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How do you go about observing?


Altair40
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Do you just go out and wander about? Or do you seek a specific 'target'?

I seem to get the most from my observing sessions when I'm after something specific and then wander about after locating (or not) my target; sometimes even trying to identify what I've seen in Stellarium afterwards.

Just curious!

Why does it always take me nearly an hour to positively get to something if i'm searching for the first time?! Odd that...

Edited by Altair40
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My routine depends on sky conditions and what's visible.

1 General: If There is a planet visible, I look at that first, then the moon if it's around, then I go onto the rest of the sky (If there is time) or if I feel like it I will stick with the moon. I will look again at planets Mars, Jupiter and saturn every hour or so to see if anything more is visible (because sky conditions may have improved and because the planets rotate and different features may have come into view.

2 Deep sky: If the moon is up I will look for double stars rather than galaxies or nebulae. I decide on a particular constellation and select a region that I havn't done before, then check what double stars are there using Redshift 4 (I dont think this can be done with stellarium easily but on Redshift 4 they are marked with a horizontal line through them). I concentrate on doubles that are less than one arcsecond apart as I like the challenge, sometimes it takes several minutes of staring to see the components, then I record their position angle, brightness and colours)

3 Deep sky 2: If there is no moon or only a thin crescent, I look for galaxies, planetary nebulae and clusters by selecting an area of sky I havn't looked at before and looking on redshift 4 for what objects are there. Then I write down my impressions of the object in my observing log. If the sky conditions are misty, I look at double stars intead.

4 Sometimes conditions are so bad, mist and unsteady atmosphere or lots of clouds that I give up and try again later.

5 I often break the routine to look at favourite objects such as the globular clusters, bright planetary nebulae, bright galaxies.

6 If it's an all-night session, I often have a coffee as tiredness makes me feel like stopping.

7 I don't bother looking for diffuse nebulae or supernova remnants as they are almost never visible in my moderately light-polluted sky, except the Orion & Crab nebulae and 1 or 2 others. There may be more I can see but my software shows hundreds but doesnt display the surface brightness magnitude, only their overall magnitude which is not very indicative of visibily.

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It depends. When planets are in good positions for imaging, they are the prime targets. Lately, I am doing more DSO, and especially Messier hunting. In that case I get out my Sky Atlas 2000 and decide which objects I will try. I often first scan the skies with the 15x70 binoculars before having a go with the C8.

I also check up on "old friends" like M13, M27 and M57 in northern summer skies, the Scorpius / Sagitarius in more southerly summer skies, and of course M42 and M45 in winter skies.

Much also depends on the weather. Very transparent but turbulent skies (particularly prevalent in winter) are not that good for planets, so I only go for the DSOs and skip imaging the planets (always give them a quick peek if possible though).

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Thanks, that's interesting.

I'd like to try for M13, that open cluster but need to check Stellarium to see when I can get at it.

My back garden view is dark ish but I'm limited to the east, north and south. Due to trees, I'm also limited to about 20 deg up from the horizon, although there are two 'windows' where I can get to 5 degrees up. One to the east and one to the south.

Auriga is framed particularly nicely, just now. Maybe I should just investigate the constellations as they present themselves...

;-)

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Maybe I should just investigate the constellations as they present themselves...;-)

This is the approach I take due to my limited viewing window (SSW - NNW) which actually I find quite good as makes me seek out objects available and 'forces' me to look for things I would probably normally ignore.

Once I have selected the constellation and object I want to find I check it out on Starry Night to find the best time for viewing - then go and find it!

For me this very structured and methodical approach works quite well :)

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Thanks, that's interesting.

I'd like to try for M13, that open cluster but need to check Stellarium to see when I can get at it.

My back garden view is dark ish but I'm limited to the east, north and south. Due to trees, I'm also limited to about 20 deg up from the horizon, although there are two 'windows' where I can get to 5 degrees up. One to the east and one to the south.

Auriga is framed particularly nicely, just now. Maybe I should just investigate the constellations as they present themselves...

;-)

M13 is not in a very good position at the moment. One other thing I have recently been doing is NOT looking at photos of new objects before observations, to prevent any bias or "wishful thinking".

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Summertime is ok for wandering around just looking at whatever catches my eye but when it's -10C with a bit of a breeze, i like to have a plan. :)

For DSOs, the sky condition and window of opportunity determines what targets would be best to pursue. If the Moon's out, i check to see if there's favorable libration for a specific feature, or a favorable light angle for low altitude features like domes and rilles. Crater rays are fun events to catch too, so that list is also checked before going out.

Although it's fun to accidentally catch a GRS transit or watch a surprise Galilean satellite event, i prefer taking a few minutes to check SkyTools3 to see if anything will be happening during my session. I also check the 'Heavens Above' site for Iridium flares and satelllite flybys.

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Thanks for that - I've only seen a satellite apart from ISS once. Pure accident but it definitely had that certain wow factor for me...

As for cold, I think I'm cold adapted now - three t shirts, several pullovers and a wind proof coat plus hat and I don't care. Not nearly as nasty as an ice dive! Survived half an hour in 1C water in a lake a couple of years ago. Got out when my feet went numb!

Edited by Altair40
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Also, thanks to Michael.

I can wait for M13. There is now a possibility of setting up a holiday in the south of France to try out Ollie's TEC 140 and that huge Dob of theirs.

I drive the Shogun on the wrong side of the road half the time anyway! More seriously, you do have to be responsible with nearly three tons of vehicle...

