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Your Favorite Observing Session

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#1 JayinUT

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 09:35 PM

I got out once this week thanks to the monsoon here in Utah. It's made me think so what is your favorite observing session you've had? Feel free to share what made it memorable.

For me it is one where it was just me and my friend Alan and we were at my favorite dark site last summer. I got set up early, collimated, and everything was set up. I stood up and began to take some pictures of the sun as it was setting over the Sheeprock Mountains to the west. I then sat down, took a bottle of water and began to take a few drinks. I love that time so much, sunset to twilight with the world calm, peaceful. I anticipate the observing that I am about to do. I often think of Carl Sagan's quote "Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality." For me this time is a very spiritual time and the inner peace and calm that comes over me I relish. It is the signal that I have left the hustle, the demands and the responsibilities of my everyday life and I get to escape, to focus on only one thing, hunting down and observing the objects I am after.

This night a fun thing happen. Seven months before my friend Mat, who is my usual observing friend each new moon, and I had gone to this site in January for a wonderful evening of winter observing. During this night in the Juniper trees next to the site, we discovered a family of Great Horn Owls. The parents were hunting and the owlets were squawking for their food. It made for a fun night of observing as the parents would fly out and fly in to feed their owlets. Well this night as twilight came in and Alan and I were now standing and talking, the Great Horn Owls flew out and flying in circles, flew around our heads. They flew close enough that I can remember seeing their eyes and their wings and feathers. Cool and it was very cool.

My observing that night was outstanding. I captured about 10 Herschel 400 II and then went after some challenging objects. First off I was able to confirm a visual observation of IC 1296, with a bright core, the bar on each side. I also got that night the Hickson 79 group, all five of them. Sketched that one and I do remember when I found them I was very excited (all found in the 14"). Then I went after some planetary nebula and observed until 4:30a.m. I then packed up, putting everything next to my Pathfinder, climbed into the back on top of my covered memory foam mattress, turned on my portable fan on (I have to sleep with a fan) and watched as Aldebaran, Jupiter and Venus rose in the eastern sky. I feel asleep there and woke up later that morning.

It was a wonderful night, Alan was wonderful company as we observed, talked, observed some more and confirmed our observations. More importantly, when it came time to go to bed, I was so relaxed, so calm that it was so easy to fall asleep. Man, at times I wish I could capture these type of observing sessions in a pensieve like in Harry Potter to relive those nights. So what is your favorite observing session so far?

#2 Sorny

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 12:43 AM

Last summer there was a night of perfect seeing. I gazed at Saturn for over 3.5hrs at about 560x. For giggles, I threw in a 3mm eyepiece (almost 1000x) and saw almost completely steady diffraction rings around Polaris, and the companion appeared very far seperated with its own diffraction rings. I also managed to see a disc for Neptune and Uranus (no detail, but man, the color!).

It was glorious. In contrast, I've had my scope out twice this entire year (weather & work schedule conspiring against me), and both times were only so-so seeing, with 150x-230x being the max I could use on Saturn. The consolation is that Globs don't really care about seeing, so I spent a lot of time with them instead.

#3 City Kid

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 07:13 AM

My favorite observing session was an all-nighter I pulled with my stepdad and my grandson at a local star party back in 2010. I was using my 4" refractor and we spent all night scanning the Milky Way going from one showpiece to another. This was at my normal dark site and to this day that night was the darkest/most transparent night I've had out there. My next few favorite nights have all been with my grandson at the Nebraska Star Party. Four of the nights from the 2010 NSP would be my next four favorite observing sessions. Those were the darkest/most transparent skies I've ever seen including other nights at NSP.

#4 FoggyEyes

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Posted 14 July 2013 - 04:33 PM

As a relative beginner I happened to point my binoculars in an area around Orion and saw something I had never imagined could look like that. For a few minutes I thought something must be wrong with my binos. It was the most amazing view. Looked at a star map to see what the heck I was looking at - of course, the Orion Nebula. Sure made a big difference in my love of the hobby after that.

#5 Ed D

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Posted 14 July 2013 - 06:02 PM

There are so many, but one particular one comes to mind. Several years ago my youngest daughter and I were looking at Eta Cass through my XT6. I still remember the thrill of her 'discovering' the red companion star just as if it happened last night.

