I log the following in my spreadsheet:

  • Identifiers (eg: NGC)
  • Common Name (eg: Izar)
  • Constellation
  • Category (eg: Glob)
  • Attributes (Mag, sep, size)
  • Scope used
  • Link to SGL report (if applicable)
  • Date
  • Observing Report (what was seen, eyepieces/filters used, etc)
  • Observing Location
  • Time
  • Seeing (Pickering Scale)
  • Transparency
  • Moon phase

 

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That sounds like a very valuable exercise Robert, which I’m sure will be very useful in future.

To my regret, I’ve never maintained an observing log, the closest I get are my reports on SGL. I do sometimes go back to those to recall what I saw and with which scope.

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I could only aspire to be as methodical as you Rob!  About 5 years ago, I started to use the log on Sky Safari and have found it invaluable since.  I can toggle on and off my sightings on the star chart, its available on my phone and it encourages me to record my observations more consistently.

Its not for everyone but it works for me.

John

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Posted (edited)
51 minutes ago, Stu said:

...To my regret, I’ve never maintained an observing log, the closest I get are my reports on SGL. I do sometimes go back to those to recall what I saw and with which scope.

I'm just the same I'm afraid :rolleyes2:

Much respect to those, like Rob, who do keep good records though :thumbright:

Edited by John
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That's very thorough Robert!

I've belatedly started keeping a log in a small note pad. Not a great deal of detail, just the basics; date, time, seeing, telescope used, objects viewed and an occasional extra note of anything unusual/particularly spectacular/interesting etc.

 

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I used to keep copious notes of my observations, but for a long time now I just make annotated sketches. It's rare I'll note anything these days without an accompanying sketch. I find sketches far more pleasant to view than trying to read pages of notes. The object, telescope, magnification, seeing conditions using the Antoniadi scale, and if deep sky, transparency, are always recorded.

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I've not been observing seriously for very long, less than a year in fact, but after a week or so of getting the hang of using my first proper 'scope, I started writing up a log immediately after each session. It's nothing special, just an A5 spiral bound book full of bad handwriting and the odd even worse sketch.

Apart from recording the date & start and finish times, nothing else is mandatory : I generally mention which 'scope I used (now I have more than one ) , and record any first use of new bits of kit like eyepieces, but apart from that it's more a diary entry recording what seemed to me to be the important or interesting points from the session. I usually mention most objects or features I have seen, particularly if they are new to me. I also record any failures to find . If a particular combination of kit seemed to work well (or badly) I'll record that. The weather crept in to my log when I spent a few nights stood out in the snow 🙂

I'm not much of a list keeper , but to keep track of what I have and have not seen, I have printouts of the Moore Winter Marathon, the object index and some pages from the Loughton list , and the whole of a rather good Messier recording PDF https://www.physics.hmc.edu/faculty/esin/a101/messier.pdf  all of which are in a ring binder , and get scribbled on with a brief note, usually not much more than the date when I saw it so I can go to my logbook for more detail if needed.

Heather

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The most I do is make a brief entry in Samsung notes to help with any report I make on here inc. magnification used if I remember, and screenshot any successful targets in Sky Safari. Every few months I'll download the lot into a folder on the laptop. I'm not very technical...

Andy

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Posted (edited)

In the field, I'm using the DSO Planner app's integrated observing notes taker.

506px-Notet2.jpg

When I tap "Add new note" button it's opening the note screen to type a note, but instead of typing I'm just clicking the "Start Recording" button and narrating what I was able to see. Then clicking the "Action" button and it's automatically adding:

  • Scope used
  • Date / Time
  • Observing Location
  • Eyepieces used

506px-Notet3.jpg

Usually I have 3 EP's set as in use, so if I didn't use any of them I'm just deleting its tag in the Note text.

Later I'm exporting the app's Observation Notes Database to the plain text encoded format and process it as needed (e.g. I can transcribe my voice notes into more concise text notes). Then I'm importing processed notes back into the app, so I have them all at hand when back in the field.

