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how technological should astronomy be?

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#26 Tony Flanders

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 05:36 AM

I've read many posts from people with ten thousand dollar cameras complaining about updates and firmware. Going into a field to do astronomy is good. But at what point does the technology get in the way?


I think you're confusing several different issues: money, technology, and complexity.

To get the groundworks straight, astronomy is, and has always been, an inherently technological activity. You can certainly enjoy the night sky just lying on your back and gazing at the stars, but that's not really astronomy in the normal sense. It's when you start measuring and classifying that astronomy changes into a science.

The most brilliant minds in the world worked at astronomy for millennia with tools no more complicated than yardsticks. And all that work was superseded, swept away, in two years when Galileo turned his spyglass to the sky.

Visual observing is inherently simpler than imaging. No matter what technology you're using, it's bound to be more obtrusive when your goals are more ambitious -- such as making precise measurements instead of aesthetic enjoyment or capturing images instead of visual impressions.

For any given goal, technology actually makes that goal easier, not harder. The main difference between a $5,000 rig and a $1,000 rig is often that the $5,000 rig is easier to use. Technology gets in the way more when it's inadequate than when it's all humming along smoothly and effortlessly. That typically requires more money and a higher level of sophistication.

I'm not sure I agree, but many people claim that the rudimentary technology required to star-hop is more obtrusive than the fancier technology of Go To. For better or worse, star-hopping certainly side-tracks you more from the primary goal of location your target -- and also messes more with your dark adaptation.

Technology is at its best when it's invisible.

#27 obin robinson

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 06:23 AM

I see imagers at star parties with enough cabling to circle the Equator five times and more blinking lights than the Starship Enterprise. It's not for me but other people enjoy that kind of observing. Each to their own.


That's because they're imaging, not observing. I'm sure they look at your setup and think "What a waste of a good telescope. He could probably get some great astro photos if he had the proper gear."

obin ;)

#28 sg6

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 06:23 AM

As much as you need or want. There is no use ending up as no technology and only technology.

There is a change in requirements as you start and gain more experience also.

I find that I both need some and also know what is in effect the same without technology.

Take a small goto to a public evening and tell it to go to Albereio. Nice simple, just before the public start looking I want to have pretty good confidence that it is actually pointed at Albereio.

So the goto technology helps but the knowledge without the technology is also required. Helps me to not look so stupid. I was particularily thick one night but did get away with it however. :jump:

If you like and do imaging then really little choice, you need the technology at some level, and you may as well use it to make life easy.

When you say "technology" what is meant? Electronic and computer control of motors, or accurate grinding of precision parabolic mirrors and the technology to make exotic glasses like FPL-53?

#29 jgraham

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 07:16 AM

Way back when I first started in this hobby nye on around 1962 there were basically 3 kinds of amateurs; beginner beginners with small refractors (mine was an old 50mm from Sears), telescope makers, and those lucky enough or well off enough to own a good commercially built scope. The hobby has since grown and expanded to an unimaginable extent. Astronomy has become a very rich hobby with so much to offer amateurs with very diverse interests. If you enjoy keeping it simple that's great, enjoy, but it is wonderful that there is so much to explore depending on your interests. Also, just like in the good old days, it doesn't necessarily have to be expensive.

Have fun!

#30 GOLGO13

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 07:51 AM

Of course it depends on what you are doing. I found out very quickly I did not like doing my own astro-imaging. I found it was much easier to just look at others' photos who are more into doing that type of thing.

Now, I love the technology of astronomy...But that can mean much more than electronics. I love eyepieces, telescope designs, collimating tools, etc etc. A great magazine for telescope tech is Astronomy Technology Today. A lot of people enjoy the equipment side of astronomy almost as much as the observing itself.

But as others have said. If you are not enjoying the technology side of the hobby, then it would be best to avoid that aspect. I do that with avoiding taking pictures (saves me a lot of money also). If your "go to" setup is frustrating, try going manual. I usually am more frustrated with manual star hopping then using technology. Especially in my light-polluted skies.

