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Researching into stargazing at an emotional level


JamieQ
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Hello everyone!

This is my first post here at Stargazers Lounge. I'm a final year furniture design student in Nottingham, UK, researching how seating may (or may not) aid in naked-eye stargazing. 

The "naked-eye stargazing" I'm referring to is concerned more with experiencing the night sky on an emotional level, rather than purely observational. I myself love to understand what I see, recognise constellations and planets, look out for nebulae with binoculars, etc., but below all that, there is the awe and amazement which I (and I'm sure many of you) feel every time I look up at the night sky—this is what I'm concerned with in this project.

There's been nights where I've laid on top of my garden bench, played some ambient music through my headphones, and stared up for hours watching stars, satellite and meteors while contemplating the universe and finding resolve with personal issues.

I would love to hear a little about how you relate to the night sky on an emotional level. Or perhaps how you go about absorbing the wonders of the night sky?

Please note your replies may be used anonymously in the process or outcome of my project, so please make it clear, or don't reply, if you do not wish for your anonymous quote to be used.

I'm looking forward to discussing this with you!

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Oh this is refreshing! welcome to SGL! 

Long before I have owned any telescopes or even looked through one, I have harbored an insatiable curiosity and connectivity to the night sky and its wonders. When I was 7 I recall laying in the back seat of my fathers car on a return home from trips while looking at faint stars out the windows and asking how big the universe is? no matter what my father said, it would prompt ani to er question as if I knew there was much more to his answers. My childhood was fairly chaotic as my brother amd I were uprooted often as my fathers career often required moving from place to place which meant I would loose and gain new friends often. But the universe to me was stable, I would spend countless hours looking up and moving my bed so I could spot a star or two out my window, prompting more daydreaming about flying through space. 
 

When I think about what the night sky meant to me as a child I would say it wasn’t just a curiosity, it shaped me, it allowed me to imagine and daydream about things I could hardly grasp which made it all the more fascinating to my budding mind. In school at my desk I would often wonder about the universe untill the teacher would slap the ruler down and beg my attention. One thing I know for sure is that same childlike fascination has not in the least bit died, I loose myself looking up in the same way now 40 years later as I did as a seven year old. 

Edited by Sunshine
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40 minutes ago, JamieQ said:

There's been nights where I've laid on top of my garden bench, played some ambient music through my headphones, and stared up for hours watching stars, satellite and meteors while contemplating the universe and finding resolve with personal issues.

Good for you! I think we astronomers can sometimes forget to appreciate the simple things like this. 

There was a recent discussion that had some good thoughts that you may find useful:

 

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With regard to your originally stated objective:

"I'm a final year furniture design student in Nottingham, UK, researching how seating may (or may not) aid in naked-eye stargazing...

The "naked-eye stargazing" I'm referring to is concerned more with experiencing the night sky on an emotional level, rather than purely observational. "

I think the first thing I'd say is that although it's possible to stand to do naked eye observing, I think sitting, or lying down, is the only way to do so comfortably..and I personally feel that to feel anything at the emotional level, I need to be comfortable..and to be comfortable I have to be seated, or lying down.

I think, if practicable, lying down on a sun lounger or similar, is the best way to take in the scale of the sky above us..not the only way, but the best way. 

Others may see it differently of course😊

Dave

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Very much as above by Dave. There is something about being outside at night in a peaceful serene circumstance, fixed on a celestial target whilst comfortably sat down, that becomes almost in an instance, emotionally absorbing and utterly calming. Good posture whilst seated or perched upon an observers chair, bench, recliner or even lying down (never tried that personally), all muscles relaxed and immersed in the cold still night air, gazing upwards into the vastness of it all, maybe catching a meteor, time stands still. 

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42 minutes ago, F15Rules said:

I think sitting, or lying down, is the only way to do so comfortably.

I think, if practicable, lying down on a sun lounger or similar, is the best way to take in the scale of the sky above us..not the only way, but the best way. 

Sun loungers probably are good for the job. I have a zero-gravity chair which is very comfortable although does not recline far enough when I wish to look at the zenith, which is most of the time. Have you enjoyed evenings before on a sun lounger? 

