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Hi everyone. A report from a week and a half ago, before all this wet weather arrived!

Beginners report here, first timer. I thought might be useful for other beginners, maybe some folks might have some advice for me too. I thought I can just stick a post on here with what I have seen, mainly for my own records, but also happy to hear any advice until the local astronomy club gets going again. Please spare my rambling as I am talking through my process of self teaching!
So, on Thursday evening, the skies here were fabulous. I pottered out for a look about 9pm and quickly familiarised myself with the constellations I had learnt already. Predominantly around polaris looking north; big dipper, little dipper, Cassiopeia and Ceph.
I was not in work the following day so wanted to take advantage of staying up a bit longer than usual. I then popped out again at 10pm and the conditions where what I must consider to be excellent; quite dark, still air, and not too cold. I quickly picked up my 'Walk Through the Heavens' book and furiously looked for the next constellations to learn.
What was immediately obvious was Draco was very easy to see by looking in between the areas of sky that I had already learnt, weaving through the skies overhead. Usually these stars I have tried to see but not been able to. Another page of the book completed, what next?
I looked over to the East and tried to make out Bootes that I have seen with difficulty previously. However, tonight above Arcuturus, the remaining stars seemed to be in pairs. I was looking for four points of a kite, but instead saw three pairs above Arcturus. I have tried to retrospectively look for what I have seen, but clearly a lot of reading to do about the stars in Bootes. Furthermore, to my amazement the Corona Borealis was easily visible next door too.
Time to go somewhere new, where can I go from the big dipper, how about South and to Leo. This was very easy to see once I knew what shape to look for. Rocking horse works very well. It was easy to link Denebola to Spica and then back to Arcturus. I was reaching what I think was my limit for new knowledge in one evening. So, finally I saw in the book a mention of the Beehive cluster. I took out the 8x32 binoculars and found it easily. My first Messier object! In the binoculars, about 10 or 15 individuals stars were clearly grouped together in my field of view. A nice way to end the evening I thought.
Below are my attempts at sketching the observations out. Feedback very much appreciated!
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Great report! I think it's a really good idea to sketch the constellations as you have seen them, you will probably quite quickly have a better knowledge of the constellations than many more experienced astronomers, myself included! Did you manage to spot the 'bowl' of Virgo? To me Virgo is a 'Y' shape with the bowl making the top of the Y. Although quite faint it is very distinctive and contains numerous galaxies. One for next time!

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Excellent stuff Stephen! As Robert says, you will know more about constellations than a lot of people soon! I often do the same as you, post up on here by way of logging what I’ve done so that I can refer back to it in future.

Well done on your first Messier object too 👍👍

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That's a nice account, Stephen.  I think there's great pleasure to be had in recognizing a constellation for the first time. Some, like Draco, are very accessible in reasonable skies, but overlooked by the casual observer.
Your sketches show Cancer, one of the dimmer ones, so you should be able to see quite a few more that have brighter stars than it does. If you have found Bootes and Corona Borealis next to it, you can continue in the same direction and make out Hercules - a very distinctive shape made up from mid-magnitude stars. Following up behind them as the evening progresses is the unmistakeable bright star Vega in the very compact Lyra, and if you stay up late you will see Cygnus in the north east, another very obvious pattern (and if your skies are good, you will see it embedded in the milky way).
If your eastern horizon is good, try looking below Bootes and Hercules. You should see quite a few brighter stars - though possibly not arranged in patterns as familiar as those you have already identified - but your star charts should allow you to pick out Serpens Caput and Ophiuchus here, and perhaps Libra too.
Try to get out every time you see a clear sky, even if you don't have time for any "serious" observing or sketching. Even a minute or two is enough to see how the constellations you already know are moving around east to west as the year progresses, changing orientation as they go.

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That was a great account of your successes on Thursday night. I was out on Thursday too and also stayed up late as no work next morning. Glad I did - it was really clear and dark in my garden.

