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jrbarnett
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If you could have just one field resource...
      #4706645 - 07/22/11 12:35 PM

...which one should it be?

So what do I mean by "field resource"? I mean some form of printed material that serves as a repository for information (graphical, literary, or both) identifying and/or describing the characteristics of celestial targets. A field resource could be a star atlas, such as Orion's Deep Map 600, the Sky & Telescope Pocket Atlas, Herald-Bobroff Astroatlas, Edmund's Magnitude 6 Star Atlas, etc. A field resource, alternately, could be a field guide with textual and photographic information on celestial targets, but lacking star charts. Examples of such field guides include Burnham's Celestial Handbook and the Webb Society Handbooks. Often popular atlases will have a companion field guide. Sky and Telescope's Sky Atlas 2000 offers a companion field guide as does Uranometria. There are also certain field guides that while not whole-sky atlases, do provide finder charts for particular targets.

So now that we are on the same page with respect to what a field resource is, let's answer the question. Before doing so, however, let me tailor the direction of the discussion a bit to improve its relevance to the Beginner's Forum. There are two things I would like for us to bear in mind. First, beginners by definition haven't had as much star time as more experienced observers. This means that there is an even larger Universe of things that could be seen but have not yet been seen for the beginners than for any other class of observers. Second, while it's true that seasoned observers will have seen most if not all of the "best and brightest" targets their telescopes are capable of revealing, it is also true that the "best and brightest" objects remain the most impressive visually in any sized instrument. Even veteran astronomers typically spend as much time chasing showcase objects as esoterica.

With those two points in mind, I think that the best field resource for a beginner is one that concentrates on the best and brightest, provides useful information to help find the target in the telescope, and also provides sufficient information about each target to allow the observer to confirm that he or she has, indeed, observed the right target. Star atlases are great for identifying location, but relatively poor for providing information. Field guides typically have the opposite problem; great information with little help getting you there. So from my perspective the best beginner's field resource would have the following characteristics:

1. Covers all showcase objects of each category (stars, DSOs, etc.)
2. Provides sufficient graphical positional information to enable the observer to locate each object
3. Provides sufficient textual information to allow the observer to understand what to expect and to verify the observation
4. Because we've limited ourselves to "just one" for purposes of this discussion, is contained in a single, field-friendly volume.

So, with those criteria in mind, what is the best single field resource for the beginner in my opinion?

Peter Birren's "Objects in the Heavens" (often abbreviated "OITH").

http://www.birrendesign.com/astro.html

Let's see how Birren's work matches up with the criteria above. OITH kicks off with some useful information about telescopes, techniques for measuring angular distances in the sky, annual meteor showers and the like. It then provides seasonal "planisphere scale" star charts helping the user get oriented for the session with the seasonal constellations visible. OITH concentrates on objects magnitude 10 and brighter, ensuring that they will be visible in most any telescope, from most any locale.

The meat of the work is organized alphabetically by constellation much like a traditional field guide (e.g., Burnham's) would be organized. For each constellation Birren provides a list of targets, tabular data explaining what the object is and what it should look like, and then a small constellation chart plotting the location of each listed target relative to the main stars in the constellation.

The work is very compact 8.5" by 5.5" with laminated covers and a black spiral bound spine. This makes it easy to keep dry (close the cover between consultations), transport (it is small enough that it fits in the pocket of a parka), and use (the binding allows it to be opened flat on an observing table).

Covers showcase objects? Check. Provides sufficient graphical information to locate the targets in the telescope? Check. Provides sufficient "biographical" data for each object to permit confirmation? Check. Field-friendly format? Check.

Four-for-four, Birren's work bats 1000.

Regards,

Jim


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RonUwood
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Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: jrbarnett]
      #4706684 - 07/22/11 12:57 PM

I never go observing without Objects in the Heavens. It has a permanent home in my eyepiece case. Easy to read, informative, and I particularly like the list of targets for each constellation is on the facing page from the constellation chart. There is a tremendous amount of information listed for each object in a space saving way.

Ron


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star drop
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Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: RonUwood]
      #4706709 - 07/22/11 01:08 PM

That looks like a good one. I had never seen it before. Thank you for the link, Jim.

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Jon Isaacs
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Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: jrbarnett]
      #4706715 - 07/22/11 01:11 PM

A great field resourse:

Sky Safari for the iPhone...

- 1. Covers all showcase objects of each category (stars, DSOs, etc.)

Not only provides the show case items but provides many many more.

- 2. Provides sufficient graphical positional information to enable the observer to locate each object.

Provides zoomable star charts, current alt-az information.

