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Beginner's question about a simple observing set up during the early "learning stage"

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#1 SimonIRE

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 01:58 AM

Good morning people, 

 

I am interested to know what peoples thoughts are on the "ergonomics" of a basic observing session set up. Some context will help to explain. 

 

I am a complete novice, working my way through "Turn left at Orion" and last night went into my Paddock to do some simple observing with my binoculars (big ones - 20 x 80s with a very good tripod). The sky was drenched in moonlight so I began observing the moon and then started to orientate myself with my planisphere and get a sense of the way the sky was moving over time. Then I simply started identifying individual stars and looking for their relationships in constellations. I admit - this is ridiculously basic stuff but I was thrilled to be doing it. I am keen to move slowly so as to limit frustrations - a stretch of gradual successes in small steps is what I am after. 

 

[I had initially set my self the goal of locating a few Messier objects of the "easy variety" but I think that was too ambitious for this first 2 hour session. Tonight I will try this]

 

The issue is that I had no organised "set up" with my equipment and often found myself fumbling around looking for my planisphere in the dark and referring to a phone app which wasn't working very well with my red torch in my mouth. The viewing time I had was frustrated by these things. Of note - I actually didn't like having my phone with me. There is something about a mobile phone that tethers you to your working life. 

 

My question is this; does this ring a bell with others when they started out? How do you organise your observing environment? I thought a cheap fold out camping table would be useful. At times I really wanted to refer to literature on what I was viewing and missed my Sky Atlas. How about a viewing stool? Keep in mind I am just using binoculars until I purchase a scope (this month or the next - I have almost decided on which one). 

 

Many thanks all for reading this post.

 

Simon


Edited by SimonIRE, 19 April 2019 - 02:37 AM.

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#2 havasman

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 02:13 AM

You will find an organizing method that works for you. My dog, a good chair, a table, coffee and something to eat have remained fixtures in my dark site setup for long sessions. But the configuration is nothing like what I started with at all and most of the pieces are developments from that 1st set.

 

I do still have a whole lot of fun identifying individual stars and looking for their relationships in constellations, mostly naked eye and from where ever I find myself with a sky view at night. That never gets old.


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#3 ngc7319_20

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 02:18 AM

 

My question is this; does this ring a bell with others when they started out? How do you organise your observing environment? I thought a cheap fold out camping table would be useful. At times I really wanted to refer to literature on what I was viewing and missed my Sky Atlas. How about a viewing stool? Keep in mind I am just using binoculars until I purchase a scope (this month or the next - I have almost decided on which one). 

 

Yes, a camping table is usually the first thing I will set up when observing.    I like this one 

https://www.amazon.c...e/dp/B0018Q4UP6

but any other stable table will work.  Makes everything much easier when you have a dry / clean place to put stuff.

 

Something to sit on is also very useful.  Could be just a camping chair.  Adjustable height stools are good when looking in mounted scopes or binoculars where the height goes up and down.  I use this one:

https://www.highpoin...ir-sb-white-1-2

But googling "telescope observing chair" will turn up lots of stuff.

https://www.cloudyni...bserving-chair/

 

Sometimes a big cardboard box (like a banana box from grocer) or a big plastic bin with a lid is useful for carry stuff outside and keeping observing stuff together.  Plastic bin with lid will also help keep stuff dry.


Edited by ngc7319_20, 19 April 2019 - 02:23 AM.


#4 phillip

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 02:31 AM

Wow great start!

My youth that's exactly what I used. Later with Modest 65mm refractor nice planetary views.

With binoculars can pull in some of the 4 main Jupiter Moons! It's well up before morning day

break.

Amazing number of stars certainly keeps one busy. I started with the circumpolar stars that never

Set in the North.

I often forget a chair, not only comfort, but adds more detail during the observation, actually

Required for nice planetary Detail!

Clear Sky!

ETX90, 4SE
Xt8 my workhorse
XT10
Clave 8mm, Nagler 4.8mm Planets

PST

Later might look into the SkySafari or similar for tablet or cell phone

Example right now shows a Jupiter Shadow Transit in progress, course for

Later when you get your Scope!

Best

Edited by phillip, 19 April 2019 - 02:38 AM.


#5 sg6

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 03:17 AM

A small or large folding table is a good idea. Assumes that transporting one around is easy enough.

I use a simple trolly case/bag to store my stuff in and that means everything is usually in one place, that gets thrown in the car and off I go. I can then use the open trolly as a container. Not as easy as a table but works reasonably.

 

Club has a small high industrial type table thing that is very good but it is a fair size, and doesn't collapse.