No need adding any object's information besides its ID, as I have all the databases on the device so I can cross-reference any onboard in two clicks from the Notes screen, including Steve's Gotlieb NGC/IC notes database, the local DSS imagery if available, as well as any cross-references with other object's designations.

Most importantly, the app supports the dedicated night mode keyboard, so even if I have to type some note content (rare as I can always use my voice instead) it's totally safe for my EDA (Eyes Darkness adaptation):
Advsearch2.jpg

If I need to add something common for other notes (e.g. want to track seeing for planetary observations), I'm adding it in a format of above tags [single_word_for_the_tag_name value] that makes automatic processing later easier to perform in fully automated mode.

 

Edited by AlexK
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Some fascinating insights there, thanks for sharing. Just shows the variety of methods people use (or don’t!). Interesting point from @Tiny Clanger that it’s useful to record what you   don’t find as well. @westmarch I use SkySafari for most of my planning and observing in the field, so should probably should have look at the observing notes feature more. @AlexK DSO planner looks great, don’t think I can get on iPhone though? 
 

I do have an old micro-tape recorder that I sometimes whisper into for reference, must dig that out again as it worked well. As regards drawing, I have really enjoyed drawing Mars and I suspect I will do more solar system sketching in future so need to get a system in place for those. 🙂

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, RobertI said:

 @AlexK DSO planner looks great, don’t think I can get on iPhone though? 
I do have an old micro-tape recorder that I sometimes whisper into for reference, must dig that out again as it worked well. As regards drawing, I have really enjoyed drawing Mars and I suspect I will do more solar system sketching in future so need to get a system in place for those. 🙂

Correct, DSO Planner is Android exclusive due to the iPhone engineering design historically lacking behind for about a decade. Though the app is designed to support even very old Android versions, so a cheap second-hand device would work with it as smoothly as 2021 models. And I'm always advocating for getting a dedicated smartphone for the field use. That allows to make it safer for you EDA (by disabling an ordinary phone junk popping out of nowhere and blinding you) as well as protecting your main phone from harsh elements of the darkness :))), as you can keep it in a safe place while observing.

An ordinary tape recorder could be harder to synchronize with your other records / databases, so some voce records IDing system/protocol must be implemented to link your written and spoken records.

You can use a certain smartphone tech for the sketching as well. See here (click the arrow on the right): 

 

 

Edited by AlexK
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Ihave used an A4 page a day diary for over 25 years.

They contain notes, scribbles, drawings and sometimes photos I have taken.  The notes can be one liners to a whole page, very occasionally they spill across two pages.

I do put other things in also which help to make the observations come to life years after I have written them.

These include, anecdotes, wildlife sights and sounds, mishaps, newspaper cuttings re particular events, cuttings from astro mags, telescope information and reviews I write fir myself, details of journeys if I am playing away from home, interactions with other observers I may be with - and their equipment, weather events etc etc.

I have to say, only drawings and technical info don't do it for me.  They only tell half the story.

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I only started keeping a record since about 2014, and I didn't do that much astronomy between 2017 to 2020, but these days, I just make up a word doc with just the essential info, sometimes with a photo or sketch added. Stored as a Google Doc so it takes up 0 bytes in the cloud.

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21 hours ago, westmarch said:

I could only aspire to be as methodical as you Rob!  About 5 years ago, I started to use the log on Sky Safari and have found it invaluable since.  I can toggle on and off my sightings on the star chart, its available on my phone and it encourages me to record my observations more consistently.

Its not for everyone but it works for me.

John

I use sky safari but cannot see a log John, where abouts is it under please?

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I also use SkySafari

22 minutes ago, bomberbaz said:

I use sky safari but cannot see a log John, where abouts is it under please?

It may only be available on the plus and pro versions, I’m not sure, but it may not be available on the basic version.

