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Do you create an observing list before Observing?

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#1 aa6ww

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 12:22 AM

Hi Folks,

I have a question regarding how astronomers out here address the night sky. More often than not, I create some type of a game plan I take out with me, even if I'm just out for a few hrs. It usually includes a few objects I'm interested in seeing, or a full blown observing list I want to address throughout the night.
If nothing else, I sometimes just pick a few constellations I know are up in the sky, and focus on everything I can see in them, from double stars, globulars, nebulars, galaxies, and sometimes just the colors of the individual starts that make up the constellations.
I look at individual objects in depth, trying out a variety of eyepieces and filters, even over extending magnifications to see if there is anything out there that high power could bring out. At the other extreme, I go as wide as I can on whatever I'm looking at, just to see how it looks among beside its nearby neighbors.
On outings where I go away from home for several days, I could spend months putting together an entire observing list of new objects Ive never seen before, so I'm never just gazing into space and wondering what am I going to look at during the night. If Jupiters in the sky, I check to see if the GRS will transit during my time out, and I always check to see if the ISS or Hubble is going by overhead, and set my cell phone alarm to alert me a few minutes before it happens.
No one I observe with, prepares like this, so they more often than not, wait for me to find something in the sky, or just wander to objects they have seen a hundred times again and again.

On new moon weekends, I generally begin creating some type of observing list very early in the week, and keep notes of objects I either read about, or think about, on a piece of paper I carry around with me through out the week. Toward the end of the week I start looking at photos of these objects, and learn more about them, so I know what to expect once I get out side.

I just purchased The Complete Guide to the Herschel Objects, so this helps tremendously in helping me deceide what I want to look at for my time outside.

Do other astronomers observe like this, by creating observing lists they want to address, or do you mostly just get out and point your scope up, and see what you can find?

I'm just asking because I'm realizing there are many similarities in how I observe, compared to the many good people out here in these forums.

Thanks for chiming in... :imawake:

Ralph in Sacramento...

#2 MikeRatcliff

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 12:55 AM

You're definitely more organized than I am. I do make lists but often stray away or ignore. Sometimes that is because I made a mistake in having the list objects too far into a light dome.

I do like to revisit a few old favorites if the night is good, to judge the conditions and see if more details come up. I also like to look at a page in a chart that is well placed in the sky and see new objects.

Recently I bought the Night Sky Observers Guide. I should have done that a long time ago. I then focus on a constellation and use the 5-star rating system in the NSOG, and see if there are any 3* or better objects that I haven't seen before. That has worked really well.

One thing I'm bad about is keeping track of what I've seen before (beyond the Messier list). I seem to be ADHD on observing programs, pretty good for a couple of months and then forget them. I've seen most of the "Best 100 beyond the Messier" type objects, have seen a lot of the H400, and a fair number of challenge objects, but don't ask me to prove it!

Mike

#3 rinalmj

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 08:46 AM

I always make a list before observing. I use a combination of Sky Safari, the Pocket Sky Atlas, Burham's, Sky & Telescope, and my previous observing notes, which I record by hand and then transfer to an Excel spreadsheet. I have several observing lists in the spreadsheet, and I typically consult it to identify objects that I haven't seen, or have marked for revisiting. I haven't been in the habit of looking at photographs but having heard you and some others mention this, I may start doing that as well.

The list gets made in my observing notebook. I group objects by constellation, noting the corresponding page from my charts, and I generally order everything by right ascension. I typically don't stray from the list much, except to view a few favorite objects throughout the night.

#4 MikeBOKC

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 08:54 AM

A year or so ago I sat down and drafted a list of observable objects by season . . . spring, summer, fall and winter. I then printed those four lists and slid them into plastic sheet protectors and they travel with me on a clipboard in my equipment case. I just hang the clipboard on a hook under my tripod spreader and have the current season's pages on top. It's a handy reference that often encourages me to hunt down some obscure targets, especially on a dark sky outing. I would guess there are about 80-100 objects on each season's list. Of course I also check observing lists published in S&T and Astronomy, and if something particularly impressive is on tap (say a new supernova or comet) that goes on a yellow stickum on the front of the clipboard for that evening.

#5 coutleef

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 09:15 AM

i wrote in the margins of my pocket skyatlas the objects in the 400 Herschell list and carry photocopies of J OMeara's book by month with me. going through that list is interesting and optimized for each month.

#6 GlennLeDrew

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 10:18 AM

I virtually never prepare with lists; not since about 1990-ish, anyway.