I was busy setting my telescope to take some photographs for the first hour or so but around 1am I had time to stop and just look up :)   In the east the summer constellations were on the rise but I struggled to recognise quite a few at first because there were so many more stars visible due to the pristine darkness. Hercules with his keystone body and wibbly wobbly arms (at least in my head) usually jumps out at me but it took a good 10 minutes of looking before I could see him clearly. Getting familiar with the shapes is especially useful for when you get really dark skies - otherwise you will be completely lost. As it was, I found Hercules and then corona borealis and then I was away ...

What was especially nice was seeing the milky way hovering above the trees in the east with the big cross of cygnus bang slap in the middle. Those familar shapes from summer reminded me there's something to look forward to in the coming months - even though the faint fuzzies of galaxy season will be almost impossible to find in the bright summer nights, there's always the spectacle of milky way from horizon to (almost) zenith to enjoy.

With still time to kill while my DSLR snapped away, next I went looking for Corvus - easy to locate below Virgo with it's sail shape and so with my binoculars (25 x 70 beasts) I tried to follow a star hop I had read about from the right hand star at top of sail (gamma Corvus) north and east to M104 - the Sombrero Galaxy. Low down in the south but it is still very bright in my binoculars and the line of stars from gamma Corvus lead me straight to it.  Really large, bright galaxy and certainly one I will revisit with the telescope again.


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Thank you everyone for those comments.

9 hours ago, Zermelo said:

Try to get out every time you see a clear sky, even if you don't have time for any "serious" observing or sketching. Even a minute or two is enough to see how the constellations you already know are moving around east to west as the year progresses, changing orientation as they go.

That is the idea, to try and observe as frequently as possible. I have been surprised about how quickly I am learning. I would say I am lucky to have quite good spacial awareness, so everything seems to make sense once you can figure out where you are looking! I can't say quite how helpful the book is.

I suppose there is also the added challenge of the back garden observing. I can't really see anything to the west as I live mid terrace, I can just see the two stars (Castor and Pollux? They're on my 'to do' list) in Gemini just above the rooftops at 10pm. To the south is Leeds/Bradford so Spica stands out but nothing else in that area of the sky. West I am looking directly at a street lamp, but higher in the sky is fine. The north and Zenith are good. I'm amazed at how quickly everything rotates, and realise it's going to be fun to follow the changes in the season as constellations move through the areas that are darker.

I'll concentrate on the north and west for the next few sessions. Learning Hercules (need to write a report) and Northern Cross. Frustratingly, can't seem to find M13 at the moment despite several attempts. Well, I have probably found it, but just can't 'see' it! More reports to follow!

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I started out this time last year - although I had been using binoculars for several years and was reasonable familiar with the winter sky (the summer one, less so).

It's good to learn the constellations in the east, as they rise and become more southerly later in the coming months. You'll be seeing them for 6 months or so before they vanish. And (surprise surprise) they are constantly being replenished with the next batch.

My first night, it took me 20 minutes or so to find M13. Now it's 20 seconds. It all becomes second nature after a while. A pair of 10x50 bins will find it on a good clear night.


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  • 5 weeks later...

Well, I didn't think I was going to be posting here so soon. Incidentally, today I was off work as I had just started a new reduced hours contract and so I will be working just 4 days a week now. Hopefully in the darker months that will give me an extra opportunity to stay up late if needed.

Funnily enough, I was just purchasing my eyepiece ready for my new telescope that I am collecting on Saturday. And, I was on the forum and realised the solar eclipse was "in progress". I quickly read a BBC article that suggested to use some binos to project the image safely on to a surface for observing. So, I quickly grabbed my 8x32s (which seem to be getting quite a bit of use so far!), and headed outside.
It was about 11am and cloudy, but literally at the moment I started to look, some patches of blue sky came along. I am sorry if that makes hard reading for anyone who specially booked a day off work and wasn't able to see anything! I didn't look up at first, but was amazed to see two crescents projected on to the kitchen floor as I waved the binoculars back and forth to see what would happen.
Actually, for a good 20 minutes or so the light cloud meant you had have a peak directly up to see the sun and see what was going on. And there was intermittent periods of strong light that I was able to have a good play with the binos and see what effect various things did to the projected image. It was interesting to see that what effect the magnification had on the contrast and brightness of the projection. Hopefully some useful knowledge for using the telescope.
So in summary, all in all a very unexpected, rather fortuitous and enjoyable experience! Plus, I also did some smartphone imaging too!
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Posted (edited)

Big update...and observing report from yesterday evening.