- 3. Provides sufficient textual information to allow the observer to understand what to expect and to verify the observation

Sky Safari has an surprising amount of written information... I'll read it in bed because there is so much information.

- 4. Because we've limited ourselves to "just one" for purposes of this discussion, is contained in a single, field-friendly volume.

It fits in your shirt pocket, you can use it sitting, standing, on top of a ladder. It has it's own red light that can be dimmed down...

These days there are many types of field resources, books, laptops, charts, hand helds, cell phones... There is no need to do the old fashioned way...

I do find my way around the night sky solely by starhopping but I definitely take advantage of modern technology when it comes to my "field resources."

Jon

Edited by Jon Isaacs (07/22/11 01:12 PM)


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FJA
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Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: Jon Isaacs]
      #4706724 - 07/22/11 01:15 PM

OITH is a very good field resource for a beginner.

Going by the question posed in the title of the thread, if I could have just *one* field resource, it would be the Night Sky Observer's Guide, Vols 1-3.


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Maverick199
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Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: FJA]
      #4706792 - 07/22/11 01:43 PM

Stellarium on my iPod is presently the resource which helps a lot. Other than this, I have two books i.e., Night Watch and Sky Pocket Atlas. The latter gets used at times when starhopping with Stellarium becomes a bit tough. Now my decision is due to limited exposure vis-a-vis the aforementioned software and books. If I had a library full of 'em, my decision may have been different.

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jrbarnett
Eyepiece Hooligan
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Reged: 02/28/06

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Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: FJA]
      #4706822 - 07/22/11 01:55 PM

Naughty, naughty, Faith.

We specified one single volume in criterion 4.

But you're correct. Sky Observer's Guide is the best modern field guide in my opinion as well. It does cost a small fortune, however, to assemble all three volumes.

Regards,

Jim


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jrbarnett
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Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: Jon Isaacs]
      #4706839 - 07/22/11 01:59 PM

Jon and Maverick:

The question posed specifically excluded smart phones, iPads, iPods, laptops and the like. Specifically "printed" materials were specified.

Besides, OITH costs considerably less than such solutions, is less apt to damage night vision (I use Sky Safari; IMO the iPhone does not dim enough even with SS in night mode), and best of all, OITH never needs to be recharged nor does it chime, buzz or make other unpeacefull utterances.

- Jim


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Maverick199
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Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: jrbarnett]
      #4706844 - 07/22/11 02:02 PM

Well in that case, I will go with Sky Pocket and Atlas for now.

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jrbarnett
Eyepiece Hooligan
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Reged: 02/28/06

Loc: Petaluma, CA
Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: jrbarnett]
      #4706865 - 07/22/11 02:14 PM

I should probably add the following.

Some of my renewed interest in OITH is related to next Spring's Messier Marathon season. My club, OFLI, typically does hot a Messier Marathon attempt; sometimes from our home site of CNer cuzimtehdad's farm and other times from more remote sites.

Though I've always come up a couple of Messiers short of a full Marathon, I also have found myself looking at other non-Messier targets in the neighborhood of Messiers. My inability to stay on task lead me to think about alternatives.

One idea I've been kicking around was holding an event over two full nights from a very dark site with good horizons, and pursuing a much larger observing list than the humble Messiers. Two of the lists I've been considering are Deep Map 600 and OITH. Each has a similar number of targets listed, though often of different sorts.

One challenge I have is coming up with an optimal search order for each of these mega-lists. I don't think search order is as critical for targets visible at at times other than dusk and dawn, but i would still want reasonable efficiency.

At our last dark sky retreat in the Mojave, I provided a structured list (created using Skytools 3) of 731 targets visible in a C8 from the site. I managed just 202 of those over two nights (one a short session and the other a long session), but I was also using smaller aperture (5.5") and not really "Marathoning". I'm really keen to see how many targets I can manage in two ten hour observing sessions.

I think doing OITH cover to cover over two nights would be a hoot.

Regards,

Jim


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pftarch
professor emeritus


Reged: 09/21/07

Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: Jon Isaacs]
      #4706867 - 07/22/11 02:17 PM

Quote:

A great field resourse:

Sky Safari for the iPhone...

- 1. Covers all showcase objects of each category (stars, DSOs, etc.)

Not only provides the show case items but provides many many more.

- 2. Provides sufficient graphical positional information to enable the observer to locate each object.

Provides zoomable star charts, current alt-az information.

- 3. Provides sufficient textual information to allow the observer to understand what to expect and to verify the observation

Sky Safari has an surprising amount of written information... I'll read it in bed because there is so much information.

- 4. Because we've limited ourselves to "just one" for purposes of this discussion, is contained in a single, field-friendly volume.