 

52 minutes ago, scarp15 said:

Very much as above by Dave. There is something about being outside at night in a peaceful serene circumstance, fixed on a celestial target whilst comfortably sat down, that becomes almost in an instance, emotionally absorbing and utterly calming. Good posture whilst seated or perched upon an observers chair, bench, recliner or even lying down (never tried that personally), all muscles relaxed and immersed in the cold still night air, gazing upwards into the vastness of it all, maybe catching a meteor, time stands still. 

I'm curious what you mean by "observer's chair"? Are you able to describe this or show an example of one?

 

2 hours ago, Sunshine said:

In school at my desk I would often wonder about the universe untill the teacher would slap the ruler down and beg my attention.

Very relatable! I was just reminded of a time at school where in my end-of-term report my teacher half-jokingly suggested I was sometimes too busy fantasising about travelling through space than working! 

 

2 hours ago, RobertI said:

There was a recent discussion that had some good thoughts that you may find useful

Perfect, thank you! I'm sure this will be very valuable.

It's been great to hear theses stories so far. It's incredible to me how the sky is one of very few things which can have such a profound impact of so many people, and has been so for as long as us humans have existed.

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11 hours ago, JamieQ said:

Have you enjoyed evenings before on a sun lounger? 

Yes, but only a few times, and in summer months. More often I've used a reclining garden chair which goes back perhaps 20-30 degrees, but is comfy and much better than sitting fully upright.

I don't do this often though, as the good skies in the UK are rare enough, that when we have one I want to get my scope or binoculars out!

I'm much more likely to do some naked eye observing when I'm away on holiday on a warm springs or summers night🙂.

Dave

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My brother my best friend and myself used to do a lot of wild camping all over Snowdonia before climbing a mountain the next day,  The times spent lying down on the ground especially river banks (The river kept the cans cold) looking up and spotting all the constellations the bright stars talking amongst ourselves,

we bet there was someone out there doing exactly the same and looking at our Sun in a constellation they have.

we wondered what kind of life it is whether they are more or less advanced than us, knowing how indescribable the universes limitless nature is.

We would spend hours just looking at the beauty of the night sky, the next morning bag our tins up make sure the fire was out cover it up and the start another journey looking at the beauty of our world or part of while climbing/walking up a mountain.

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Welcome to the forum, that sounds like a fascinating project and I'm sure you'll find much suitable material here.

One aspect that really does benefit from a comfortable prone observing position is meteor viewing - you want to see as much of the sky as possible, and you may be there a long time!

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Contemplating the scale of things and the knowledge that 50% of those dots have planets of some sort going round them. Let’s your mind go on trips to wonder what they’d be like. 

 

I also like the silence of clouds when patches of them drift across the stars briskly at night. You sort of expect them to make a sound (which you expect as the daytime is so noisy in comparison).

 

For the ideal chair, it would have to the a full length recliner (“zero gravity”/sunlounger), so you’re totally supported and can go horizontal, but with the ability to rotate it without getting up to observe in a different direction. Would make for an awesome meteor spotting set-up. Might be a problem if it was too comfortable as you could easily drift off….

I often lie in a ground mat with a pillow, achieves the same, but isn’t quite as comfortable. With some  2x”constellation binoculars” to help your eyes see that bit deeper (more stars for us urban types), but without the weight or constraint of binoculars.

 

This time of year you also need to be warm or the fun runs out as your extremities freeze up. Thankfully someone invented the DryRobe, only the feet and hands to worry about now.

 

PeterW

 

PS I’d add some insulated pockets to the sides of the chair to hold observing “stuff” and keep it from getting cold/dewy. Beats fumbling in pockets or resting stuff on you that then falls off onto the ground. An insulated mug holder would be welcome too.

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On 27/01/2022 at 21:11, RobertI said:

Here are some examples of observing chairs: 

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/astronomy-observing-chairs.html

 

I see, yes these were one of the first things I encountered in my research. I'm sure great propped up by a telescope, though maybe less so for a relaxing evening looking up with just your eyes. On the note of these sorts of chair's I've read a truly fascinating book on the history of astronomer's chairs, the sort used in the 18th and 19th century within observatories. Definitely worth a look for those interested in the subject.

https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/astronomers-chair

On 28/01/2022 at 08:36, F15Rules said:

I don't do this often though, as the good skies in the UK are rare enough, that when we have one I want to get my scope or binoculars out!

