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Learning the language of observations

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#1 dennyhenke


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Posted 01 December 2012 - 10:17 AM

As I work through various lists and record observations it occurs to me that I might not have the proper language to describe what I'm seeing. I assume there are some standards in visual astronomy and that the language used to record observations might also be a general aid even for those not interested in recording it all.

I'm guessing that learning to sketch also helps one learn and I intend to explore that at some point as well but right now am thinking more about the language.


#2 dennyhenke


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Posted 01 December 2012 - 10:33 AM

With a bit more searching I found this which might be helpful to folks: http://www.astronomy...Description ...

There are lots more helpful pdfs here:

#3 BillFerris



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Posted 01 December 2012 - 11:21 AM

The best way to learn the language of any hobby is to read how knowledgeable, experienced hobbyists use the language. Magazines such as Astronomy and Sky and Telescope are a great resource, especially at this time of year. As we enter the heart of the holiday season, one or both mags often publish telescope shopping guides or annual observing guides. These can be in the form of articles or special inserts. Observing guide books are another great resource. There are many from which to choose. The Peterson Field Guides: Stars and Planets covers a lot of ground and is portable. Though dated in its science, Burnham's Celestial Handbook is a classic deep sky guide. The David Eicher series of deep sky observing guides are very good. Stephen James Omeara's guides are excellent. These are just a few and there are many others worthy of an Amazon wish list for the astronomy enthusiast.

The Web, while being free and accessible, is also the resource cluttered by the most noise. Much of what's on the Web is either an umpteenth rehashing of information that, along the way, has lost much of its accuracy or, even worse, is just plain wrong. The good news is that, if one is willing to invest a little time in reading articles and books written by knowledgeable observers, it doesn't take long to develop an ability to sift the wheat from the chaff. There are many excellent Web sites offering accurate information and useful advice, including several published by regular contributors to Cloudy Nights.

If there is an astronomy club in your area, I'd encourage you to visit their next meeting. Talking with other amateurs is a great way to learn how the language is used. Conversations--both in person and online--offer opportunities to ask questions of knowledgeable folks. They also reveal that astronomy, as a subject, is so vast that it's practically impossible for one person to be expertly-versed in all aspects of the science or hobby. There is always something new to learn. And along with new topics of discussion comes new jargon to help us communicate.

Who knows, perhaps you or someone you know will someday coin a phrase that expands the language of amateur astronomy.

Bill in Flag

#4 dennyhenke


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Posted 01 December 2012 - 11:52 AM

Thanks Bill! I've been reading constantly these past couple months but much of what I read is a mix of current astronomy news or academic type descriptions. Wikipedia has proved an amazing resource. But it seems there has been little mention in most places I read of the nuts and bolts of what to record if one is interested in recording/logging observations. I've picked up bits and pieces.

I did meet some of the folks from the St. Louis Astronomical Society at a recent star party that happened to be planned at my nieces' school, a happy coincidence and I met a couple of very knowledgeable folks there!

I've had a blog since 2003 and have decided to redirect it from it's previous focus of homesteading and permaculture to my current exploration of astronomy. Here's the most recent post, based on my question above. I'll be adding more as I document and learn: http://ourtomorrow.b...asic-skills-...

#5 City Kid

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Posted 01 December 2012 - 08:42 PM

I've found that there are three words that are very useful in describing objects: faint, fuzzy, blob. :lol:

#6 Dennis_S253


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Posted 01 December 2012 - 09:08 PM

ghostly, don't forget ghostly.

#7 mayidunk


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Posted 01 December 2012 - 09:23 PM

"Like diamonds on black velvet" has always been a particular favorite of mine. :grin:

#8 Man in a Tub

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Posted 01 December 2012 - 09:54 PM

Not too long ago, a member's young daughter described open cluster Messier 37 as "sparkle and glow." Talk to the kids.

The Herschel Astronomical Abbreviations are good to know. They have already been linked to at the astronomylogs site above. Simple and efficient and devised by William Herschel whom many consider the greatest observer in history.

#9 FirstSight


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Posted 02 December 2012 - 07:08 AM

Generously sprinkle the words "mottled", "stellar-like core", an "elongated/oval glow" and "held with direct/averted vision" and you're halfway home. These words nearly always fit fuzzy, dimly glowing objects, whether distant stars or distant streetlights".

#10 sg6



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Posted 02 December 2012 - 08:17 AM

Someone's daughter here refered to Capella as "The Alien Disco Star".

So make up your own language of observations, create a few new ones. :foreheadslap:

#11 dennyhenke


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Posted 02 December 2012 - 08:42 AM

LOL. You guys are killing me. :grin:

Don't think anyone suggested star dust or unicorn sprinkles though the latter might be taken the wrong way.

Funny thing, we jokingly refer to Capella as the Disco star :rainbow: . How do we go about getting that one officially renamed?

I've also found a few personal observation logs online and have read through their descriptions... FirstSight is correct... all of his suggested words are used often. :goodjob:

#12 REC



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Posted 02 December 2012 - 10:08 AM

That's exactly how I describe the double star cluster!

#13 Feidb



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Posted 02 December 2012 - 07:37 PM

I use mottled a lot.

I've been doing this 45 years and I just sort of evolved in my note taking. I can't really say how I picked up the language. It just happened over time. I never really cared how scientific or compliant it was with anything, they were my own words so I've always been happy with them. Over the decades the words I use have sort-of fallen in line with others, to a point. I still don't worry too much about it.

My descriptions appear every month in the Las Vegas Astronomical Society Observer's Challenge and they don't seem out of place with anyone else's that I can see. It wasn't because I was trying to comply with a standard though.

I wouldn't worry about it. Just go with the flow and let your language develop over time. It will come out in the wash. If it's English, people will understand it, at least here in the U.S. and anywhere else where they speak it!

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