Another equally memorable one is when the same daughter looked at Saturn through a telescope for the first time. She exclaimed 'DAD, IT'S JUST LIKE IN THE TEXTBOOKS!!!'

Ed D

#6 tezster

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Posted 15 July 2013 - 08:04 AM

This year, my favourite observing session has been the first weekend back in May. The temperature was very comfortable, but cool enough that the bugs weren't out yet. Seeing was average, but transparency was EXCELLENT, which made observing/hunting galaxies a treat.

I only realized how great of a night that was, when revisiting some of the same objects this past Friday at the same site, with the same scope - all of them looked like a pale shadow compared to the views I saw previously. It was like I was viewing completely different objects.

This really reinforced in my head how big of a difference viewing conditions can make.

#7 Usquebae

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Posted 15 July 2013 - 10:09 AM

My first telescope shipped April 30. Green though I was, I surmised that the next 7 days might be the best viewing days of the year. Reasonably long nights, temps over 30 degrees (if only just), low humidity, no bugs, no wind, 0-10% cloud cover... and I live at a dark site. Well, I spent 4 hrs plus observing for 6 of those seven nights. I have had only ONE night since that rivaled any of them. I think if I had bought a telescope May 30 rather than April 30, I would be selling it by now.

It makes me wonder how many would-be stargazers never get off the ground because of the conditions they start under. Having Saturn at opposition, rings wide open, made a tremendous difference for me in my first week. Anytime I got frustrated (like when I couldn't find M13 in Draco's head), I could swing over to Saturn and be instantly rejuvenated.

#8 StrangeDejavu

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Posted 15 July 2013 - 11:01 AM

My favorite observing session was only my third night with a telescope (3/21/13). This was my first session where I explored things other than the Moon. It was a night of many firsts for me, as I started out on Saturn. Seeing Saturn in high school textbooks compared to looking at the light with your own eye was magical to me. This "high" I was experiencing got better when I pointed the scope at M42. I remember getting chills and feeling an incredible sense of awe. While I was appreciating M42, a satellite flew right in front of it which tripped me out. After looking at M42 (which was in the SW skies at the time), I turned to the Virgo Cluster (directly East). I was lining up my viewfinder when I saw a bright streak through it that freaked me out. I looked up and watched my first meteor streak right across my house in a nice white arc. The total sense of wonder really made me feel like a kid again. I wrapped up the night on Jupiter, where the Galilean moons lined up perfectly; you could have placed a ruler on them and drawn a straight line. Needless to say, this was the night I realized i'd be doing this for years to come. :waytogo:

My second favorite took place on 3/30/13, my first night under jet black skies. I swung the scope over to M42 and the view that night, it will be forever engraved in my mind. Seeing M42 in its full, non-polluted glory literally took my breath away. But that's another story... ;)

#9 orion61

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Posted 15 July 2013 - 04:54 PM

My favorite wasn't at night it was the next day after an all nighter, I got a few hrs sleep after following Venus untill Daytime,and White light Solar viewing.
I heard a woosh and saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye. As I looked up a large Bald Eagle was swooping down and picked up a large 5' Bull Snake in its huge Claws.
The Eagle flew away toward its nest high in a tree along the River bank.
This happened no more than 10-15 ft away from me.

#10 GeneT

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Posted 16 July 2013 - 06:00 PM

My first--looking at the Moon through a 3.5 inch Questar in Ruth, Nevada, about seven miles from Ely. It was a cold February evening. The Moon was about half full. The view was just a blob blur. I saw know on the side of the telescope. I gave it a turn, and wolla, the Moon snapped into focus, and gave me the most stunning view I had ever seen. I have never forgotten that experience--and I never will.

#11 Asbytec

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Posted 17 July 2013 - 10:03 PM

"Ganymede Rise" See my avatar.

Observing a fireball in Panama with my friend Dave was another. Laid back and looked up through the milky way. You got a sense of 3 dimensions. Serene.

The worst: a bat pooped on my pristine, brand new meniscus and on my head. It happened no more than 10 to 15 feet away, too.

#12 galexand

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Posted 23 July 2013 - 07:58 PM

I've only been observing for about 13 months now. I've certainly had some nights of good darkness and seeing that have stood out...and I'm still awaiting a decently transparent night in March so I can check out a bunch of galaxies I haven't seen yet.