I am not sure why, but I feel like I always knew that I wanted a dobsonian telescope. Whilst doing the usual 'research' before buying, I think it must have been the disrupted supply chains that lead me to find UK based David Lukehurst and drop him an email. Anyway, long story short, David had built me a telescope and it was ready to collect this Sunday. I made the short trip down south to pick up the newest additional to our family (side note - do people name their telescopes? I feel like mine needs a name).
So, last night I finally had an evening with the following day off, plus the moon was moving back across the sky, enough so that in the evening that I could observe it from my garden before it disappeared below the rooftops. I had been checking clearnight all day at work. The forecast wasn't looking good, all shades of red with cloud cover and rain. However, I was determined I would set the scope up and have a go with it, even if there was nothing to look at.
9pm comes around, the wife is going to bed, and I am quickly taking the various bits and pieces outside. "Is this what middle age is going to be like from now on?", I wonder. I am also thinking, thank goodness I got a 10" scope as this thing is flippin' heavy. We had blue skies and I was pretty excited to make the most of the time I had.
The first attempt with the finderscope was, erm, challenging. Even to find the moon, I am then thinking I am so thankful that I am not trying to do this in the pitch black of the bleak mid-winter. Perhaps buying a telescope at the summer solstice is not such a crazy idea. Left is right, up is down, what is going on? I am searching around the endless blue sky, then the drainpipe comes in to view, too far! I pitch it back up a bit and finally the moon comes into the finderscope. Success!
I only have the one eyepiece, so not much to say here except it was just plug it in and off we go. Getting a feel for the 'exit pupil' and trying to match it to mine, this felt like another small thing that needs to be 'learnt'. It took me a bit of getting used to. The Baader Morpheus 14mm EP (thanks for the advice SGL) was actually a pretty good choice for observing the moon it turns out. I have just googled the maths and the true field of view is (76 / 90 = 0.84 ) which was just large enough for the moon to fit into to.
Anyway, the views I thought were stunning, and I was very happy with everything. I quickly got my "Turn Left at Orion" for some guidance of what I was looking at. I spent most of the time looking at the north part, Aristoteles and Eudoxus were really spectacular. If my eye gazed towards the limb, I could see the turbulence flickering the bright light from the moon. I did look for a bit at the southern highlands, but there wasn't really much to see at this magnification, most of it was in darkness still.
What was interesting to reflect on (pun intended), was after just half and hour or so, was how 'instinctive' adjusting the telescope was. I didn't even really need to think too hard, I just somehow knew which direction to adjust it to bring the moon back into the centre of the view. I also found that using what I have termed 'the hug' gave me the best stability for viewing. This is where I had my right arm over and around the secondary cage on the far side to me, and left hand on the cage to the left of the focuser. However, I will need to invest in some sort of mat to save my poor knees which were starting to ache after a while!
Now I was getting a nice steady and comfortable position, I spent a long time look at Mare Tranquillitatis and Mare Serenitatis. Another amazing concept to me was how the maria areas seemed smooth to start with, but as you looked, slowly, one by one, more and more tiny craters started to blemish their surface. And once I had seen them, I couldn't 'un-see' them. I hope this is what I have heard about in terms of an unconscious part of your brain processing the image so that your conscious can then interpret what you are seeing, very fascinating to me.
That is pretty much everything. A bonus was also spending some time with the blackbirds that are nesting in our ivy. I hadn't realised just how frequently they were feeding their chicks. They must have made about four or five visits whilst I was outside. All in all, very happy with this observing session. Fingers crossed for hopefully some clear skies Saturday when I would next be able to say up late.
A bonus pic through the eyepiece using my smartphone:
Edited by Stephen_M
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Very nice report. I think you will love your Dob even more once the darker skies are back but still plenty of things to see. You might want to invest on a RACI for comfort as well as having the 'correct' way round. A Telrad or Rigel might come handy as well to get in the right area of the sky and then use your finderscope for more precise pointing.

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