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Which kind of observer are you?

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#26 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 07 November 2013 - 07:03 AM

I take my time at the eyepiece now that I picked up sketching. Been a peeker for years though. I always try to hit one new object at least a night still, but often they aren't on a checklist(though I do have a few that I am working on at a leisurely, non-competitive rate.

Sketching is definitely a different Paradigm. I think it is the best way to really observe an object, one is forced to really look and pay attention. I have tried it, some people are not very good at drawing things and I am one of those people.. :(


#27 Greyhaven



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Posted 07 November 2013 - 09:17 AM

I guess I would consider myself a life long observer. I just finished an on line writing course and as a final assignment we were asked to write about something that has interested you for years and why. This was my submission:

My first love affair started on May 10,1963, Mother's Day weekend, in the tiny hamlet of Greenwood City, Maine. A green pasture spread out before my eyes, rolling hillocks dividing the pasture into tiny bivouacs for the army of rapidly arriving groups of Boy Scouts. I was about to meet my first love, although I did not know it at the time. I was the newest member of the Hooting Owl patrol and about to embark on my first intimate embrace under the night sky. The Hooting Owls had met earlier and determined that we would use this spring time camping trip to seize the opportunity to claim the Holy Grail of scout camping. We would spend the weekend out under the open stars, with no tents or lean-to shelters, just sleeping in the open. It was our stern resolve to brave the Maine wilderness. We surveyed the pasture surrounding our troops camping area and the patrol leader chose an area suitably distant from the troops main camp to enforce our claim of independence. Still, we would stay within easy running distance should we be forced to flee any black bears or rampaging bull moose and warn the troop of the danger it was in. The intrepid Hooting Owls were settling in for the night, silently, one by one, each scout disappeared into his sleeping bag, feet, legs, chest and finally head and pillow were drawn into the safety and warmth of the bag. The not too distant campfires slowly died giving up their battle against the night. I would have to greet the lovely lady of the evening alone. Ah! She did not make me wait for long, slowly like a dancer, she unveiled herself to me. The Milky Way was there as promised, complete with her rich star fields and dark patches of dust and shed cool light on the slumbering campers. Silently, I toured the star studded vistas of my mistress. Mars, the warrior planet, nestled snugly between the constellations Leo and Cancer, was slowly sinking in the western sky and its dim red glow assured me of its correct identification. The Little Dipper was hanging by the North Star and Cassiopeia rotated overhead keeping time more surely than the finest clock. The dew settled in the pasture coating the sleeping scouts, grass and spider webs with beads of water. The waning gibbous Moon cleared the tree tops and each precious drop of dew caught the moonlight and reflected its brilliance a thousand fold. The pasture mirrored the glow of the universe as far as I could see. Thus began my lifelong affair with the night sky. Now, as an old man, I sometimes sit in my small observatory, look up and have to wipe the tears from my eyes as I gaze upon her young unchanging face knowing she has watched me from my childhood to near my end, patiently waiting until we can finally be joined.

I guess this describes "Which kind of observer I am"
Be Well

#28 Michael Rapp

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Posted 07 November 2013 - 10:01 AM

Nicely written Grey. You brought back a memory for me, which curiously, also deals with Scouts. I remember being on a campout and like yours, for some reason, we forwent the tents.

I've always been a light sleeper and cots just aren't the most comfortable things. I distinctly remember waking up essentially each hour and watching the Big Dipper make its way around the pole. I was only 8-10 years old at the time, but -- other that it being exceptionally beautiful -- I felt as if I had been let into a secret that few people truly grasped: I had experienced almost kinesthetically that the earth rotates under the stars. It was very powerful.

#29 jrbarnett


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Posted 07 November 2013 - 01:00 PM

Rarely do we sailors of the real sea set out without "lists" (itineraries, plots, plans, etc.). Doing otherwise gets you dead as often as not. :grin:


Of course, I've never once feared drowning whilst at the eyepiece.

- Jim

#30 jrbarnett


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Posted 07 November 2013 - 01:11 PM

Well, I think each piracy analogy is silly and in-apposite to be honest. Unlike plunder which is tangible and singular, and therefore can have only unique ownership, your "hoarding" of an experience such as observing the Horsehead, in no way affects the ability of others to do the same. Experiences in astronomy are not subject to diminishment through plurality of users.

Also, the primary function of the Barbaries was not plunder, but rather slaving. They captured Christian European slaves for the slave markets of North Africa. From the 16th to 19th century, corsairs captured an estimated 800,000 to 1.25 million people as slaves. That's a very significant minority percentage of the European population at that time. Entire swaths of the northern Mediterranean coast were uninhabited out of fear of Barbary slaving raids. So I'd say his characterization of Barbary pirates and their motivation is historically inaccurate as well.