But my favorite is a night that seems to happen once a year. Usually I set up my telescope facing east in my urban front yard. But it seems about once a year, Sagittarius is in the right place at the right time, and the horizon haze is just a little bit lighter that night. Last year it was August 6, this year it was July 12. I set up facing south looking through a tiny gap in the cityscape, and I start at Antares and look at everything through Scutum as the earth spins over the next couple hours. M7! M11! M22! Dim globulars, nebulae, it's the center of the gosh-darned galaxy!

Maybe I'm just jinxing myself, but it seems to me like I'm very unlikely to get things to line up again to get another look at this part of the sky until July 2014 -- maybe June if somehow I can do a late night. Once we get too far into August, all this stuff is too far west by the time it gets dark. *sigh*

#13 Astrodj

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 12:14 AM

My absolute favorite is every time someone who has never looked through a telescope steps up to mine, sees Saturn at about 200x, and says "Holy ****".

It never gets old, right?

#14 nicknacknock

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 04:28 AM

I bought a telescope about 3 years ago (Omni XLT 6" Reflector on CG4) but due to back problems, it lay in storage for about a year. In November 2011 I dragged it up so that my kid could see the moon. Stunning views but...

On December 6, 2011 I got up, made myself a nice cup of coffee at 4.30am and set the scope up for my first view of Saturn. I had one of those Celestron 1.25" 8-24mm zooms popped in and Saturn obliged.

I only got about x93 magnification, but I got hooked! My first view of a planet! That view cost me a lot of astrodollars and a lot of sleepless nights. Totally worth it!!!

Now I prefer DSO but whenever any planet can oblige when I am viewing, I am always up to it as a tribute.

Since then, I showed Saturn to many people. Astrodj is right, you always get the "Holy ****" reaction!!!

#15 azure1961p

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 06:32 AM

My favorite was one summer I had as close to 10/10 seeing as possible. Jupiter was wildly over detailed to the point it was undrawable - even spooky. This is pre Damian Peach and the CCD imaging forum where these details abound. That said it was the wildest view - even the polar regions were thick with spots and layered details. That same night for the first time ever, Titan resolved as a disc and Ganymede showed detail. That was a super seeing night. Not that it hadnt happened prior and hence but the firsts it afforded since both planets were up was stunning. If the moon were out it would have completed a miraculous night.

Pete

#16 FJA

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 07:19 AM

I've got quite a few that stand out for one reason or another. Some of my early sessions back in 1992/93 are memorable just because it was all new but I have had quite a few sessions that qualify as favourites. However two stand out.

Here's one from the night of August 4th-5th 2010:

A day of intermittent heavy rain and thunder gave way to clear skies during the evening, for once exactly as the forecast had predicted. The BBC and Metcheck’s forecasts both agreed, which seems to be a rare event in itself, so as it got dark I went and pulled the scope out of the shed. Earlier in the evening I had been in a pretty awful mood, no reason just a bad day, and felt more like going to bed but I am very glad I didn't as the sky turned out to be magnificent.

All too often when you step outside and look up, what looks promising at first often proves to be pretty average, even poor, but not that night. After getting dark adapted, I checked the naked eye limiting magnitude, using charts of Ursa Minor and Cygnus, and it was better than 6.5! We have reasonable skies here, but better than 6.5 is fairly rare. I would guess that the heavy rain and thunder had cleared the atmosphere of pollutants and dust. During my trips to the TSP, I’ve seen people using ‘iridescence’ in the Milky Way to gauge transparency – the more iridescent the MW, the more transparent the sky. The Milky Way was just like that here that night, iridescent, which we rarely see because of summer haze. Visible to the unaided eye were M13, M31 (later on when clear of the trees) and NGC 7000, the North America Nebula. These were truly great summer observing conditions and well worth the long wait for. I observed NGCs 6781, 6755, 6756, 6229, 6207, M31, Palomar 11, IC 59 and IC 56. I packed up when clouds made a reappearance and the waning crescent Moon came up. I didn't see loads of objects (short summer nights here) but it still goes down as one of my favourite sessions.

Another favourite session was my first time viewing with Jimi Lowrey's 48" at his observatory in West Texas on June 6th 2008. I was there at the invitation of Larry Mitchell, who was invited and was asked to invite a few people of his choice, this was during the 2008 Texas Star Party. I was really pleased to be asked as opportunities for observing with such a big scope are few and far between. I didn't do any sketching, not enough time as we had a big list of objects we wanted to see.