It fits in your shirt pocket, you can use it sitting, standing, on top of a ladder. It has it's own red light that can be dimmed down...

These days there are many types of field resources, books, laptops, charts, hand helds, cell phones... There is no need to do the old fashioned way...

I do find my way around the night sky solely by starhopping but I definitely take advantage of modern technology when it comes to my "field resources."

Jon




add to the above:

5. can serve as a electronic tube level (wixy surrogate)

6. can hold other star atlases, books, applications, all in one spot.

7. you could listen to music while you observe, but I don't. (I enjoy the quiet and my neighbors would probably not be impressed with 3am jam sessions at the telescope.)

8. with cell data service or a MIFI wireless you could go online on the spot and get further info. (although I don't find the need to do that either.)

I read my books in the house, but at the telescope, all I need is my ipod. (I use GoSky Watch, which is probably not as good as skysafari, but it serves me well for the same reasons that Jon mentioned above.)


I'm with Jon all the way on this one


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Jon Isaacs
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Loc: San Diego and Boulevard, CA
Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: jrbarnett]
      #4706917 - 07/22/11 02:40 PM

Quote:

Jon and Maverick:

The question posed specifically excluded smart phones, iPads, iPods, laptops and the like. Specifically "printed" materials were specified.

Besides, OITH costs considerably less than such solutions, is less apt to damage night vision (I use Sky Safari; IMO the iPhone does not dim enough even with SS in night mode), and best of all, OITH never needs to be recharged nor does it chime, buzz or make other unpeacefull utterances.

- Jim




I carefully read your initial post and I saw no such exclusion nor do I think such an exclusion is appropriate. iPhones, laptops etc are all part of modern day amateur astronomy and should be presented as useful resources for the beginning stargazer. An iPhone or Laptop is a great way to learn the night sky.

If one does have an iPhone, Sky Safari costs about $15 and if one needs some Rubylith to dim the light even more, its a few dollars more.

Just as GOTO and DSCs have supplanted manual setting circles and Starhopping, electronic data bases and information have made having a competent field resource at your finger tips much easier. A field printed field guide is unlikely to have information about the rise and set times and the illumination of Mercury and Venus...

They are powerful tools and should not be ignored in this context.... I got my first computer program about 1995, Chris Marriott's Sky Map, in my opinion, its the modern way to do it.

As an ironic aside, I have been accused of being a Luddite because of my love of Starhopping. Now we see the other side of the coin.... I am all for appropriate technology, that is technology appropriate for the task at hand.

Jon Isaacs

Edited by Jon Isaacs (07/22/11 02:46 PM)


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pftarch
professor emeritus


Reged: 09/21/07

Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: Jon Isaacs]
      #4706971 - 07/22/11 03:07 PM

must not weigh in and get in trouble with the moderators again.......must not weigh in and get in trouble with the moderators again......must not weigh in and get in trouble with the moderators again.......

If we limit it to print only, during my early beginner stages I used "Nightwatch" pretty much exclusively. It was easy enough to not be intimidating, the overall charts were helpful and simple to use, and the limited number of "Deep Sky" charts were very effective and "user friendly". I spent my first couple of years just using that and I'm still very interested in the hobby. I picked up some other books which were subsequently more helpful, but "Nightwatch" kept me going for quite a while.

"Touring the Universe" by Ken Graun took me beyond "Nightwatch" (possibly because I got Nightwatch first) and it too was a valuable resource. It could also serve as an excellent first book for the beginner. (and beyond).

Peter T.


ps - I'm still with Jon though on the whole ipod/phone thing. (Here come the moderators............)


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jrbarnett
Eyepiece Hooligan
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Loc: Petaluma, CA
Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: Jon Isaacs]
      #4706991 - 07/22/11 03:19 PM

Here you go; from the OP (defining "field resource"):

"So what do I mean by "field resource"? I mean some form of PRINTED material that serves as a repository for information (graphical, literary, or both) identifying and/or describing the characteristics of celestial targets."

Ergo, for purposes of this post, by definition, digital content on an iPhone, iPad, laptop, etc., cannot satisfy this definition because it is not "PRINTED material".

It's not that I don't consider computer programs for astronomy useful (I do use SS and SkyFi sometimes, for example), but unless the beginner has already succumbed to the lure or the smartphone or iPad, or already has a laptop he or she is willing to bring into the field, such devices bring along as many dependencies as they do benefits. Power being chief among them. For instance, Sky Safari depletes the iPod Touch fairly quickly over the course of a session. So much so that I have a back-up battery pack that I can use to supplement the onboard battery. Toss in a little music and a phone call or two, and unless you can recharge in the field, your resource fails for want of juice. On the other hand, a variable red LED flashlight and book combo can last scores of sessions without running out of juice.