 

If it is me out observing at my easy site I just use the rear of the car, and have the open trolly bag in that. That works very well.

 

As you collect more and add to the collection you will need to plan more.  The standard dobsonian is 2 biggish units, then comes the eyepieces and other items. All adds up and makes it all less easy. At any outreach I try to keep it as easy as I can and I use my ETX-70 on it's tripod and 1 trolly bag of bits - 4 eyepieces, battery, cables, spreader, book, etc. 2 items means all in one go.

 

Messier objects to get: M42 and M45 before they disappear. Should find M31 in binoculars. Others are Double Cluster C14 and Hyades+Alderbaran. Also M13 if above the horizon is another.


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#6 SimonIRE

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 03:24 AM

M31 and M13 were on my list. I viewed M42 and M45 a few nights ago. Even before I took the plunge, as a kid I marvelled at the Pleiades and had a screen saver of it on my laptop all through college.  


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#7 Ian Robinson

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 05:19 AM

To very useful starters items

> a good book style star chart (or a laptop with capability to select red screen loaded up with a chart program like Guide)

> a good pair of binoculars ( I'd go for 10x50 or 15x or 20x60 or 15x or 20x80 )

> good comfy folding camp chair (with a swing up side table) so you have somewhere to put a bottle of Coke or Pepsi and somewhere to put the laptop or the star chart book. If you are cleaver , make Lazy Susan to sit the chair on, so if you want turn around you don't have to get up and reposition the chair, you just turn the round deck using your feet to suit.

And you are good to go.

Edited by Ian Robinson, 19 April 2019 - 05:24 AM.

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#8 SeaBee1

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 07:36 AM

For visual only observing, a simple setup is best, and easily achieved. Apart from the scope and mount, all you need is an adjustable observers seat and a table big enough for eyepiece case, charting, and a beverage of your choice. If your desire is to keep it simple, you will develop an observing routine that keeps it simple. For example, I learned early on that when using my refractor, if my targets were scattered all over the sky, that puppy could make some wild swings all over the place. It didn't take me long to learn that keeping my observing list focused on a couple of close constellations was about as simple as it gets. It is a much nicer experience when the scope makes small moves from target to target. And this facilitates simplicity by allowing you to keep your small table close enough that you can turn from scope to table and back again in small, smooth moves, and without leaving your seat (in most cases...).

 

I also purchased a small clip on dimmable red LED flexible stalk light, like one used in the theater industry, similar to THIS ONE, for viewing charts.

 

Hope this helps!

 

CB


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#9 Richie2shoes

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 08:35 AM

Even when I am out with my scope, I spend about half my time just looking up enjoying the night sky so a place to sit is good for me.  With my new scope, I have to get a new observing chair, the old stool I used is too low, but I use the tailgate of my pick up as table/chair.  I also just purchased a clamp on cell phone/tablet mount for my scope as I find it handy to use my phone when observing.  There are no rules, make your set up as comfortable as you like.


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#10 PNW

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 09:01 AM

Comfort is the name of the game when I'm observing. For chairs I use the standard plastic lawn chair (18" high). Then I bought a folding camp chair ( 24" high with a fold out side table). Flannel lined pants, a zip up hoodie, and fingerless gloves round out my wardrobe. For a light, I use one of those freebie LED's from Harbor Freight with red electrical tape on the lens. I've added a string to wear it around my neck for quick access. I see a cheap card table in my future, just remember as you "box the compass" the table will get farther away. That's about it. I'm sure the longer the April Showers go I'll think of more.


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#11 Jond105

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 09:09 AM

I found when starting out the mobile phone was an extreme help. So opposite of you. I’m also a machine operator lead, so my phone generally at all isn’t work related. SkySafari really helped me learn the sky. I also prefer to stand, hence why I like my mounts nice and tall. Funny how two people who do the same thing find different ways to enjoy it. In the end just matter what works for you, and how you find comfort in observing. 


Edited by Jond105, 19 April 2019 - 09:13 AM.

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#12 Astrolog

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 11:16 AM

Great topic Simon - I am also interested to read how others set themselves up for observing.

 

My observing setup is still evolving so having the relevant items organized and accessible is key.

 

Set-Up Items 

  • Lawn chair for sitting and naked-eye/binocular observations. NOTE: When using the telescope, I kneel/stand as needed depending on the object location.
  • Small foldable table - keeps my charts and binoculars (when not in use) & cell phone handy.
  • Celestron adjustable Red LED light which I keep on a lanyard so I do not misplace it.

As my eyepiece collection builds, a box to transport & hold them and other equipment is probably a good idea.