The 48 inch makes the unobservable observable, the faint, dim and fuzzy bright and detailed and the bright and spectacular simply awesome. M51 filled the field of view – it looked like the size of a saucer – and was better than a photograph. The arms were full of detail, HII regions shone and the whole thing was akin to a ‘religious experience’. The Cat’s Eye Nebula (NGC 6543), the Saturn Nebula (NGC 7009) (bright blue-green and showing lobes and ‘layers’), Hickson 88, Stephan’s Quintet and the Ring Nebula (M57) were also incredible. The Ring showed massive amounts of detail and, for the first time ever, I actually saw a colour other than blue or green in a deep sky object. The Ring was blue-green, but the outer portion of the ring was pink. The pink was subtle but it was obvious. The central hole was filled in, giving a gauzy effect and the central star was visible.

As for the globular M13, this was more detailed than I have ever seen before. The propeller feature was very obvious, looking exactly like a ship or aircraft propeller, a black mark on a bright background.

Another first for me was seeing Neptune as a disk and its moons. The planet was a lovely blue. Jupiter’s moons were also disks (these firsts keep on coming!) and as for Jupiter itself, wow! It was tack sharp in moments of good seeing and the detail was – at the risk of being cliched – photographic, with the Great Red Spot (more pale pink than red) and other spots seen, as well as belts, bands and festoons.

Jimi kept saying how the night wasn’t very good and the seeing was soft – actually it was a little soft – but to someone from the UK used to not great observing conditions it was an awesome night.

And then there's observing from Australia in 1997, and the Texas Star Party on four occasions and more sessions with the 48" when I've been out that way...

#17 csrlice12

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 07:24 AM

I've had a few good nights, and I hope I'm around for a lot more of them. I suppose my first look at Saturn when I was 14 with my Tasco 60mm Christmas scope. Didn't know anything about the sky except where the moon was at. Was just trolling the sky when Saturn came into view. Wasn't much, a tiny circle with the bulge of the rings barely noticable, a higher power Huyguns, revealed that they were indeed rings, no Cassini division though....but it was my first view of the universe (outside of the moon). It hasn't been my best or last, but it is my most memorable. Right after that, my dog chewed up my star book. That first view is also the reason I returned to the hobby later in life.

#18 CharlesW

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 09:41 AM

No telescope at all. I was visiting a friend in Abilene TX and after I left I drove to a gray area about 25 miles south of town for a while. It was a new moon and you could swim in the stars.

#19 csrlice12

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 09:55 AM

No telescope at all. I was visiting a friend in Abilene TX and after I left I drove to a gray area about 25 miles south of town for a while. It was a new moon and you could swim in the stars.


Good thing there's daylight, otherwise we'd have to come rescue you..... :lol:

#20 ensign

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 10:13 AM

My favorite observing session was at an impromptu star party that happened at one of our club's observing sites. There were about a dozen observers in the late spring and a variety of scopes. We all simply showed up at the site without prior planning or arrangement.

For some reason that I can't quite identify, we all seemed to be in synch, taking turns observing different objects at different scopes. The focus and conversations were entirely on visual observing and there was a camaraderie that I haven't experienced before or since.

#21 Feidb

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 09:58 PM

I can cross out most of the outreach sessions except a few because they were a different kind of favorite. I loved every one of those outreach ones for a different reason, but I think what you are talking about is pure observing pleasure? If that's the case, every other time I went out and the evening wasn't a bust. They all had their moments and there isn't enough space here to list them all but I'll go over a few.

1969: My first real star party at the top of Mt. Pinos in Calee'fornia with what might have been one of the first RTMC gatherings. Took my 8-inch home-built reflector and camped with my mentor, Carl. I think we were some of the only few that actually looked at anything as everyone else was too busy talking about and showing off their gear.

Every night in the 80's when I'd go pop the circuit breakers in the nearby street lights at my two houses (in different neighborhoods) in Eurovillas, Spain. The first trip with my 8-inch reflector, the second time with my 16-inch home-built reflector. Those nights were very memorable.

The many nights I cut through the thick atmosphere near Adana, Turkey with my freshly completed 16-inch mirror and really discovered what aperture could do, even at 510 feet above sea level!