#31 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 07:54 AM

For better or worse, star-hopping certainly side-tracks you more from the primary goal of location your target -- and also messes more with your dark adaptation.



If location of a specific, predetermined target is your goal...

Jon

#32 Feidb

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 08:49 AM

As many people have stated, it's all a matter of preference. I can only state from my 47 years of personal experience, observations and taste.

As a kid, I craved the technology because I didn't know any better. After years of frustration and realizing I had neither the budget or the ultimate desire to #1 take images, #2 have a need for a driven system because of the advent of wider field eyepieces, #3 I knew the sky well enough I didn't need either setting circles (via an equatorial mount) or GOTO, #4 I had ultimately no compulsion or obsession over equipment or to tweak all night, I was happy with a simple Dob.

To me, outside of a green laser pointer, any other technology gets in the way.

I've watched people spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on systems with relatively tiny aperture so they could either have GOTO or ultimately take images (or maybe already do) but in the field can't see what I can with my 16-inch, visually. I've listened to them complain as they set up, fussing with their gear, either trying to make it work or waiting for alignment stars or giving up because they forgot something like a battery pack (or a cable is broken). I've glanced over as guys (not usually gals) would obsessively tweak their scope (mostly Dobs) all night and hardly look at a thing). I've listened as groups got into pointless arguments over technical specs of their gear and forget to observe at all.

I found my groove in simplicity. I spent all my money in aperture and a few good moderate-priced eyepieces. Even before that, I made that aperture, and used cheap and improvised eyepieces and did just fine.

Jack Newton and Jason Ware are the two guys that back in the 90's convinced me, though unintentionally that I wasn't cut out to do imaging. I already knew I couldn't afford it, but after seeing what they went through to take decent images, I knew for sure it wasn't for me. My simple Dob was da bomb!

You have to find your mojo and adjust your budget accordingly. Technology only gets in the way if it doesn't do what you want it to.

#33 Maverick199

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 09:15 AM

Quote from Edition The Hindu, 28th, July,2013: Like all ground-based observatories, TMT ( thirty metre telescope ) is limited in spatial resolution by the atmospheric turbulence. While the 30 m primary builds on the technological and operational experience of the Keck Telescope, it will be the first ground-based telescope to incorporate the technology of Adaptive Optics ( AO ) as an integral component of the telescope. AO refers to systems designed to sense atmospheric turbulence in real time, make the appropriate corrections to the beam and enable true image on the ground limited only by optical diffraction. The AO capability will enable the TMT resolve objects by a factor of 3 better than the 10 m-class telecopes and 12 times better than the Hubble Space Telescope ( HST ).

When Adaptive optics gets utilized in consumer dobs or reflectors and helps resolve detail by adapting to the atmospheric turbulence, how many of us would want this technology? Its not available as yet but who knows? Wouldn't this be helpful to those living in light pollution or even those without? Would we still pretend as if we are simple observers and simple instruments are going to show us what we want to see? The moment you invest in even as trivial item as a green laser, you are accepting technology. Forget those who invest in Moonlites, TV's, Zambuto's etc., Why only pick on technology concerned with imaging?

#34 panhard

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 10:04 AM

Each to their own.

That is the way I look at it Faith.

#35 amicus sidera

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 10:17 AM

Amateur astronomy should be as technological as a given individual wants it to be for themselves.

That said, there exists a mild "tyranny of the technological" in the avocation at this time; if this is doubted, attempt to purchase a new, mass-produced telescope without sophisticated electronics and computer control - not a beginner's instrument, mind you, but an equatorially-mounted scope of decent aperture... such is no easy task. Since the majority desire telescopes laden with go-to and electronica (whether of their own volition, or more likely having been trained to want them via advertising and peer pressure), that is what is almost exclusively available in the marketplace. This situation is also driven in considerable degree by the numbers of relatively well-heeled individuals entering the hobby whose primary interest is in astrophotography.