 

All the best,



#13 brentknight

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 02:45 PM

I think the motto should be keep it simple.  It's so easy to grab everything, but it's no fun putting it all away at the end of the evening.

 

For organization, I use SkySafari on my iPad or on my S10+ - lots of information in a little space.  I use a plastic folding work table that you can get at a home improvement store - not too large, but easy to move around that will hold binoculars, the iPad and other bits and pieces.  Then I use a much smaller folding table that just holds my eyepiece case and that I can put near the scope within easy reach of my observing chair.


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#14 gnowellsct

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 02:51 PM

I don't understand what is ridiculous in op post


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#15 Tony Flanders

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 04:00 PM

Then I simply started identifying individual stars and looking for their relationships in constellations. I admit - this is ridiculously basic stuff but I was thrilled to be doing it. I am keen to move slowly so as to limit frustrations - a stretch of gradual successes in small steps is what I am after.

Bite your tongue! There's nothing ridiculous about it. That's how I started in astronomy, and I still spend quite a lot of time doing it. The sky is a very big place, and few people know all the constellations in detail. I certainly don't, and I think of myself as a bit of an expert as far as constellations are concerned.

Everything about astronomy is way easier when the full Moon isn't riding high in the sky. It's arguably even worse than streetlights.

As for organization, no doubt you will figure it out in time. For me, the key is to keep everything simple. I carry relatively few things out with me to the observing field, and each one has its accustomed place. Even so, I do mislay stuff pretty often. Yes, an observing table is extremely helpful, as long as you don't mind having a whole 'nother rather large object to carry and set up.

 

A stool is almost a necessity with most of my telescopes.


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#16 MalVeauX

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 06:33 PM



Good morning people, 

 

I am interested to know what peoples thoughts are on the "ergonomics" of a basic observing session set up. Some context will help to explain. 

 

I am a complete novice, working my way through "Turn left at Orion" and last night went into my Paddock to do some simple observing with my binoculars (big ones - 20 x 80s with a very good tripod). The sky was drenched in moonlight so I began observing the moon and then started to orientate myself with my planisphere and get a sense of the way the sky was moving over time. Then I simply started identifying individual stars and looking for their relationships in constellations. I admit - this is ridiculously basic stuff but I was thrilled to be doing it. I am keen to move slowly so as to limit frustrations - a stretch of gradual successes in small steps is what I am after. 

 

[I had initially set my self the goal of locating a few Messier objects of the "easy variety" but I think that was too ambitious for this first 2 hour session. Tonight I will try this]

 

The issue is that I had no organised "set up" with my equipment and often found myself fumbling around looking for my planisphere in the dark and referring to a phone app which wasn't working very well with my red torch in my mouth. The viewing time I had was frustrated by these things. Of note - I actually didn't like having my phone with me. There is something about a mobile phone that tethers you to your working life. 

 

My question is this; does this ring a bell with others when they started out? How do you organise your observing environment? I thought a cheap fold out camping table would be useful. At times I really wanted to refer to literature on what I was viewing and missed my Sky Atlas. How about a viewing stool? Keep in mind I am just using binoculars until I purchase a scope (this month or the next - I have almost decided on which one). 

 

Many thanks all for reading this post.

 

Simon

Hi Simon,

 

Welcome and it's great to hear you are enjoying observation! Finding things is part of the fun for many!

 

Organization is not a requirement. For me, simplicity and speed are the requirements. Everyone has a different approach. Myself, all I can say is what works for me. Personally I like the simplify my setup. I will observe more, faster, more often, if the setup and use is super simple to avoid having to carry more stuff around with it, find stuff while observing, and fumbling in the dark. To me, that's a huge put off. So generally, I don't take a lot of eyepieces, I don't take papers or maps or any of that stuff (worse case, I may take a planetarium app on a tablet/phone... some may argue this kills your night vision, and while that can be true, it's a very valuable tool when learning to star hop, and it's a lot easier to use in the dark than some paper mess and you still need a light to see on paper anyways, so I call it an even swap, let technology work for you not against you). Protecting your night vision is important when it comes to feint fuzzies (DSO). But if you're bouncing around on bright objects, stars, you can get away without total dark adaptation and be fine while learning where things are. I tend to favor wider FOV, so longer eyepieces and shorter scopes in general for observation. This allows relationships to be seen more and makes hoping easier. I like the scope & mount to be light enough that its not a chore to use. I also like it to be small enough to not need thermal acclimation to do its job. The only extra I take out with me is a dew management system (be it electrical strips for heat, or chemical heat hand warmers and rubber bands) because you cannot do any observation in Florida after 10pm without dew management or you'll just be looking at dim haze through the dew on the optics real fast. I generally take one or two eyepieces and thats it. If I had a great zoom eyepiece I would probably just take that and leave it glued in there (like a Hyperion perhaps).