#7 Madratter

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 10:34 AM

I do use lists. I used to work through the list in "1000+". Now days, I use SkyTools 3. That said, I'm far from a slave to them. If I get the urge to check out M41 and it isn't on the list, M41 gets looked at. I own the list. It doesn't own me.

#8 drbyyz

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 10:57 AM

I do something similar to what MikeBOKC does except by constellation. I have a sheet for each constellation that is currently in a good spot in my sky for observing with various objects I want to observe on it along with some notes about each one so I know whether or not it's a good night to go for that object. I've made them primarily based of AL observing programs that I'm working on and then whenever I come across an object while reading/browsing this site, I add it to the appropriate list. The sheets are in plastic page protectors that I have a little hook to attach to the scope. When I'm out I see what constellation is in a good part of the sky, go to that page and start working from there.

I've tried making a list for one night but I always mess it up or get off track. I do have a dark sky list as well of objects that I haven't been able to see in my yard, or feel will look significantly better at a dark sky site.

#9 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 10:59 AM

I virtually never prepare with lists; not since about 1990-ish, anyway.


:waytogo:

I often have a few new objects to check out but I never write anything down. My favorite objects are those that I have serendipitously "discovered" in my wanderings about the night sky.

Jon

#10 MawkHawk

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 11:08 AM

If I'm gonna be observing alone then I'll create a plan. I work by constellation starting in the west and work toward the east. This is because I've found that it is faster and more accurate with goto to stick to one area of the sky at a time.
If I'm gonna be with a group then I'll write down a few things that I'd like to see here and there. This is because I've found that when I'm in a group that whatever plan I have quickly goes out the window as people want you to look all over the place.

#11 csrlice12

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 11:14 AM

Sometimes will use the "Tour" funtion if a quick nite out and I'm observing from in-town (White zone). I sometimes use SkyMaps, I'll look at the back and see whats available and check it out. Sometimes though, I'll just pick a patch of sky, put the eyeball to eyepiece and see what I can see. I do visit old friends like the Lagoon Nebula too.

#12 NeilMac

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 11:24 AM

i go by whats popular and available for the night. moon would be a priority if its available. time has been an issue so summer probably be different since it wont be rushed.

#13 csa/montana

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 11:27 AM

Ralph, I do indeed create an observing list prior to observing. I sometimes veer off track, when I find something else to view, however.

Sometimes I will simply take one or two Constellations & try to observe every target I can see in them; using one of my charts, books, etc.

When I first began observing; I didn't know enough to make a list, and just skipped all over the sky, not really seeing much of anything; as there's simply way too much to view!

BTW; great post & question!

#14 Madratter

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 11:51 AM

I should add that I almost always mix in some old favorites along with targets that I haven't seen before. Those aren't necessarily on the list.

Objects like NGC 457, the ET cluster, are old friends that I come back to time and again.

BTW, I do sometimes just sweep the sky and see what I can find. I especially like objects that are near each other. If you just use a goto scope, you can sometimes lose that context. That was brought home to me when I observed a star cluster (NGC 133), went to another one on my list (King 14), and realized, wait a second, I was just here! NGC 146 was in the same field as well. (All of them were pretty unimpressive in the scope I was using so I did not immediately notice them when I was looking at NGC 133).

#15 Greyhaven

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 12:13 PM

Ralph
I promise myself every year that I'll become a more organized observer. I rarely carry more than a few objects on a list to the scope and find myself picking other objects of opportunity and when weather suddenly ends a session I've lost my goal. This year will be better planned ... unless something really interesting catches my eye, after all who knows when the opportunity might present itself again. :crazy:
Be Well
Grey

#16 Feidb

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 03:42 PM

I absolutely prepare ahead of time and plan out my evening viewing. I use Megastar and always print star charts with the specific objects I want to find for that night. I have lists I'm trying to complete including the Herschel 2, the Herschel 2500, the Collinder list and the Skiff & Luginbuhl list (from the back of their book). Those are the main ones but there are a few more. I have all of these lists (including the others I haven't mentioned) already saved in Megastar. I pull each of them up and print them out based on what's up during that time I'll be out.

Whenever I observe one of these objects, I eliminate it from each of the lists in Megastar so they don't show up again. That way, I don't duplicate objects I've already seen.

Sometimes, like when the objects are extremely faint or are in a very crowded area, I'll go ahead and also print a real-time chart with everything on it down to such-and-such a magnitude (depending on projected sky conditions) so I can get my bearings and know I'm on the correct object.

I go through lots of paper but it's worth it.

I also have my handy dandy Tirion along for the big picture if needed.