In the early 90's, watching the after-effects of Comet Shoemaker Levy hitting Jupiter from the Wichita Mountains Wildife Refuge with my 16-inch while being interviewed by the Lawton Newspaper as wild Buffalo moseyed by.

Every Okie-Tex star party I attended at Lake Murray near Ardmore, Oklahoma.

Every event I attended at Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada. Every event at Furnace Creek in Death Valley. Every star party I attended in and around Las Vegas that wasn't a washout.

Whew! I'm easy to please.

#22 Dan Finnerty

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 01:06 AM

My absolute favorite is every time someone who has never looked through a telescope steps up to mine, sees Saturn at about 200x, and says "Holy ****".


I had my first such experience two weekends ago. After leaving the Golden State Star Party, I stopped by a friends place in northern California. They were having a 40-year celebration of their property which is in the costal range east of Fort Bragg. They have left it as an improved campsite and never built the retirement home thier parents envisioned.

Since I had my telescopes along I set up my ES 127ED to grab a quick view of Saturn before it set behind a ridge. Seeing was superb, as still as I've ever seen it. There were about 40 people there for the party weekend. At one point there must have been 20 people lined up to have a look. There were constant exclamations as people got their first look at Saturn. Oh my Gods! That can't be reals! Did you put a sticker on the lens? And on and on. It lasted until midnight when I finally closed up shop so campers could sleep. There were still around 10 people taking turns at the telescope and carrying on animated conversation about the night sky. And for the next two nights people were talking around the campfire about their first views of Saturn.

That was fun, but the best night observing I have ever had was three nights earlier at the GSSP. It took me several nights to appreciate how good the skys were. It seemed that there was a lot of sky brightness, not at all inky black. Then I began to notice that I could see Andromeda, the Double Cluster, M13 and other objects I'd always struggled to see by naked eye without even thinking about it. I could walk anywhere without a flashlight yet the Milky Way was incredibly vivid. I began to appreciate that I'd probably never been so well dark-adapted before. Absolutely no interfering lights. LED power lights became objectionably bright and got a cover of gaffers tape.

By the third night, everything was working perfectly with my C11 EdgeHD. When Sagittarius reached the meridian, I started browsing for targets in SkySafari and punching the goto button. There were so many objects so close together sometimes I hardly heard the motors grunt, and there was another gem centered in the eyepiece. I spent several wonderful hours looking at objects I never get to see from LA, between light pollution and obstructed southern horizons and I completely forgot about time.

Finally about 2:30 pm I got tired and decided to call it quits. My brother was with me and was already heading for his tent as I grabbed a beer and a recliner chair and sat down to wait for the Pleiades rising on the Eastern horizon. My brother joined me and we sat and talked and watched the sky turn. It turns out he had never actually watched the sky for long enough to observe the rotation of the earth, and the north-east view was perfect to see objects rise on the eastern horizon and circle about Polaris. He was utterly blown away to actually see this effect. Of course that is exactly why I chose that spot to sit down. About 3:30 the eastern sky started to brighten (Latitude 41 North,it makes a big difference compared to LA at 34N!) which was another revelation for Tony. We both staggered off to bed to end what was my absolute most magnificent night ever under the stars.

#23 Madratter

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 11:30 AM

Probably the night I got up early to see Comet Bennett back in 1970. It was awesome from our balcony in Rome. I then proceeded to wake my brother up and insisted that he see it. He still remembers that night too.

Another favorite was the night a friend brought over his Astrophysics Starfire and I had out my Obsession 20". We had a great time comparing the views between the two.

Then there was the time I was laying on my bed with the window shade up. I noticed a very bright fireball. It was the Peekskill meteorite that ended up going through trunk of a Chevy Malibu.

#24 csrlice12

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 03:41 PM

I wonder if Neil Armstrongs was viewing the Earth from the Moon????

#25 gunfighter48

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Posted 27 July 2013 - 11:46 AM

The best session I ever had was 2003 with Mars closest approach. I spent the spring and summer almost every weekend observing Mars. I had a Meade 2080 with excellent optics and it was fantastic viewing. Most times the seeing was so good that high power viewing was not a problem. The astronomy club I belonged to had a dark sky site about 45 miles outside of town, very dark skies. It was a once in a life time opportunity. The seeing over the next 3 years didn't come close to that of the spring and summer of 2003.






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