The last couple of decades have seen the splitting of amateur astronomy into two major camps: one consists primarily of those who are interested in exploring the night sky visually, while those in the other camp are not really amateur astronomers in the classic sense, but rather photographers who happen to have chosen the heavens as their subject matter. While there is some degree of overlap between these two general groupings, as well as many outliers, they seem to have but little in common, in my experience.

I can recall a day when performing long-exposure or multiple-image astrophotography at a star party was considered impolite and generally bad form, as it required excessive light discipline on the field - one impact of the increasing number of imagers is that such discipline is now considered de rigeur at all major events, and is for the most part a result of the large number of astrophotographers present, who must not be inconvenienced as they capture the 28,567th image of the Trifid Nebula for posterity. :grin:

Incidentally, I'm firmly in the first camp (although I've dabbled in the second), which should be fairly obvious.

Fred

#36 Kraus

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 10:31 AM


Define astronomy.

#37 FJA

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 11:17 AM

I see imagers at star parties with enough cabling to circle the Equator five times and more blinking lights than the Starship Enterprise. It's not for me but other people enjoy that kind of observing. Each to their own.


That's because they're imaging, not observing. I'm sure they look at your setup and think "What a waste of a good telescope. He could probably get some great astro photos if he had the proper gear."

obin ;)


You think I'm slagging off imagers, don't you? I'm actually not. Just because I don't care for it doesn't mean I don't think it's a valid means of observing. As I said 'each to their own'. :foreheadslap:

But then the same imagers come over and ask for a look through my telescope. A look!

And, by the way, it's 'she' not 'he'. ;)

#38 obin robinson

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 11:20 AM

The last couple of decades have seen the splitting of amateur astronomy into two major camps: one consists primarily of those who are interested in exploring the night sky visually, while those in the other camp are not really amateur astronomers in the classic sense, but rather photographers who happen to have chosen the heavens as their subject matter. While there is some degree of overlap between these two general groupings, as well as many outliers, they seem to have but little in common, in my experience.
Fred


There is a third group as well: researchers whose subject matter happens to be far above their heads and requires use of a telescope and computers. Modern technology has given backyard observers with home-made gear the ability to discover supernova, comets, asteroids, and other objects in the heavens. This capability used to be only available to universities, corporations, and government entities. Now it is in the hands of the masses with budgets a mere fraction of what the "big boys" have.

obin :)

#39 mayidunk

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 12:54 PM

Define astronomy.

The word astronomy literally means "law of the stars" (or "culture of the stars"), and is derived from the Greek word astronomia, which itself is made up from the Greek words astron, meaning "star," and nomos, meaning "laws" or "cultures."

(Ya just gotta love Google! :grin: )

#40 jgraham

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 01:17 PM

One challenge is that you just can put people into little boxes that define them or their interests. I observe with my eyes, I observe with my cameras, I image with my cameras, I take qualitative and quantitative data with my cameras. Each one of these is a unique experience and each one is an integral part of how I explore this hobby. I am sure than many others also have their own unique way of enjoying amateur astronomy and each one is perfectly valid. None of us has the right to say what is right or wrong with how someone else expresses their own interest. This is a great time to be an amateur astronomer!

Enjoy.

P.S.

In my neck of the woods we get maybe 60 clear nights a year, so I get as much out of each one as I can. Over the past week we had a couple of fairly good nights, but that run is now over. With it getting dark so late I generally do more imaging this time of year and when it is clear I image like a demon recording as much as I can. As I sit here the clouds are rolling in an rain is in the forecast. I'll spend the next several days processing my new images and trying out different things. I consider this to be very much an extension of observing that let's me stretch out the observing experience over several days, exploring the images that I have captured. I also have a set of cameras that I specifically use for real-time observing, but each one of these is a unique component to the larger activity of observing the heavens. Also, having access to unprocessed source images has deeply enriched my visual observing experience as they make the absolute best finder charts and they show me exactly what these objects look like before they are processed beyond all recognition.

What a fun hobby!