 

I generally have an idea of what I'm going to have access to before I observe. This gives me an idea of where to start, what to look for, etc. Stellarium is great for planning the session. Even if its 10 minutes.

 

Very best,


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#17 Mike W.

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Posted 20 April 2019 - 06:31 AM

And here I am at the complete opposite, absolutely no need for any kind of haste.

Where are the stars going, they've been up there a very long time, longer than I can remember.

There are so many to see, then there's the planet things to spice it up, cool little orbs with bands and rings and things.

 

Don't hurry this hobby, a few things at first and then see where the trail leads.


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#18 AstroKerr

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Posted 20 April 2019 - 08:36 AM

First, arrive on site and park. Get into a "Graham Chapman" state of mind

 

Step boldly into the field and select a center of operations. Exclaim "Ahhh!", take a deep breath, pound your chest, and release it.

 

Place a good quality table directly on the 'center'.

 

Remove your upper body overgarment, face North, take five sturdy paces in that direction, pound your chest, bow, pound your chest again, turn 180° and return to your table.

 

Repeat this for each of the three remaining cardinal points, then replace your upper body overgarment.

 

Set your observing oculars, snacks, beverages, etc. on your table, along with a red-filtered led camplight of minimal brightness. Things should be properly placed in set positions - not just 'set down' at random.

 

Place your chair and cot appropriately and exclaim "Back, Back, O ye demons of the night!".

 

Note: some of these steps are done to keep other folk at a distance, so they will not interrupt your observing.

 

Obtain your observing device and do a measured-pace Zenith to Horizon (downward) spiral scan - this is to familiarize yourself with the evening's sky - look for interesting things / anomolies. From time to time, observe the sky directly, without your device, and mutter loudly "What the devil?!", "Bugger All?!", or "Ar-ma-geddon!"  

 

Open your Observing Plan book for [Date] and proceed. Good observing / viewing requires you remain hydrated and properly nutrified - this will allow you to remain focused and alert, and help maintain your visual acuity.

 

Observe. Nap. Observe.

 

When finished, throw everything into the boot of your vehicle or into your trundle cart - 'haphazard' is allowable as you will, by now, have to widdle. Drive or trundle off briskly to avoid being mugged.

 

You may ring your center of operations area with barbed or concertina wire, portable fencing, et cetera. Don't be a hog, but also don't let folk wander willy-nilly-nelly thru your area pocketing things or knocking you in the head as they go. I find a stand-offish demeanor more appropriate than a jovial one - you are out to observe, not chit-chat - save that for your class-appropriate social club. 

 

You'll get the hang of it.


Edited by AstroKerr, 20 April 2019 - 11:41 AM.

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#19 SeaBee1

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Posted 20 April 2019 - 09:16 AM

First, arrive on site and park. Get into a "Graham Chapman" state of mind

 

Step boldly into the field and select a center of operations. Exclaim "Ahhh!", take a deep breath, pound your chest, and release it.

 

Place a good quality table directly on the 'center'.

 

Remove your upper body overgarment, face North, take five strudy paces in that direction, pound your chest, bow, pound your chest again, turn 180° and return to your table.

 

Repeat this for each of the three remaining cardinal points, then replace your upper body overgarment.

 

Set your observing oculars, snacks beverages, etc. on your table, along with a red-filtered led camplight of minimal brightness. Things should be properly placed in set positions - not just 'set down' at random.

 

Place your chair and cot appropriately and exclaim "Back, Back, O ye demons of the nights!".

 

Note: some of these steps are done to keep other folk at a distance, so they will not interrupt your observing.

 

Obtain your observing device and do a measured-pace Zenith to Horizon (downward) spiral scan - this is to familiarize yourself with the evening's sky - look for interesting things / anomolies. From time to time, observe the sky directly, without your device, and mutter loudly "What the devil?!", "Bugger All?!", or "Ar-ma-geddon!"  

 

Open your Observing Plan book for [Date] and proceed. Good observing / viewing requires you remain hydrated and properly nutrified - this will allow you to remain focused and alert, and help maintain your visual acuity.

 

Observe. Nap. Observe.

 

When finished, throw everything into the boot of your vehicle or into your trundle cart - 'haphazard' is allowable as you will, by now, have to widdle. Drive or trundle off briskly to avoid being mugged.