I think that in astronomy there are many more than two types of observers, as well as many more than two types of motivation. His analogy makes me say "Pffffffffffffffft!"


- Jim

#31 PeterR280



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Posted 07 November 2013 - 01:49 PM

Nothing wrong with lust and leisure.

#32 hfjacinto


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Posted 07 November 2013 - 02:12 PM

If I image one object for 4 hours I guess I'm a luster :)

#33 The Mighty Mo

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Posted 07 November 2013 - 02:28 PM

I find myself to be both kinds of visual observer. I like finding and logging as many objects as I can, while evaluating them in my notes. Those that really capture my attention, get saved in my "Favorites" lists, which are then categorized by Asterism, Cluster, Galaxies, Nebula, and Stars. That way, for nights like tonight, where the objects in my Working List of unobserved items aren't up until later, I'll spend some quality time with many of the accessible items in my favorites.

#34 GeneT


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Posted 07 November 2013 - 04:50 PM

I don't fit either broad category. I plan for a half dozen objects to spend about half my viewing time allocation, then free-wheel the rest.

#35 mountain monk

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Posted 07 November 2013 - 07:53 PM


Hah! Great photo!

Dark skies,


#36 star drop

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Posted 07 November 2013 - 09:49 PM

The second kind of observer. Long deep looks searching out the faint structure and sometimes detecting some color.

#37 tomcody



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Posted 08 November 2013 - 10:09 AM

I think that in astronomy there are many more than two types of observers, as well as many more than two types of motivation. His analogy makes me say "Pffffffffffffffft!"


- Jim

As to the photo, If you ever start AP imaging, I hope you don't photoshop your AP photos like that. :crazy:

#38 Starman1


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Posted 08 November 2013 - 10:36 AM

In Stephen O'Meara's 2007 book, Deep Sky Companions: Hidden Treasures, he makes (in keeping with the theme of the book) an analogy between pirates and visual deep sky observers.

He describes two tendencies, one he likens to the Barbary pirates in which observers "are primarily interesting in finding and accumulating as many deep-sky objects as possible. They enjoy the challenge of the hunt and are satisfied when their plan of attack succeeds. They are not interested in spending time 'on board' each target, examining it carefully and diligently. After the capture, they figuratively toss the treasure on deck, kick it aside, and sail right on to the next." He adds, "The more treasures they collect, the bigger their bounty, and the happier they become."

The other tendency, he likens to "the pirates who sailed the Caribbean and North American waters during the golden age of piracy, whose essence of attack was a mix of lust and leisure." For observers of this persuasion, "the hunt is part of a larger adventure. When we 'capture' a deep-sky object, we do spend time 'on board.' We feel the need to sift deeper, to plumb the depths of each 'hold,' knowing that if we do, if we remain patient, we will be rewarded by the sight of even more riches."

Stephen is very clear that both approaches are perfectly fine, after all, this hobby is about having fun. Stephen, of course, counts himself among the latter group. Indeed, when writing his first book in the Deep Sky Companion series, he relates that he often spent as many as three nights on a single object!

These two observing patterns are probably best thought as a continuum rather than an either/or demarkation.

For myself, I've spent the majority of my first twenty years in astronomy squarely on the extreme of the first group. It was all about the lists and getting those pesky "beginners" Messiers out of the way so I could work on the "real" astronomy held in the Herschel 400.

It has only been in the last two years that I've gotten myself to slow down and observe objects. Still, it's hard for me to do. No matter how I try to approach it, the more objects I see a night, the more accomplishment I feel.

Much of this is undoubtably due to my personality type. If you're familiar with the Meyers-Briggs, I'm an INTJ and the relevant metric here is the J. J (Judgmental) types love lists. We live by our todo lists. I bring this up to highlight that neither of O'Meara's two approaches are right or wrong, they are just different and where you fit on the continuum may simply reflect your personality and preferences.

Where do you reside? Have you drifted from one camp to another over time (and perhaps forcefully) as I have? Are you right in the middle?

I saw all the Messiers my first summer under the stars at age 12. It was about learning how to use my mount. Plus, I observed nearly every clear night.

About 2 decades later I decided to start recording my observations. By now, I had seen a lot of objects with NGC prefixes, and many of them were so uninteresting, I wanted to record my notes so I wouldn't go back to them and waste my time.

A decade later, when I got my first computerized telescope, my "log" was up to about 3000-3500 objects (viewed with 6" and smaller). My approach to observing was always leisurely, with not more than 10 to 20 new objects each session (I view all night when I observe, so that IS a leisurely pace).