#41 BlueGrass

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 01:58 PM

Part of the current problem with using technology in this hobby is many who are doing AP forget how sensitive the visual folks are to stray light be it white, blue or red or to the LCD screens of their laptops. As I've progressed in my AP journey, I've learned that even my eyes are negatively affected during the course of the evening. The numerous blinking and non-blinking LEDs are annoying and even a polarized filter over the laptop screen isn't enough. I have to dim the screen and put black tape over the LEDs to keep my eyes sensitive enough to look around the sky during imaging runs. I enjoy both aspects of the hobby but wish there was a way to have a complete 'lights out' AP setup particularly if I'm out with others. Make the effort, turn the lights off, mask the status lights, do what you can to eliminate and minimize the intrusion of the technology on others ... They'll thank you.

#42 Feidb

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 02:22 PM

Maverick 199,

I'm not picking on anyone though the majority of the gear DOES focus on astrophotography. My accepting a tiny bit of technology like a GLP is not being hypocritical if that's what you're implying. I enjoy a pretty picture just like the next person. I've also "cheated" and taken advantage of a friend or two's GOTOs to verify an obscure object I'd found was the actual open cluster I was looking at. For my personal money and use, I'd never spend it on either AP gear or high-end observing gear such as you mentioned. I've observed through all of it and the expense in my eyes does not come close to the minute advantages one gets, one night a year, in my opinion. But that's just me.

On the other thing you mentioned, adaptive optics. I've been doing just fine without them. I'd never fork out the cash for such a system as I know the costs, even if they invented a system within the reach of amateurs, would be strictly high-end and that's already way out of my budget. I'd be more than happy to look at the results. Whether I'd be impressed or not is to be seen. Wouldn't matter. I'm sure just like the high-end gear, I couldn't afford it or wouldn't want to spend the money on it even if I could.

Choices.

Not knocking technology or picking on any one aspect of the hobby. It's called a hobby for a reason. To enjoy in our own way. I've just given my reasons for liking what I do and not liking what I don't. I don't expect you or anyone else to agree with me. My AP buddies and high-end buddies get along with me just fine.

#43 mayidunk

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 03:18 PM

And that is exactly as it should be, to each their own! Everyone gets enjoyment, either from the trip, or from arriving at the destination, or both.

Whether the efforts are for pure research, pure science, pretty pictures, or gasps at the eyepiece, in the end we are all doing it because we like doing it! In fact, many here can't think of many other things they would rather be doing than to be out under the stars, on a dark, Moonless night, either glued to the eyepiece, having lost all track of time, or going for as many unguided frames as they can before they finally have to flip the mount, or marveling at that machine that they actually own that enables them to do this, or simply swearing a blue streak, pitching a fit as they fight and struggle with the technology they know will make their pain worthwhile in the end!

Different strokes, for different folks! And so on... and so on... and shoobie, doobie, dooooobie...

"We got to live together!"

Peace. :)

#44 Kraus

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 03:37 PM

Define astronomy.

The word astronomy literally means "law of the stars" (or "culture of the stars"), and is derived from the Greek word astronomia, which itself is made up from the Greek words astron, meaning "star," and nomos, meaning "laws" or "cultures."

(Ya just gotta love Google! :grin: )


Bob understands. Thank you.

Anyone else?

#45 lamplight

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 04:03 PM

I like it all, even though i tend to gravitate most often to manual mounts. I even like futzing around with my scopes when its cloudy for weeks on end.

#46 Paco_Grande

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 08:38 PM

Define astronomy.

The word astronomy literally means "law of the stars" (or "culture of the stars"), and is derived from the Greek word astronomia, which itself is made up from the Greek words astron, meaning "star," and nomos, meaning "laws" or "cultures."

(Ya just gotta love Google! :grin: )


Bob understands. Thank you.

Anyone else?


Who cares? The Greeks are bankrupt. :lol: The fact is, we laypeople think of astronomy as viewing and enjoying the stuff of the heavens. That works for most of us, except for anal retentive types, I suppose.

Weird that no one addressed the OPs orig question. I'll try!

There are two technologies that often get in the way. One is just good old poor design. We're fortunate to live in a time where competition has run most poor designs into has-beens. We live in a time of great designs and great value. We're pretty lucky that way.