 

You may ring your center of operations area with barbed or concertina wire, portable fencing, et cetera. Don't be a hog, but also don't let folk wander willy-nilly-nelly thru your area pocketing things or knocking you in the head as they go. I find a stand-offish demeanor more appropriate than a jovial one - you are out to observe, not chit-chat - save that for your class-appropriate social club. 

 

You'll get the hang of it.

 

You owe me a keyboard... I blew my coffee all over it...


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#20 csrlice12

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Posted 20 April 2019 - 10:49 AM

Truthfully, I have different setups for my local spot and for the dark site.  Tabletsand other devices would be ok alone.  At a dark site that would not work as even a dark screen is bright (even in dark mode).  Dark sky trips are where you use the planetarium and other printed sky maps.  



#21 havasman

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Posted 20 April 2019 - 01:34 PM

July 2014

July 21, 2014, sm.JPG

December 2015

December 4, 2015, sm.JPG

April 2019

dark site setup with Hava 4-2-19, sm.JPG


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#22 alexantos

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Posted 20 April 2019 - 06:44 PM

My setup, in my apartment's balcony, deep in the white zone.

 

The scope is on a 70's stable metal table, that provides the right height for a comfortable stand up observation.

A movable light barrier to protect my eyes from those obfuscating street lights.

A small movable platform to put the keyboard, monitor, mouse, observation log, etc.

Stellarium.

An old office chair...

And one of the most important things, setting circles to find my way in these bright skies.

 

 

gallery_304439_10528_56863.jpg

 

gallery_304439_10528_61208.jpg

 

 

gallery_304439_10528_425345.jpg

 

gallery_304439_10528_126286.jpg


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#23 whizbang

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Posted 20 April 2019 - 08:49 PM

Simon,

 

I enjoyed your post.   I started out just like you, a pair of binoculars and zero knowledge of the sky.

 

Don't sweat bumbling around in the dark.  It never goes away.   As you get more knowledgeable and upgrade your equipment, you just trip over fancier stuff in the dark.


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#24 penguinx64

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Posted 20 April 2019 - 09:30 PM

I use my computer to plan an observing session ahead of time.  I use Stellarium to find good targets and Accuweather.com to see if I should even bother taking my scope out.  When it starts getting dark, I take the binoculars out to check out the sky.  If conditions are favorable, then I'll bring out one of the scopes.  And, yes, I still use a cheap folding camping stool. 



#25 izar187

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Posted 21 April 2019 - 04:23 AM



Good morning people, 

 

I am interested to know what peoples thoughts are on the "ergonomics" of a basic observing session set up. Some context will help to explain. 

 

I am a complete novice, working my way through "Turn left at Orion" and last night went into my Paddock to do some simple observing with my binoculars (big ones - 20 x 80s with a very good tripod). The sky was drenched in moonlight so I began observing the moon and then started to orientate myself with my planisphere and get a sense of the way the sky was moving over time. Then I simply started identifying individual stars and looking for their relationships in constellations. I admit - this is ridiculously basic stuff but I was thrilled to be doing it. I am keen to move slowly so as to limit frustrations - a stretch of gradual successes in small steps is what I am after. 

 

[I had initially set my self the goal of locating a few Messier objects of the "easy variety" but I think that was too ambitious for this first 2 hour session. Tonight I will try this]

 

The issue is that I had no organised "set up" with my equipment and often found myself fumbling around looking for my planisphere in the dark and referring to a phone app which wasn't working very well with my red torch in my mouth. The viewing time I had was frustrated by these things. Of note - I actually didn't like having my phone with me. There is something about a mobile phone that tethers you to your working life. 

 

My question is this; does this ring a bell with others when they started out? How do you organise your observing environment? I thought a cheap fold out camping table would be useful. At times I really wanted to refer to literature on what I was viewing and missed my Sky Atlas. How about a viewing stool? Keep in mind I am just using binoculars until I purchase a scope (this month or the next - I have almost decided on which one). 

 

Many thanks all for reading this post.

 

Simon

As suggested already, you will figure your method out.

 

Yes to naked eye cruising. Every night out.

 

I'll cast another vote for keeping it simple.

Less to set up = less to pack up.

 

My primary scopes are alt-az mounted newts, focusers are on top.

Set to both stand and sit during observing.

Just a few ep's, that go in pockets on me. Think fishing or photographers' vest.

Charts go on a music/book stand near the scope.

The back of my vehicle is open nearby for holding the rest of whatever I have.

 

So basically: scope, seat, music/book stand, nearby vehicle. 




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