Things looked so different in the 8" LX200 that i wanted to not only re-view all the objects I'd seen before (something not worth revisiting in a smaller aperture becomes a "favorite" in a larger one). I took the time to put together a list of about 15000 objects I though might be visible in an 8", and I decided that I would spend all my time on discovery, i.e. new objects I'd never seen before. Of course, along the way, I found a lot of new favorites.

Not surprisingly, my log grew to ~9300 objects by the time I got rid of that 8" eleven years later.

I quickly realized that the number of objects visible in my 12.5" would exceed the time left I had on Earth, so instead of trying to see everything visible in the aperture, I decided to spend more time on the "favorites" from my log and confine the new objects to maybe 10 or 20 per session (my pattern with the smaller scopes). Plus. discovery has its edge taken away when every new object is really tiny and really faint.

Now, a decade later, I'm only up to 11,000 objects in my log, and I really don't feel pressed to add appreciably to that. I estimate that, lifetime, I have 10,000 hours under the stars, so obviously, though I make and use lists, I have done a lot of "social" observing through the years or I'd have a lot more objects in my log. And I've varied from 75 new objects in a night to none. It just depends where I am and my mood.

I would say that, for a couple decades, I was "systematic" about observing. I did view each object long enough for notes about size, shape, brightness, and other features, so I wouldn't say I rushed. How many minutes does it take to see all you can see of an object on that night in that scope? Sometimes it only takes a minute. Other times it takes 15. But unless you're sketching, spending more than 15 minutes on an object means you've fallen asleep leaning on the eyepiece (guilty!).
Even at 15 minutes per object, though, that's 32 objects over 8 hours.
These days, moving leisurely and chatting with neighbors, I still seem to average 50 or so each night I go out.

What I don't do is what I read a lot of others do: observe for 2 hours then call it a night. When I do that, I'm looking at the Moon or planets or double stars from my patio, and I'm using a 4-5" scope. I haven't kept track of all the hours I've spent observing those objects through scopes, but it's extensive.

So I like the discovery of going where I've not been before and I like visiting old friends. Does the fact I keep track and use lists mean I'm only in the first group? Frankly, I think his dichotomy is artificial and there are more kinds of observers than he suggests. It varies from the person who wades only and just gets his feet wet to the ocean swimmer.
And trust me, you can't drink the ocean.

#39 karstenkoch



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Posted 10 November 2013 - 10:04 PM

I'm mostly a beachcomber.

I walk slowly looking for seashells to pick up and take a longer look at. Sometimes I'll hit the beach with a picture of a particular seashell that I'm looking for. Sometime's even a short list to find. Right now, I don't have enough observing time in my schedule to work through longer lists. I usually start by finding a few familiar things, then if time permits, I'll use SeaShellSafari to identify a few more targets of interest.

#40 kt4hx


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Posted 12 November 2013 - 07:15 AM

Thanks for the thread Michael. I was thinking on this just a few days ago, trying to remember exactly what it was that Steve said about observers in that book. Anyway, I would definitely fit the "accumlator" category. I rarely work from lists. Most times I don't even know where I am going to observe when I set my gear up. I often just sit in my observing chair for a little bit and look around the sky, and finally focus on one area. Then I pull the atlas and start the process. It is not unusual for me to run through 15 to 20 or more objects in an evening (say 3 to 5 hours +/-). Once I identified 50 galaxies in the Coma-Virgo field in about 2 to 3 hours. Of course in that case I was galaxy hopping rather than star hopping. I have also traditionally been very poor at documenting my observing. In recent years I have gotten much better at keeping notes as I observe, then transferring those to a more permanent record later. I have on occasion worked from a personally generated list, but I rarely work from an established list (Messier, Caldwell, H-400, etc). I just find that too confining, too inside the box for me personally.

There are some objects I consider special to me. First would be M6 and M7, the first objects I have a recollection of observing as a younster in the early to mid 1960s. My first scope was a shakey little reflector (2.5 or 3 inches), and though I didn't know what the two clusters were, they were the most beautiful things I could ever imagine. Every time I went out that summer I spent a long time looking at them. Another specific object I think of fondly is M51. It was one of the first objects I saw with my newly acquired (early 1980s) Coulter 17.5 dob, and the first time I ever saw spiral structure in a galaxy. Those two moments have been etched in my mind forever. I do understand about having friends in the sky. I look upon the stars and the constellations that way. Though I may have strayed away from the hobby for long stretches of time, my old friends remained exactly where I had left them, as if they were just passing the years knowing full well that I would return one day. There is a certain comfort in that.

#41 BoldAxis1967



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Posted 14 November 2013 - 02:27 PM

Place me in Group II: Pirates of the Caribbean and North American waters. I'm definitely into "lust and leisure."