Second is with software and firmware - especially the latter. It's very hard to write good firmware, especially if you're of the mind to break rules, and programmers often break rules, or get lazy. And the result is nightmare upgrades of operating systems, etc.. How many people remember Windows 3.11 and video driver problems? Man was that a nightmare.

So, I say that technology is a problem gets in the way of your enjoyment, when it doesn't work, or is clunky. I have a very low tolerance for lousy software/firmware. :D

#47 mayidunk

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Posted 29 July 2013 - 02:46 AM

Define astronomy.

The word astronomy literally means "law of the stars" (or "culture of the stars"), and is derived from the Greek word astronomia, which itself is made up from the Greek words astron, meaning "star," and nomos, meaning "laws" or "cultures."

(Ya just gotta love Google! :grin: )


Bob understands. Thank you.

Anyone else?


Who cares? The Greeks are bankrupt. :lol: The fact is, we laypeople think of astronomy as viewing and enjoying the stuff of the heavens. That works for most of us, except for anal retentive types, I suppose.

Weird that no one addressed the OPs orig question. I'll try!

There are two technologies that often get in the way. One is just good old poor design. We're fortunate to live in a time where competition has run most poor designs into has-beens. We live in a time of great designs and great value. We're pretty lucky that way.

Second is with software and firmware - especially the latter. It's very hard to write good firmware, especially if you're of the mind to break rules, and programmers often break rules, or get lazy. And the result is nightmare upgrades of operating systems, etc.. How many people remember Windows 3.11 and video driver problems? Man was that a nightmare.

So, I say that technology is a problem gets in the way of your enjoyment, when it doesn't work, or is clunky. I have a very low tolerance for lousy software/firmware. :D

When I was doing lots and lots of mainframe development years ago, I busted my hump to ensure that my code was readable, well documented, modular (functionally cohesive sections/paragraphs/modules), and well structured. I did a lot of assembler, so adding profuse comments (pseudo code, really) on the side was what you did! But I also did much more COBOL over the long run. COBOL is excellent in that, if you write clear, well structured code, your source code will be self-documenting when you're done, and should be easily decipherable by anyone who knows the basic business processes involved, and the rules that accompany them. COBOL, if done a certain way, can leave your code as easy to read as a book, allowing almost anyone to be able to understand what the code is doing!

I loved those days when I mostly did new program, and system development from scratch! However, later in my career I got to spend all of my time "in the barrel," troubleshooting, and maintaining other people's code. Many were the mornings where I just sat staring at someone's source code, shaking my head, and wondering why! Not that I was the best programmer to ever come down the pike, I certainly wasn't! Over the years, I have coded more than my share of time bombs, and stinkers! However, when you see large programs where the entire PROCEDURE DIVISION is made up entirely of one, long, nested "if-then-else" statement, one single endlessly meandering sentence, that goes on for page, after page, after page, having only one, single, lonely little period to end it. Well my friend, welcome to H-E-Double-Hockey Sticks! Pull yourself up a blazing briquet, and have a seat! This could take a while...

I once had a person on a development team that I was leading, who actually prided themselves on being able to do exactly that! They claimed that the CPU was able to process it more efficiently!!

We went round, and round...


Another one I've seen is where people, rather than to try to understand what the code is doing, would just code a PERFORM statement (think "GOSUB") at what they hoped was a harmless point in the logic of the code, causing it to branch to another seemingly complete program that they had coded at the very bottom of the source code listing, RETURNing back to where they branched out when their code was finished, hoping it all worked out correctly! At least with them, you could see what they did, and it was easily contained if you had to make changes. Though, you couldn't always count on them only having added those blocks of code. No, they probably coded other PERFORM statements, sprinkled throughout the existing code, thinking themselves as being awfully clever for having done it in such an obviously structured manner! Of course, they never left a comment, not even a hint, to show what they had done, or why!! Just a terse comment at the top of the listing, briefly stating what they did, and when they did it:

"7/14/84 - Added code, tested it, it ran to EOJ."

