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How do you plan your observing?


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I'm looking for some suggestions on how to plan my viewing sessions and recording your observations (word template maybe?). Currently I compile a list of objects that I would like to view by reading the monthly guide, reading various posts in here and just browsing Stellarium. I've printed off the Messier and Caldwell lists which I'm hoping to start using and I've also got Turn Left at Orion book on the way so maybe that would bring some structure to my observing.

So my viewing session goes as below:

1) Get a list together from reading posts

2) Wait for clear skies

3) Run around trying to find the list written on a scrap of paper.. hoping it's not left at work

4) Set up the scope

5) View objects.

6) Realise a couple of days later that I didn't make any notes because I was having fun watching.

My list of the next viewing is below (hopefully tonight if it's clear):



NGC 6530

IC 5146


NGC 7243

NGC 7235




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Very similar, except I don't do step 1 or step 3!

I have a step 5a) Go back into house to find magazines, books and Stellarium. Try to remember what to look at, go back outside and can't see a thing/forget what I was going to look at...

You get the idea! I'll look at Astroplanner!!

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As yourself but I add the step for DSO's of printing off charts from Carte du Ceil complete with Telrad circles over the objects I want to see. (Even if you don't have a Telrad it makes using the charts in the dark easier). It makes life easier!

I also scribble notes etc all over the charts and then take them in at the end of the session to "copy up into best!".

Edited by Bizibilder
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  • 3 weeks later...

Mine goes a little bit like this:

1) It's clear! Quick! Run outside!

2) Grab as many things as I can in a short space of time

3) Forget to make notes, and spend the rest of the evening wishing I did

So ... I also need some more structure! Will give the Astroplanner link a try !

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If it's up I look at it - if someone knows something I don't and suggests something - I look at that too - if it's mentioned in SaN I'll give it a go - if it's good seeing I might even get the camera out. If I have no more ideas - I get a constellation tour from the handset :)

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i always find myself trying to decide what to look at, cause i have found a few objects i can now locate them easily so the last few sessions i have had have been M31, Double Cluster, Moon and Jupiter, i really should plan more and try and make the most of my nights! :)

I dont plan at all, i just get my gear and go!


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I used to try and find as many targets in a night as possible but found I was constantly moving about. now I tend to find the constellation that's best positioned and try and locate all the targets in that constellation. I use http://stargazerslounge.com/equipment-reviews/111106-illustrated-guide-astronomical-wonders-first-impressions.html which is excellent for this. run out of targets and work on the next best positioned constellation - simples! this is also a great thread for this http://stargazerslounge.com/primers-tutorials/81493-object-list-indexed-constellation.html

I do like the Lunar 100 list too http://stargazerslounge.com/observing-lunar-solar/114080-useful-lunar-100-list.html and of course if a planet is well position eg Jupiter now, I cannot resist. in other words, I'm back where I started - looking at lots of different things.:)

Edited by Moonshane
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I think most UK astronomers work on the theory of , Check SAT24, Check the MET Office Forecast, Make a mental note of what they want to see, Check SAT24, Check the MET Office, look outside , check SAT24, Look outside again. SAT24 , MMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmmm ......Get scope, and Go, ..... wish you'd written down mental notes earlier........ I think Astro-planner will be a welcome addition to my Laptop.

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Dig out a relevant constellation and see what is in it that I can pick out. Then I tick them off - if I feel like it.

Have a few diagrams to use and have various lists off the web. Helps to have an idea of what is actually up there at the time of year.

Not really a plan I suppose, just an idea.

Also I may decide to view a few Messiers or I may decide to locate a few coloured doubles.

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The only thing I now plan is what object I'll be imaging etc... for visual observing I used to take a "whatever I can find up there" approach, then went all list oriented with Astroplanner (useful app!) for a while. Now though, once the imaging is set up and on it's way I just observer whatever takes my fancy...


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For working through a large list using printed maps (Uranometria in my case) I find this a good strategy:

1. Make list as Excel spreadsheet (mine is based mainly on Shapley-Ames, Arp and Hickson galaxy catalogues).

2. Enter Uranometria chart number for each item (time-consuming but worth the effort).

3. Order list by chart number and print out.

4. At start of observing session, find chart covering the area of sky of interest.

5. Check which targets are on that chart and and start hunting, making notes and crossing items off as they are found.

6. Enter observations on the spreadsheet afterwards. From time to time a revised list of unobserved targets can be made and printed out.

I find the chart-based approach more efficient than a constellation-by-constellation or random all-sky approach. For preparing beforehand, a planisphere shows me what will be well placed, so I can find the relevant Uranometria chart and be ready.

IF Sat24 and the Met office indicate any possibility of clear sky (and the moon phase is favourable) then I drive to my dark site and hope for the best.

William Herschel (who was pretty dedicated!) reckoned that with the weather, moon, seasonal and other restrictions he managed only 80-100 hours of deep sky observing per year, i.e. an average of about 2 hours per week. So whenever I find myself sitting under cloud at my dark site I just enjoy the experience and don't get too despondent about it.

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I generally follow the handset tour, and on the CG-5 there is a constellation tour that I will use. But I also check out all the listed doubles, globular clusters, etc. I tried planning it all out, but ended in a muddle! There's rather a lot to keep track of. I am hoping to track down more of the Caldwell and NGC catalogues now I have a better go-to system.


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