Are there any other barriers besides the British weather which may prevent you from enjoying a night outside?

2 hours ago, PeterW said:

the ability to rotate it without getting up to observe in a different direction.

 This would be interesting, I've contemplated such a set up while out stargazing myself. I think it's a more stimulating experience to change direction from time to time and spot a new patch of the sky. The zero-gravity chair I have reclines with pushing and pulling of the legs, effectively changing your viewing altitude. Add rotation of azimuth and you become a human telescope on an Alt-az mount. It's also just fun too, last weekend I enjoyed watching planes go over my house on approach to East Midlands Airport by slowly reclining my chair and tracking as they fly above—though of course I can't easily flip my direction when they pass the zenith. 

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1 hour ago, JamieQ said:

On the note of these sorts of chair's I've read a truly fascinating book on the history of astronomer's chairs, the sort used in the 18th and 19th century within observatories. Definitely worth a look for those interested in the subject.

https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/astronomers-chair

Fascinating, thanks for the link. Pretty darn niche though! 🙂

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Welcome & great topic! 
On how I relate emotionally to astronomy I typically go through the following at some point in a session. 

Mild excited anticipation - as night falls on those rare days where the sky is blue to the horizon & the forecast is good & the moon is down & my schedule allows a late one (you see why they’re “rare” right?) I experience a light buzz. Picking targets, selecting gear, packing it in the car to equalise temperature, all part of the build-up. 
 

Nervousness- when I head out to my dark site, which is quite isolated, I still feel an instinctive situational anxiety around being out alone in the open in the dark dead of night. Once I start setting up this quickly gives way to… 

Focussed calmness - there’s a lot to think about when observing, locating targets, contemplating their beauty, astrophysical properties and sheer scale & distance. I find observing totally absorbing and calming an utter break from the pressures of daily life that brings with it an almost meditative calmness. 
 

Occasional elation/frustration based on success/failure in locating long searched for targets.  Maybe punctuated once or twice a session with an uttered “Yes!”. 
 

Post-session Euphoria - this usually sets in as I’m driving or walking back, returning to earth, the fellowship of humanity & warmth of family  after the calm isolation of contemplating deep space.  I’ve taken one or two friends observing who’ve been slightly freaked out by facing the scale of the objects we’re looking at - “doesn’t it make you feel insignificant?”. For me it’s quite the reverse. When we look at the 60 million year old fossilised light reaching us from a galaxy that’s not even where we’re looking anymore, the vast majority of the mass, the stuff, that we’re seeing is essentially dead, without consciousness. Huge stars, giant nebulae, whole galaxies separated by unfathomably vast emptiness; none of them can, at least in any way that we understand, do what I can do - consciously perceive, feel, love. Of all the atoms out there mine are unfeasibly lucky to have coalesced into a tiny squashy being living in a sliver of breathable atmosphere on a planet that’s “just right” around a stable star. Makes me feel unbelievably privileged to be here & able to look. 
A really good session will leave me with mental images of the views I’ve had that persist as I crawl into bed to warm up & drift off. 
The mild high quite often persists into the next morning - until normal life intervenes & leaves me needing another Astro-fix. 
 

(Oh & for the record, sitting to observe helps a huge amount with what I can see! Have also done lots of meteor watching from sun-loungers and binocular observing lying on the kids trampoline just identifying what passes overhead).

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For me, looking at the night sky with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope, is almost a tactile experience.  Having miniscule understanding, as humans do, of what we're actually looking at excites me, and has kept me thrilled for decades. Strangely, images of the universe, although spectacular and informative, don't have nearly the same impact on me as seeing the milkyway sweep from horizon to horizon, or watching the Moon and planets move among the constellations, and the occasional visiting comet grace our skies with its ghostly presence. In a nut shell, the universe as seen from our back gardens or from a dark countryside setting is vibrant and alive. Even the fresh night air, and the sounds of owl's chatting to each other, or a Curlew playing pop at your presence too close to its ground based nest, all adds to the overall feeling of contentment. Then to be able to climb into bed after a night of exploration and warm my frozen knees on my wife is just wonderful. Strangely, she never seems to mind!