Edited by Altair40
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My approach is generally the same month to month. I buy Sky at Night and check the center pages for this months interesting objects. I try to keep up to date through the year.

I then check the position of anything I want to see in Stellarium - and go look for if the weather lets me get out with the scope and assuming I have the time. They usually have a good spread of easy objects and "small challanges" in the magazine.

Sometime I'm just lazy though - pop up the dark site with the lads and shadow whatever they're looking at lol. They're allways well appraised of what's up.

The nice thing is that we all share views through each others scopes and it makes a great social occassion as well as observing. One or two of us can often get wrapped up helping a newbie setup so that's good as well helping them to find their first objects :)

Edited by brantuk
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I like to get myself organised for doing visual as I need to observe away from home (street light problems). I usually make an object list up from Mike Swansons Nexstar Observing List application and either use the laptop to go from object to object or just write a list of co-ordinates to use at the scope. I should probably be more structured about logging my observations as well but tbh I just enjoy looking and feeling connected with it all.

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Also, thanks to Michael.

I can wait for M13. There is now a possibility of setting up a holiday in the south of France to try out Ollie's TEC 140 and that huge Dob of theirs.

I drive the Shogun on the wrong side of the road half the time anyway! More seriously, you do have to be responsible with nearly three tons of vehicle...

For m13 you really want a big aperture. In my old 6" it showed as a circular haze, with a hint of granularity, but in my 8" it is like an explosion of stars. When my 8" had first light, m13 was the first object I observed, and it blew me away.

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as others have said I think the approach depends on the conditions.

often my approach is have a quick look outside, say to myself 'oooh it's clear', carry the scope out, collimate and let it cool, go out after a bit to observe, carry it back in when I realise it's clouded over!

seriously though, when I manage to get an observing session, I tend to

  1. Look at the moon and planets first if they area up and in a good position. I am 'doing' the Lunar 100' and probably always will be and the moon in partic often disappears off behind my house quite quickly - I observe quite near to my house to reduce the effects of house lights (my own and neighbours) being switched on.
  2. If the sky is very clear (and as Michael says this often means not very steady) then this is ideal for faint targets once the moon is gone.
  3. If the sky has some fine cloud then really the faint stuff is hard to find so I tend to look at double stars and brighter clusters (but even the latter are affected by light cloud). Light cloud/haze can sometimes make the sky very stable and can help as it acts like a diffuser, allowing faint secondaries to be seen more readily.
  4. Either way I tend to concentrate on one constellation using 'The Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders'. This book is really excellent and you can literally go out with it, decide on say Orion, and then have lots of targets, well described, to try and find.
  5. Once I have found what I hoped, I then look at some of the old favourites as no matter how often you look, something like M42 or M13 will always make you smile and gasp.

As an aside I often do some binocular observing with my 15x70s while the scope is cooling.

In principle I like to try and find a new Messier or NGC, a new double star and a new Lunar 100 feature every time I observe. If I can do that then I am happy. If I can't I'm still usually happy! :) Be aware though that we all have certain nights when due to whatever reason we just cannot seem to find anything easily or even at all.

A last point is that if you don't have a Telrad then finding targets if so much easier with one.

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I usually check for whats up there at that time of the year, then go through the given constellations, using scrap paper as bookmarks I write down on the paper what object is in that constellation, then put them all in my pocket sky atlas and away I go :).

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Altair - As M13 rises late you could check out the globular cluster M3 instead. It is only slightly fainter than m13 but rises earlier, lying between coma berenices and bootes. It can be a little hard to find as there are no bright stars near it but so bright you might see it directly in your finderscope.

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Altair - As M13 rises late you could check out the globular cluster M3 instead. It is only slightly fainter than m13 but rises earlier, lying between coma berenices and bootes. It can be a little hard to find as there are no bright stars near it but so bright you might see it directly in your finderscope.

perrin thanks. You have just solved a mystery for me. I was observing coma berenices last week but before i did that i saw the most amazing globular cluster i have ever seen. I couldnt think back to exactly where it was to find it on Stellarium, but you have pinpointed it for me. I remember it looking distinctly "Buck Rogers" like. It was most definitely M3 that i saw. It was big and really quite bright.

Edited by LukeSkywatcher
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Do you just go out and wander about? Or do you seek a specific 'target'?

I have a target list of DSOs which I work from. Started with Messiers and have gone on from there. I mostly look at new objects but revisit old favourites if they're nearby or conditions are unconducive to finding new ones.

Why does it always take me nearly an hour to positively get to something if i'm searching for the first time?! Odd that...

It comes with practice, though even with practice you still find some objects harder than others. Best thing is to have a sufficiently detailed chart that matches the limiting mag of your finder or lowest power eyepiece, so that you can get to the exact location of the target. Then it's just a question of whether the target itself is actually visible.

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Just quickly thinking - is that the 'Jewel Box'?

That's next to the 'Southern Cross', I think?

47 Tucanae is just next to the SMC and is a naked-eye globular cluster. The Jewel Box is an open cluster (close to the Southern Cross, but so are the Southern Pleiades). These two open clusters are a great sight, and are found well within the band of the Milky Way, unlike the SMC.

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I have a look at Stellarium and pick a few targets in the daytime. Then I divide then into:

1) Ones I know I can find no problem.

2) Ones that have eluded me so far - including some pretty basic Messier ones I must admit.

I have a crack at the easier stuff over to the west first if I'm feeling organised and then try to nail at least one object I've never spotted before - with variable success rates. Then it's cup of tea time and perhaps another bash in a couple of hours when the southern sky has changed.

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