I do not have go-to or even motors. My typical viewing sessions are 2-4 hrs. I will usually take in two to four objects for 10-15 minutes, but there is usually one main object of interest that I will spent an hour or more on.

There are nights when I will spend a couple of hrs just looking at Jupiter or the moon or the Great Nebula in Orion.

If I view too many objects within a short time frame then the session tends to become too blurry the next day. I like to think back and daydream a little and recall specific details. That way the high lasts for a few days. :)


#42 karstenkoch



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Posted 15 November 2013 - 06:19 AM

If I view too many objects within a short time frame then the session tends to become too blurry the next day. I like to think back and daydream a little and recall specific details.

Wow, this really hits the nail on the head regarding my observing sessions. Funny how it takes someone else to describe something that should be obvious, but which isn't until you hear someone else describe it. You know, I think I'm going to make an intentional concerted effort to view FEWER objects for LONGER from now on. Just like you I like to replay the views in my head as I go to sleep and during the next day.

#43 FirstSight


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Posted 15 November 2013 - 11:06 AM

Not a very hardy one, at least not until I re-adjust to the chill of the wintery half of the year and get re-accustomed to putting on a few layers before going out to stay comfortable, instead of just wandering out when the sky and mood strikes in shorts and a t-shirt. I finally went out in 28 degree F temps night before last with a 3/4 moon in low in the sky for an hour or so with my NP-101 and enjoyed it. Nothing too ambitious with luna lighting up the sky, but got my first seasonal view of M44 peeking over the treeline to my east, among other things. Seeing was a bit dodgy to get much of a good detailed view of Jupiter or to split the trapezium into more than just the obvious quartet.

#44 csrlice12



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Posted 15 November 2013 - 11:46 AM

I see the clouds as pirates....and I'm the ship that's been boarded....... :lol:

#45 jrbarnett


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Posted 15 November 2013 - 11:46 AM

I love your marbles quote, but (of course) "have a bag of marbles" story...

When I was a wee one, my father was one of the principle architects of the LCD wrist watch. He worked for a company called "Ness Time" at the time. The family was shipped off to live in Austria for a year so that my father could collaborate with materials specialists at crystal maker Swarovski. We lived in a little town called Wattens near Innsbruck in the Tyrol. When we arrived, one of the Swarovski execs presented me, a strapping lad of 9 or 10, with a suede bag of beautiful, Swarovski-made marbles. They were incredible - more like gems than any crummy old glass American marbles.

So, my marbles really are better than your marbles, and if I showed them to you, you'd probably agree. Of course, I've since lost...er...my marbles. :grin:

- Jim

#46 ensign


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Posted 15 November 2013 - 03:14 PM

I don't fit either broad category. I plan for a half dozen objects to spend about half my viewing time allocation, then free-wheel the rest.


#47 azure1961p


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Posted 16 November 2013 - 09:24 AM

I'm more into lust and leisure but there are times the succession of objects provided by GOTO actually is beneficial in comparisons between them. At anyrate messier marathons or marathons and lust completions if any type are completely not for me. If I don't see all the Messiers in my lifetime ill consider it a credit to the fact I found more interesting things off the beaten path.


#48 Michael Rapp

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Posted 16 November 2013 - 11:44 AM

I sometimes wonder if my early fix on the Messiers caused me to wane in interest in astronomy a few times. I got it in my head that one was supposed to do all the Messiers before embarking on the Herschels.

The Messiers were the training ground for the harder stuff, and if you tried to do any of the Herschels before "you were ready" you just wouldn't be able to observe them as well. (Yeah, I know...but I was 15 at the time and the Astronomical League was HUGE in the club to which I belonged and I clearly misperceived some things.)

Now, I do a constellation-focused approach rather than a list/catalog approach and it is much more satisfying. I'm no longer a prisoner of any one list.

#49 tao of how

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Posted 17 November 2013 - 01:29 PM

Caribbean pirate here by nature. I just re-visited my childhood interest in astronomy over the summer and have spent most of my observing time finding Messier Objects or on Saturn and now on Jupiter. That said come this spring I'll be shifting to Barbary pirate mode when I try my first Messier Marathon.

#50 carlcat


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Posted 17 November 2013 - 05:12 PM

Are there any lazy pirates because that's the kind of pirate I'd be? I tend to stick with the moon and planets because I can see them more often from my back yard and not have to drive out to a dark site, set up, observe, take down, drive home, get to bed at 2:30 AM and then unpack the car the next morning. Plus, I started observing the moon at the young age of ll in 1958 and it still blows my mind observing it. There's just so much detail to observe that I never tire of that feeling I'm right above the surface, especially with those 80 degree eyepieces.

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