#17 GeneT

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 06:13 PM

I create some type of a game plan I take out with me, even if I'm just out for a few hrs. It usually includes a few objects I'm interested in seeing, or a full blown observing list I want to address throughout the night.


I look the Sky and Telescope monthly sky chart, and compare it to my Sky Atlas 2000. I make note of a variety of deep sky objects I want to view. I like to do in-depth viewing of objects in one constellation, then do some random viewing of other objects in other constellations. I always view planets and the moon if available.

#18 JimMo

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 06:50 PM

You're definitely more organized than I am. I do make lists but often stray away or ignore. Sometimes that is because I made a mistake in having the list objects too far into a light dome.

I do like to revisit a few old favorites if the night is good, to judge the conditions and see if more details come up. I also like to look at a page in a chart that is well placed in the sky and see new objects.

Recently I bought the Night Sky Observers Guide. I should have done that a long time ago. I then focus on a constellation and use the 5-star rating system in the NSOG, and see if there are any 3* or better objects that I haven't seen before. That has worked really well.

One thing I'm bad about is keeping track of what I've seen before (beyond the Messier list). I seem to be ADHD on observing programs, pretty good for a couple of months and then forget them. I've seen most of the "Best 100 beyond the Messier" type objects, have seen a lot of the H400, and a fair number of challenge objects, but don't ask me to prove it!

Mike


I could have wrote that, Mike, as it's exactly how I observe. The Night Sky Observing Guides and a pocket star atlas are all I usually need for a night of observing. So many constellations-so little time. :p

#19 Scott in NC

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 06:53 PM

I promise myself every year that I'll become a more organized observer. I rarely carry more than a few objects on a list to the scope...


That pretty much describes the way I do it too. :)

#20 mountain monk

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 07:23 PM

Nah. At home I have a fairly limited slice of sky from Polaris down to, say, the bottom of Scorpius. I choose whatever constellations are within that slice, consult Objects in the Heavens, and wander about. At my dark sites I'm a bit more organized, barely. There are list people and non-list people. I never kept track of all the mountains I climbed or the birds I've seen, it never occurred to me to do so. To each his own.

Dark skies.

Jack

#21 Tony Flanders

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 08:13 PM

I tend to find observing rather frustrating unless I have some clear objectives. Mind you, I don't always stick to those objectives. It would be counterproductive not to follow down a line of enquiry that springs up spontaneously. However, without some kind of list to fall back on, I tend to fall into observing ruts.

At the moment, that's less of an issue simply because I have so many other commitments that I don't get much time to observe. So repeating old observations feels more like reinforcement than routine. I still enjoy chasing down all the season's available Messier objects. Maybe once I can find them all by memory in every instrument I own I won't feel that way. But I'm still a ways off from that goal.

In the past, I have worked on observing lists such as the Herschel 400, which I found very rewarding. I still have a few such lists in the background, and of course there's always the NGC/IC -- a list that will keep anybody busy for a lifetime.

However, since I'm an editor at Sky & Telescope, I use it as my primary source of observing targets these days. I try to track down all the objects in the columns that I edit regularly (Deep-Sky Wonders and Going Deep). A few of those are simply beyond my particular combination of equipment, skill, and sky conditions; however, these articles are written by true masters (mistresses?), and the objects are incredibly imaginatively selected. Then there's the double stars and variable stars, and the events of the month. What with one thing and another, I never run out of things to see.

Tony Flanders
Associate Editor, Sky & Telescope

#22 CelestronDaddy

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 08:24 PM

Ralph - I like to prepare beforehand what I plan to observe. I use AstroPlanner V2, various books / atlases and usually Sky&Telescope. I'll print out a list in the order of what I want to observe. I find this works best for me. 73's .... Tony

#23 ensign

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 08:30 PM

I like to make a list of interesting or challenging objects to observe in any given session, generally using the Night
Sky Observer's Guide and skyAtlas 2000.

This leads to a more enjoyable observing session.

But since this isn't a competitive sport, I don't always stick strictly to the list and like to observe "old friends" as well.

#24 Dennis_S253

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 09:08 PM

Right now I'm working on the Messier's and Globulars and I definitely use a list and charts. This is the first year that I'm actually keeping a viewing log also.

#25 JayinUT

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 10:09 PM

Let's see. I do work a list, and I work that list by constellation by season. So, yes, I work a list. Right now it is the Herschel 400 II and then I add some of the hard to find objects that are in that constellation or objects that appeal to me personally. I like to know what I am observing and then to learn in detail afterwards. Some times though, to take a break, I'll pop after the eye candy in the area my memory just to ensure I can still find and remember the eye candy items. Each to their own devices or lists on this.






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