The log utility is perfect when used with observing lists. I plan for the evening by creating an observers list and make notes/ sketches in a handwritten log book. The following day I update my SkySafari log which has all my equipment preloaded. All objects observed have all their details/info attached. All past observations can be highlighted or not as required and all obs of any particular object are in one place. All this works across the cloud to different devices.

 I even go further and create a spreadsheet from observations lists which SkySafari does automatically and fill them in as I go along.....so my obs are stored in three places.....handwritten log, SkySafari and on my computer.

 

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I keep my targets in a single spreadsheet (separate sheets for Binaries (see below). DSO, Solar System, Other) that contains constellation, name, position and relevant information including description. When I have viewed a target I enter the other fields: Rating (1 to 5), Observation date, Comment, other visual information).

A single sheet from the main spreadsheet is here.  

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21 minutes ago, Jiggy 67 said:

I also use SkySafari

It may only be available on the plus and pro versions, I’m not sure, but it may not be available on the basic version.

The log utility is perfect when used with observing lists. I plan for the evening by creating an observers list and make notes/ sketches in a handwritten log book. The following day I update my SkySafari log which has all my equipment preloaded. All objects observed have all their details/info attached. All past observations can be highlighted or not as required and all obs of any particular object are in one place. All this works across the cloud to different devices.

 I even go further and create a spreadsheet from observations lists which SkySafari does automatically and fill them in as I go along.....so my obs are stored in three places.....handwritten log, SkySafari and on my computer.

 

I have plus as I use the pushto facility built in, is it in a sub menu on yours?

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Yeh, if you go to the observations tab, you will see sessions and observations. First, create a session for your full evening obs. When you select an object, go to observations and a tab called Create Observations will appear. You can then fill all the boxes in and attach it to your current session. There is a lot more but that’s the basics, you will soon pick it up

HTH @bomberbaz

 

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Posted (edited)
8 minutes ago, bomberbaz said:

I have plus as I use the pushto facility built in, is it in a sub menu on yours?

From the 'info' screen for the object, in question select 'more' (...) then Create New Observation. Or directly from the observation list.

Usually, it's smart enough to work out what is in one session, and add the observations to that session. However, I have had times it's created a session for each observation - which is a real pain. Now, I create a named session for that evening before I start, then double-check that this session in indicated when I create each observation, if not I'll select that session for the new observation.

It's really useful in the field: when you have a particular object selected, you can chose to show all previous observations and review how it went.

Edited by Pixies
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8 minutes ago, bomberbaz said:

I have plus as I use the pushto facility built in, is it in a sub menu on yours?

Sorry, just checked , I was wrong it’s on the info tab for an object, Create New Observations 

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2 minutes ago, Pixies said:

From the 'info' screen for the object, in question select 'more' (...) then Create New Observation. Or directly from the observation list.

Usually, it's smart enough to work out what is in one session, and add the observations to that session. However, I have had times it's created a session for each observation - which is a real pain. Now, I create a named session for that evening before I start, then double-check that this session in indicated when I create each observation, if not I'll select that session for the new observation.

It's really useful in the field: when you have a particular object selected, you can chose to show all previous observations and review how it went.

I was just correcting myself when you posted, thanks Pixies

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2 hours ago, Jiggy 67 said:

I also use SkySafari

It may only be available on the plus and pro versions, I’m not sure, but it may not be available on the basic version.

The log utility is perfect when used with observing lists. I plan for the evening by creating an observers list and make notes/ sketches in a handwritten log book. The following day I update my SkySafari log which has all my equipment preloaded. All objects observed have all their details/info attached. All past observations can be highlighted or not as required and all obs of any particular object are in one place. All this works across the cloud to different devices.

 I even go further and create a spreadsheet from observations lists which SkySafari does automatically and fill them in as I go along.....so my obs are stored in three places.....handwritten log, SkySafari and on my computer.

 

I didn’t realise that the basic version lacked the log, so sorry if I misled.   I upgraded during one of the many half price sales for Sky Safari. Having said that, I have spent a lot more on other astronomy kit that rarely sees the outside of the box.  I use the app and the log every session.

John

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