("EOJ" means "end-of-job." In other words, the job ended normally without suddenly blowing up, taking half the planet with it! Don't laugh, I was there when a fellow employee once said something very similar to the "big boss" after a job of his blew up in production! The boss just shook his head, and walked away...)

Honestly, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried! :lol:


Another time, we encountered a batch job where someone had made changes to a program without leaving any documentation at all regarding what the change actually was, why it was done, and (most importantly) who had actually made the change! We only caught it by sheer dumb luck when we got a call from the users, complaining that some of their data was suddenly not making sense, and that they had only discovered it by happenstance when something else entirely unrelated had occurred!

After tracking it down to that one job, and realizing that we didn't have a clue as to what had been changed, we immediately went to the backups of the previous versions of both the JCL, and the source code, in an attempt to restore either, or both to their original state. It was only then that it become horrifyingly clear to us that, had we not gone for the backups on that very day, the tapes that contained their code would have rolled off of the backup list that night (aka, the GDG index), and the tapes that contained their data would have probably been written over. Gone!

The data would have been lost for good!!

Oh, before you ask, did I mention that they didn't even have a disaster recovery plan in place at the time? That's why we would've been nailed, because the only possible route we might've had to recover after something like that happening, did not even exist at the time! There was no alternate recovery site (think, another computer center that could pick up, and do our work), there was no true offsite storage facility (think "Iron Mountain") where we could, at least, safely store the backup tapes that were critical to our being able to get back on our feet if disaster ever struck! No. Instead, their "offsite" storage facility for those particular archive tapes, the absolute last hope they would ever have of recovering after a disaster... was a storage closet in the back of the computer room!

I kid you not. You just can't make this stuff up!


And, if I were to tell you the name of the organization to whom all this belonged, you would probably blanch at first, and then afterwards, reluctantly agree that this is pretty much par for the course for many organizations of this type! Even after 911, it took them almost 10 more years to finally get some semblance of a credible disaster recovery plan into place! And they've been "in the business" for nigh unto 40 years!

It's truly amazing that things like this can actually be happening! It leaves one wondering if we may, in fact, all have good reason to be afraid...

To be very afraid! :help:

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hijack the thread with that. Once I got started, I was on a roll! However, if anything, it does clearly show how technology can get in the way of an otherwise perfectly good time!

:foreheadslap:

#48 Maverick199

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Posted 29 July 2013 - 04:47 AM

Hi FiedB,

Absolutely not and your post is perfectly okay for me. I understand perfectly well there is nothing wrong in what we do in our individual capacity and for our hobby. We are all trying to make a good point of the topic and your opinion counts. When I mentioned high end viewing gear, I was pointing out those folks who do just as AP'ers too spend on high end gear. To each his own.

#49 Tony Flanders

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Posted 29 July 2013 - 04:56 AM

The last couple of decades have seen the splitting of amateur astronomy into two major camps: one consists primarily of those who are interested in exploring the night sky visually, while those in the other camp are not really amateur astronomers in the classic sense, but rather photographers who happen to have chosen the heavens as their subject matter. While there is some degree of overlap between these two general groupings, as well as many outliers, they seem to have but little in common, in my experience.


That is not my experience. I know many of the world's best astrophotographers through electronic contact and a fair number face to face. All of them are also passionate visual observers.

In fact, they consider visual observing integral to their particularly sub-specialty. Like any kind of photography, astrophotography is all about interpretation. And how can you know how to interpret images of the sky unless you're guided by what you see through the eyepiece?

Tony Flanders
Associate Editor, Sky & Telescope

#50 Maverick199

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  • Loc: India

Posted 29 July 2013 - 05:05 AM

I have to agree with Tony here. Every time I image, I observe visually the object in question for several minutes before attaching the imaging gear. Of course certain objects are not visible through the eyepiece from my location due to city viewing but still I look for surrounding stars etc., to compose my image. If weather stays clear all night, I bring out my Dobsonian whilst imaging.






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