So whether you think the topic was properly limited to printed material or not, it nonetheless was so-limited. Kill a tree or two, Jon, and tell us what paper-based resources you fancy.

Regards,

Jim

Edited by jrbarnett (07/22/11 03:25 PM)


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mmclure
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Reged: 12/30/10

Loc: Sacramento, CA USA
Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: pftarch]
      #4707006 - 07/22/11 03:28 PM

I agree with Jim on the problem that an iPhone/iPad/etc. tends to not be very night vision friendly. Even though apps like GoSkyWatch or Sky Safari have a night vision mode, the startup screens for both these apps are not night vision friendly, nor is the iPhone/iPad unlock screen. Sky Safari's night vision mode even allows some white light to escape around the menu borders. So you need a red filter over the screen.

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Jon Isaacs
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Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: jrbarnett]
      #4707018 - 07/22/11 03:34 PM

Quote:

"So what do I mean by "field resource"? I mean some form of PRINTED material that serves as a repository for information (graphical, literary, or both) identifying and/or describing the characteristics of celestial targets."




I took printed to mean text, my mistake.

But in any event, I think it is worth keeping in mind the big picture and recognizing that digital tools are very useful in this regard... they have can simply understanding the sky, making things easier for the first time stargazer, in ways that just not possible with "printed material."

Jon Isaacs


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jrbarnett
Eyepiece Hooligan
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Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: Jon Isaacs]
      #4707054 - 07/22/11 04:00 PM

Jon, yer killin' me.

You and I are stranded in the middle of the Rub' al Khali two hundred and thirty two miles from anywhere. We have no cel signal and no means of recharging our iPhones, which, in any case, have depleted their meager energy reserves and are now non-functional.

Worse still, both of our bicycles (yours a cyclocross rig, mine a mountain bike) have double flatted multiple times and we've completely run out of patch kits and tubes in my case, and thread for your sew-ups in yours. On the plus side, we know we are being looked for, and expect rescue within a week or two, and we have a decent supply of freeze dried food and fuel for our stove. We also have plenty of potable water from an old trade well near our small oasis camp, so we will survive to see rescue.

Coincidentally, we also both have 3" refractors and alt-az mounts in our saddle bags together with ONE PRINTED RESOURCE each. Under those circumstances, I pull out my copy of Birren's OITH. You pull out your copy of...and no, I'm not inclined to share my resource.

- Jim


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KWB
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Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: jrbarnett]
      #4707116 - 07/22/11 04:31 PM

A simple planisphere is all I need.

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FirstSight
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Loc: Raleigh, NC
Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: KWB]
      #4707136 - 07/22/11 04:39 PM

The single most valuable field resource is...(drum roll please)...

a nice open field with dark skies, good horizons, and no visible artificial light sources. Well, duh (!) you might say, but I say it's more valuable than any other "field resource" you could possibly wish for.

OK, ok so you specified written field resource. Well, then I'll take a map to said open field with dark skies. There!

Edited by FirstSight (07/22/11 04:42 PM)


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pftarch
professor emeritus


Reged: 09/21/07

Re: If you could have just one field resource... new [Re: jrbarnett]
      #4707170 - 07/22/11 04:57 PM

Aside from wading into the shark infested ipod waters, I also didn't limit myself to ONE book, I listed two.

IF I had to say ONLY one, it would be "Touring the Universe" SLIGHTLY beating out "Nightwatch" for the following reasons:

1. It lists all the Messier objects as well as numerous other objects such as double stars.
2. It gives a nice brief verbal description of most of the objects listed as well as a "level of difficulty" of sorts.
3. Its' layout is a little more 'field guide" vs "coffee table". (Although this is minor, and both Nightwatch and Touring the Universe are spiral bound which I find very helpful in the field.)
4. It's lighter.
5. Nightwatch is more fun to read in the house, and I feel offers a SLIGHT edge in "other than starhopping" info, but I find "Touring the Universe" a LITTLE easier to use at the telescope.
6. Touring the Universe has a soft cover, making it more enjoyable to sit on when I have to put the book down on my observing chair because I have no place else to set it.

Both are excellent, but if I had to pick ONLY one, I would probably go with "Touring the Universe"

(Of course I could change my mind AGAIN in 15 minutes and repost)

Peter T.


Jim - I am in your camp ENTIRELY on the laptop, and I too detest all that has batteries if I can help it. However, I usually only observe for under three hours and the ipod easily lasts that long, and, the darn thing fits in my shirt pocket.


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