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I like the idea of playing some of my ambient music through headphones while I observe but I get tangled enough with my hat, head torch and reading glasses so will give that one a miss

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When I'm at my campsite having an observation session, I usually end the session with naked eye observing in a comfy chair, often with wine. To me, this is as essential part of the astronomy experience as looking at 'faint fuzzys' through the eyepiece. On a warm summer evening, I can almost feel like I can see the milky way move, and the feeling of the earth spinning against the backdrop of our galaxy is quite magical. 
Over the last few years I've seen such an upsurge in backyard astrophotography that I sometimes think that the romantic (for want of a better word) nature of physical observing is getting left behind. As nice as it is to wow your friends with great images on the internet, there's something quite primeval and organic about experiencing the night  sky in person, and in real time. There's a nourishing aspect to it that's quite unexplainable. 

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On 27/01/2022 at 20:37, F15Rules said:

I think sitting, or lying down, is the only way to do so comfortably

I feel that one aspect which would make this research stand out from the crowd, would be to consider the needs of people of different ages and personal mobility - or joint stiffness ;)

 

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On 29/01/2022 at 11:17, JamieQ said:

Are there any other barriers besides the British weather which may prevent you from enjoying a night outside?

Oh, yes..in no particular order..

- fatigue

- domestic issues/events

- something very good on TV (a rarity)

- mood/inertia ..last night a case in point: a lovely night the later it got, but by then I was tired, couldn't stay up too late as I had to be up early this morning..so I didn't bother🥴

And this morning I regret it!!

Dave

 

 

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2 hours ago, F15Rules said:

: a lovely night the later it got, but by then I was tired, couldn't stay up too late as I had to be up early this morning..so I didn't bother🥴

And this morning I regret it!!

Dave

 

 

What a night you missed Dave! Stars right down to the horizon and as steady as a photograph through my scope, and the colours were so vivid. The Patriotic Triple in Cygnus low against my northern horizon stopped me in my tracks with its colour contrast. Still, don't feel bad, there'll be other nights like that some day. :biggrin:

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On 29/01/2022 at 12:47, SuburbanMak said:

Post-session Euphoria

Yes, this can turn a late night into a very late night.
If a session has gone well, you can come in at 1 a.m. still buzzing, re-check some objects to see if you really did get them, check in on the forum to see who else has been out, still not ready for bed ...

 

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On 27/01/2022 at 19:37, F15Rules said:

sitting, or lying down, is the only way to do so comfortably

A neighbour has a jacuzzi in his garden, and sometimes sits out after dark and looks up and about.
I have sometimes thought that the ideal observing garden might include an obsy and a jacuzzi, but probably not both in use at the same time.

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4 hours ago, mikeDnight said:

What a night you missed Dave! Stars right down to the horizon and as steady as a photograph through my scope, and the colours were so vivid. The Patriotic Triple in Cygnus low against my northern horizon stopped me in my tracks with its colour contrast. Still, don't feel bad, there'll be other nights like that some day. :biggrin:

Thanks Mike.

I looked outside early evening, following a lovely day, with cloudless blue skies (but lots of Con trails - just where are all these people going to at this time of year?🥴).. it was now mostly cloudy (this does happen a lot where I live), so I decided to look out again later.

So, at c 8pm I looked out and could now see some stars, but it was very hazy and lousy transparency..I could barely make out the 7 main stars of Orion..hmm.

My wife and I then watched something on TV til about 9pm, and I went to look once more..by now more stars were out, but I realised I wouldn't get out and set up properly for c 20mins..so I just went to watch more TV!

During the night I answered a call of nature at c2am..we have a Velux in the en suite, and the stars overhead were stunning! If only they'd been like that a few hours later...as you say Mike, there will be other nights..👍🤭..

Dave

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